The rise of nano fi­bres

Suc­cess for on-line equip­ment hire por­tal New eco-friendly stor­age bat­tery sys­tem

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - FRONT PAGE -

Six years ago, Iain Hosie and Si­mon Feasey, with a group of grad­u­ate en­gi­neers and sci­en­tists – whose ideas may have ap­peared a lit­tle mad back then – started to see the po­ten­tial in nanofi­bre tech­nol­ogy.

“The tech­nol­ogy was trapped in lab­o­ra­to­ries,” says Hosie, who is now the Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Rev­o­lu­tion Fi­bres. “But we un­der­stood the con­cept from a sci­en­tific point of view, and re­alised by en­gi­neer­ing it, you could take it from the lab to the fac­tory f loor.”

From day one Rev­o­lu­tion Fi­bres, a small yet highly in­no­va­tive com­pany based in the in­dus­trial heart of Hen­der­son, set a goal to take nanofi­bre to global mar­kets.

Nanofi­bres, for the unini­ti­ated, are tex­tiles made from su­per fine fi­bres be­tween 100-500 nanome­tres in width (a hu­man hair is 50,000 nm wide), and are made from a wide va­ri­ety of poly­mers. Th­ese small fi­bres can cre­ate vast changes in me­chan­i­cal strength, re­ac­tiv­ity, and con­duc­tiv­ity, among many other prop­er­ties.

The com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of nanofi­bre tech­nol­ogy in New Zealand started with Rev­o­lu­tion Fi­bres de­signed prod­uct lines such as fil­ters for HRV Next Gen­er­a­tion ven­ti­la­tion sys­tems, the anti-al­lergy pil­low liner Nan­odream, and Kil­well fish­ing rods which are strength­ened with nanofi­bre.

In the last two years the com­pany has worked with a num­ber of lo­cal and over­seas com­pa­nies to de­velop pi­o­neer­ing new prod­ucts, in­clud­ing ev­ery­thing from satel­lite com­po­nents, cos­met­ics, and de­con­tam­i­na­tion ap­pa­ra­tus through to face­masks, func­tional foods and acous­tic lin­ings.

And in Novem­ber last year it be­came the first nanofi­bre pro­ducer in the world to meet aero­space in­dus­try stan­dards with an AS9100c cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Hosie says this cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is a sig­nif­i­cant step in the tran­si­tion of Rev­o­lu­tion Fi­bres from a world class re­search and de­vel­op­ment com­pany to of­fer­ing qual­ity as­sur­ance of its large-scale man­u­fac­tur­ing ser­vices across a range of in­dus­tries.

The goal, says Hosie, has al­ways been to cre­ate a New Zealand-based nanofi­bre ex­port in­dus­try and now, es­pe­cially with the AS91000c cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, this is be­com­ing a re­al­ity.

“It gives large in­dus­try con­fi­dence that this tech­nol­ogy is no longer a lab-based ex­per­i­ment. It is man­u­fac­tured to in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised stan­dards. It al­lows us to take the nanofi­bre tech­nol­ogy and prod­ucts we pro­duce to the next level where there is a grow­ing de­mand for tex­tiles and ma­te­ri­als that are stronger, lighter, and more func­tional. And the great thing about nanofi­bre is that al­though the tech­nol­ogy is ad­vanced and some­times com­plex, the end prod­uct is ac­tu­ally use­ful for ev­ery­day things.”

The vast – seem­ingly end­less – uses for nanofi­bre has been the most sur­pris­ing as­pect of Rev­o­lu­tion Fi­bres’ busi­ness, says Hosie.

“The uses just keep pop­ping up. It’s a gen­uine plat­form tech­nol­ogy and the killer ap­pli­ca­tion has prob­a­bly not even been dis­cov­ered yet – which is ex­cit­ing stuff.”

The lim­it­less pos­si­bil­i­ties of the tech­nol­ogy has also been one of the com­pany’s big­gest chal­lenges be­cause ini­tially it was hard to po­si­tion Rev­o­lu­tion Fi­bres, or even de­scribe what the com­pany did.

