BreakThrough Interview

Nanofiber Mass Production Device Productized by the President’s Wise Decision and the Spirit of EmployeesKansai Electronics Co., Ltd.,

2017.03.17

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President Kunihiro Shinji (Right) and Producer Masahiro Kondo (Left) in front of the nanofiber mass production device

Kansai Electronics Co., Ltd., headquartered in Ota ward, Tokyo, is a long-standing company with a 50-year history, and it has productized a nanofiber mass production device. Although the usefulness of nanofiber is acknowledged by all, challenges still remain in terms of its manufacturability and cost, so it would be inaccurate to say that it is widely applied in the industrial field. Under such circumstances, various progress has been made in the consideration of mass production of nanofiber, and results are starting to appear. One such result is Kansai Electronics’ nanofiber mass production device. Here is an overview of this device.

The nanofiber is a bit thick, but the company places emphasis on manufacturability, low cost, and low environmental burden

While the electrospinning method is the typical manufacturing method of nanofiber, the company’s mass production device uses a melt-blown method (Figure 1). “Although it is a little thick for a nanofiber, I fell in love with how it delivers stable manufacturability at low cost, while also being friendly to the environment,” states President Shinji. When using the company’s mass production device, it is possible to manufacture 6kg of nanofiber with a diameter of φ100-900nm and 200-300mm in length in about 1 hour, while lowering costs to 1/5 of conventional devices. Because the device does not use a large volume of solvents, as in the electrospinning method, it is also environmentally friendly. The fiber materials include polypropylene, polyethylene, and polyester, which are inexpensive and quite frequently used. The device can also manufacture nanofiber from polylactic acid, which is the most common material among biodegradable plastics. The company used a grant from the Tokyo Metropolitan Small and Medium Enterprise Support Center for the series of efforts made to develop this device.

Figure 1: Typical nanofiber manufacturing method

Figure 2: Nanofiber mass production device

Nanofibers can be applied in a broad range of fields!

Nanofibers have an extremely broad range of application. In addition to various filter materials, heat insulating, lagging (for building materials, bed clothes, and clothing) materials, noise absorbing materials, oil and water absorbing materials, and agricultural materials such as seedling mats (Figure 3). In particular, just 1g of the nanofiber made from polypropylene with a lipophilic surface can absorb 53.8g of oil (measured by the Chemicals Evaluation and Research Institute, Japan). Furthermore, owing to its excellent heat retaining property and air permeability, it is gaining expectation for application to bed clothes. Moreover, this time, Kansai Electronics newly developed a device that manufactures nanofiber sheets (Figure 4). This device directly attaches fibers ejected from the nanofiber mass production device onto a sheet with 1m width. Owning to this technology, the company can mass produce long nanofiber sheets of 1m width, attracting attention from the apparel industry as well. Going forward, the company hopes to further expand the scope of application, attaching added value such as antibiotic properties and deodorizing properties to the fiber surface.

Figure 3: Application examples of nanofiber

Figure 4: Nanofiber sheet manufacturing device

The key to success in commercialization is the nozzle shape

Ever since launching sales in May 2016, the company has so far sold six nanofiber mass production devices. The Development Rep., Mr. Kondo, states, “The greatest challenge in developing the device was the nozzle.” Since seven years ago, the company has repeated various trial and error, in terms of the nozzle material and shape, as well as the size, quantity, clog prevention measures, etc. As a result, the company developed the current 36-hole type nozzle, resulting in the commercialization of the device. Having history of selling high-voltage power supplies to public organizations, universities, corporate researchers of electrospinning method, among others, the company build a network in this field, and this was the greatest factor in realizing the nozzle.

The president’s passion and employees’ spirit are packed into this mass production device

“During development, there was a time that we were hard-pressed for capital to the extent that we couldn’t even pay for employee salary,” reflects President Shinji. Even still, the company continued development, believing that there is a dream in nanofiber. The president also states that the reason the company was able to realize the commercialization of the device is thanks to the employees who strove together with him, understanding his thoughts well. The wish of the president and employees is to first have domestic customers use the device to assist their businesses. Indeed, this product can be said to be a nanofiber mass production device that was successfully commercialized through the president’s thoughts and spirit of employees.

President Shinji (Right) and Producer Kondo, the Development Rep. (Left) responding to our interview with a smile

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