There’s no question that a lot of research money is being invested in the development of new nanotechnology-based devices, medicines, machines and ultimately products. But whether this investment will ultimately pay off in new business opportunities for existing contamination-control companies is far from clear.
Already much of the manufacturing capability supported by today’s contamination-control community is located in the world’s emerging technology-developing nations. And, the percentage grows each year.
While it’s been clear that the stockholders and CEOs of large multinationals don’t particularly care where the expertise and labor that earns them their money is located, many of the people who actually helped build these fortunes have learned the hard way that they weren’t simultaneously building a future for themselves. I’ve lamented this fact previously, while strongly advocating an active revitalization of the domestic manufacturing base, but the reality is otherwise.
Without some form of government intervention, which given past history doesn’t seem likely, we should expect that most new manufacturing facilities for nanotechnology-based products will also be built in regions with cheaper labor and construction costs, and less restrictive regulatory laws.
Cleanroom and contamination-control companies have necessarily followed their customers abroad in search of business. Some have also already moved their own manufacturing facilities offshore to maintain price-competitiveness and profit margins. But they’ve also brought their expertise and technology with them-expertise and technology that is quickly being co-opted. If price remains the sole determinant, even these firms will ultimately lose out.
In today’s global manufacturing environment, existing domestic contamination-control companies can only remain competitive through new technology and product development. And, the emergence of nanotechnology-based products offers a tremendous opportunity to exploit this paradigm.
A plethora of regional and national funding is available to support nanotechnology research and development, but nearly all of this funding is currently being directed at pure research and nanotechnology product development, with little to no funding earmarked for advanced manufacturing processes, facilities and contamination-control science. This mindset must be changed.
Our industry cannot remain passively on the sidelines while available nanotechnology funding is being allocated. We must instead actively lobby for a significant portion of the investment pie, ensuring that our technology and product capabilities will be at the leading edge of future demand. At the same time, cleanroom and contamination-control companies must themselves begin aggressively investing in the next generation of technology and expertise that will efficiently produce nanotechnology products. It’s not enough to simply make our existing companies and capabilities known to emerging nanotechnology-product developers. We must instead move out ahead to meet and surpass their future technology demands and ensure a leadership position in nanotechnology contamination-control technology-regardless of the location of end-product manufacture.