How­ever, by hav­ing a clear strat­egy, and work­ing quickly to get prod­ucts on the mar­ket and in use, the hur­dle of defin­ing what Rev­o­lu­tion Fi­bres does has been over­come.

An­other chal­lenge has been fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal be­cause, says Hosie, it is tough find­ing in­vestors with a long-term vi­sion for sci­ence-led man­u­fac­tur­ing in New Zealand.

“Most peo­ple are look­ing for the next mo­bile phone app, quick wins, and low-cap­i­tal high re­turn,” he says.

Then there’s the ob­sta­cle of get­ting no­ticed in­ter­na­tion­ally be­cause a New Zealand com­pany such as Rev­o­lu­tion Fi­bres is still seen as a “cu­rios­ity” rather than a vi­able busi­ness part­ner.

“With the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket you have to prove your­self time and time again, much more than the com­pa­nies that are closer to mar­ket.”

How­ever, with the help of govern­ment fund­ing from Cal­laghan In­no­va­tion, solid back­ing from share­hold­ers, and, most im­por­tantly, the dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion from the founders of the com­pany and its mix of sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers to ex­e­cute the vi­sion, it is a recog­nised world leader in nanofi­bre tech­nol­ogy in more ways than one.

For ex­am­ple, Rev­o­lu­tion Fi­bres elec­tro-spin­ning tech­nol­ogy creates nanofi­bre out of a range of ma­te­ri­als in­clud­ing poly­mers and, get this, nat­u­ral sources such as col­la­gen from hoki fish skins.

Hosie says hoki col­la­gen has cer­tain prop­er­ties that make it use­ful for elec­tro­spin­ning, but more im­por­tantly from a New Zealand per­spec­tive, it is a sus­tain­able fish­ery that al­lows them to make high value prod­ucts from a waste prod­uct.

“By turn­ing the col­la­gen into a tex­tile we then have a prod­uct that is use­ful for ev­ery­thing from cos­met­ics and heal­ing wounds through to drug de­liv­ery, which are all very high-value prod­ucts.”

And Hosie says New Zealand should be tak­ing the ex­am­ple of hoki skins, and the waste to value equa­tion, and ap­ply­ing it across many of its other pri­mary in­dus­try sec­tors.

But back to nanofi­bre. Hosie re­mem­bers the quaint be­gin­nings of the com­pany: “There was a cer­tain amount of naivety, bucket chem­istry and the back-yard in­ven­tor as­pect to the com­pany. But our knowl­edge and skills de­vel­oped rapidly with a real learn­ing-through-do­ing ap­proach.”

It’s this work ethic and ap­proach that has al­lowed a small com­pany in lit­tle old New Zealand to punch above its weight in the nanofi­bre stakes.

There are a num­ber of other com­pa­nies who have sig­nif­i­cant scale in nanofi­bre pro­duc­tion but, ac­cord­ing to Hosie, they are very silo-ed.

“For ex­am­ple, you can’t ask a fil­ter com­pany to make a col­la­gen cos­metic face-mask. We an­a­lysed the mar­ket and re­alised the gap is be­tween the f lour­ish­ing nanofi­bre re­search in­dus­try and the end-users who buy ad­vanced tex­tiles.

“We recog­nised nanofi­bre re­quires cus­tomi­sa­tion to fit the end-user and the con­sumer’s re­quire­ments and we’ve strength­ened that part of the busi­ness. It is now our core of­fer­ing. Es­sen­tially Rev­o­lu­tion Fi­bres are prod­uct de­vel­op­ers who have the abil­ity to man­u­fac­ture those prod­ucts.

“We keep a close eye on in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ments in ad­vanced ma­te­ri­als, main­tain an in­no­va­tive re­search and de­vel­op­ment cul­ture that is fo­cused on com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion, and we fo­cus on part­ner­ships to help bring prod­ucts to mar­ket, in­stead of go­ing it alone.

“We have a lot of faith in our abil­i­ties – and we know we’re good at what we do. That’s why Rev­o­lu­tion Fi­bres is so far ahead in re­gards to nanofi­bre man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques and the depth of the in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty we have amassed. Only we un­der­stand the im­por­tance of this, and it’s truly world lead­ing.”

Iain Hosie.

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