Nanotechnology is Disruptive - What this Means for Manufacturing Sectors with Reference to the UK

Topics Covered

Background

What Are Disruptive Technologies and How Will They Affect Traditional Industries?

Disruptive Technologies Offer New Types of Product and Will Open Up New Markets

How Will Nanotechnologies Be Incorporated into Existing Manufacturing Methods?

Why UK Companies Must Appreciate that Nanotechnology is a Disruptive Technology

Some Indicators which Suggest that Nanotechnology Will Play Major a Role in the Future Economy

Background

A distinctive feature of genuinely disruptive technologies is that they can have very many different applications. This is particularly true for nanotechnology. For example, nanoparticle technology alone can influence a large number of products and services (see figure 1 below). 

Figure 1. Potential application areas for nanotechnology.

What Are Disruptive Technologies and How Will They Affect Traditional Industries?

Disruptive technologies are those that displace older technologies and enable radically new generations of existing products and processes to take over. For example, optical data storage, through such devices as compact disks, has changed the face of home entertainment and computing; digital cameras based on solid-state memory and imaging technologies are replacing photographic film. 

Disruptive Technologies Offer New Types of Product and Will Open Up New Markets

Disruptive technologies can also enable whole new classes of products and markets not previously feasible, such as portable computing, mobile phones or digital imaging. New industries and new companies grow, and existing companies can continue to compete if they notice and adapt rapidly. Those that do not, face rapid obsolescence and decline.

How Will Nanotechnologies Be Incorporated into Existing Manufacturing Methods?

Where British manufacturers build complex, high technology systems, such as aircraft, vehicles, or process plants, they will probably be able to incorporate new components based on nanotechnology that may be cheaper, faster and with greater functionality. These system integrators require an extensive base of suppliers producing the components and the sub-assemblies for them to incorporate into their products. Building nanotechnology into these components will also require a microsystems industry to interface their smaller relatives to the outside world. 

Why UK Companies Must Appreciate that Nanotechnology is a Disruptive Technology

A key issue therefore that could disadvantage the UK, compared to some other advanced industrial nations, would be a failure of its companies to appreciate that nanotechnology is really disruptive - that it will generate major paradigm shifts in how things are manufactured. Nanotechnology could lead to changes that equal the revolutions ushered in by semiconductor technology and biotechnology. 

Some Indicators which Suggest that Nanotechnology Will Play Major a Role in the Future Economy

Another sign of the role that nanotechnology will play in the future economy is the increasing interest in it within the investment community. Some large investors now have specialists who follow the subject, while some smaller funds concentrate on nanotechnology in their investments. There is also a growing list of start-up companies that hope to turn research into products and services.

Primary author: Dr John Taylor, OBE, FRS, FEng, Director-General of the Research Councils.

Source: Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Report entitled ‘New Dimensions for Manufacturing: A UK Strategy for Nanotechnology’, published in June 2002.

For more information on this source please visit http://www.dti.gov.uk.

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