Successful commercialization of nanofiber mass production equipment that can solve issues in a wide range of fieldsKansai Electronics Co.,Ltd
"Nanofiber" is a new material with properties that are attracting attention from throughout the world. However, there was an issue in that mass production had not been possible until now. "Kansai Electronics Co., Ltd" has solved this issue by developing and successfully commercializing a mass production type nanofiber melt spinning machine. We spoke with President & CEO Kunihiro Shinji (on left in photograph) and Director Masahiro Kondo (right) regarding their desire to work with partner companies in order to expand nanofibers into a wide range of fields.
Successful mass production of nanofibers by meltblowing
Nanofibers are made from raw materials such as polypropylene and polyethylene with nano-level fineness. Nanofibers have various properties such as sound absorption, heat insulation, oil absorption, heat retention, decontamination, and virus protection. However, the conventional production method of "electrospinning"* created issues such as difficult mass production and high cost.
"Therefore, we have changed our approach from the past. We now use the 'meltblow method (melt spinning)' that takes advantage of the thermoplastic properties of the raw materials, which soften when heated and solidify when cooled. After melting, materials are discharged from special nozzles via high-temperature air to generate fiber material."
The successful development of a special nozzle that generates fiber material by using the force of wind pressure to pull the raw materials has enabled the stable production of nanofibers with a diameter of 500 nm. It has also enabled mass production at quantities ranging from 5,000 to 8,000 grams per hour. Kansai Electronics obtained a patent for this technology in 2017.
"At that time, researchers were working to achieve even finer fibers. Materials with a diameter of less than 100 nm can only be made via conventional methods. However, we felt that it was sufficient to maintain performance in terms of fineness; instead, our focus was to enable mass production."
Kansai Electronics is focusing on nanofibers with a diameter of 500 ± 300 nm. Nanofiber properties exist even in this range of diameters. Use of the nanofibers is being promoted in a wide range of fields such as environmentally-friendly products, functional products, apparel products, and agricultural materials. Rather than competing in terms of fineness, the key of the company's breakthrough was the decision to prioritize market needs for the fast and reasonably-priced mass production of new materials with a wide range of potential.
*A method of generating nanofibers by applying a high voltage to the polymer solution in the spinning nozzle
Director Kondo explains the characteristics of the "mass production type nanofiber melt spinning machine" that enabled mass production of nanofibers with a diameter of 500 ± 300 nm
Using the New Value Creation Exhibition and other exhibitions for PR
Kansai Electronics was originally a trading company specializing in imports from overseas manufacturers dealing in DC high-voltage power supply equipment and radiation measuring instruments. About 20 years ago, when nanofiber research began to be conducted in Japan, Kansai Electronics served as the exclusive domestic agent for DC high-voltage power supply equipment which was made by overseas manufacturers and necessary for the research. This led to the development of the company's innovative products.
"While responding to requests for cooperation such as performance tests at various research institutes, I realized that nanofiber was a material with great potential, so I decided that our company should begin production."
Kansai Electronics views cooperation with partner corporations as a prerequisite for future advancements such as product development using the new materials. In order to meet with new corporations, the company has continued to exhibit at the New Value Creation Exhibition since 2016.
"It feels like we find new customers every time that our company exhibits at the New Value Creation Exhibition. The exhibition attracts diverse visitors, including major companies. The opportunity to interact directly with various end users is extremely appealing."
By exhibiting at the New Value Creation Exhibition and other events about seven to eight times a year, Kansai Electronics attracts interest from a wide range of industries including chemicals, machinery, academic and research, textiles, paper and printing, construction, and defense. According to the company, it has already entered into NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements) with about 70 companies in these fields.
Evolving nanofiber manufacturing machines and providing partner corporations with ideas for commercialization
"We continually improved our nanofiber mass-production equipment until we eliminated the need for maintenance. We can also control the thickness between 300 nm and 1,000 nm in diameter. We can also blend functional materials to create new nanofibers."
Of particular interest is the "Nanofiber Sheeting Device" that was released at the 2019 New Value Creation Exhibition.
"Nanofibers can absorb as much as 53.8 times their own weight in oil. In order to maximize this property, we create nanofiber sheets. For exampe, using these sheets, we have developed manufacturing equipment that can be used in water purification filters. Actually, we have already been contacted by companies that wish to sell these sheets."
Nanofibers possess unlimited potential. However, since Kansai Electronics is focused on being an equipment manufacturer, it wants to entrust the commercialization of nanofibers to a partner corporation. Finally, Shinji and Kondo sent the following message to prospective future partners.
"The ability of passionate researchers is necessary to harness the true value of nanofibers. We hope to find a partner to cooperate in creating products which will become a global standard."
Coverage date February 10, 2020
Kansai Electronics Co., Ltd
Subjects of Interview = President & CEO Kunihiro Shinji (on left in photograph) and Director Masahiro Kondo (Producer, Nanofiber Business Department) (right)
Kansai Electronics Co., Ltd was established in 1968. As the exclusive Japanese agent for overseas manufacturers of DC high-voltage power supply equipment and radiation detection equipment from companies such as America, England, and Germany, the company handles importing sales, technical support, etc. By utilizing technology and experience accumulated through exchanges with numerous domestic research institutions and companies, Kansai Electronics strives to develop and manufacture original products such as equipment for the mass production of nanofibers.
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