Thursday, December 09, 2004

NanoCommerce: Take it Literally


My compliments to Lux Research for coming out with what appears to be a report that's somewhat critical of nanotech industry players. Glad to see a nanotech research company that doesn't feel the need to be an industry booster at all costs. Needless to say, I'm of the opinion that the industry benefits from constructive, independent criticism. One simple thought just occurred to me after reading: Corporate Nanomaterials Buyers Fail To Get What They Pay For.

Despite the best attempts by a great many talented people in the media, venture capital community and government, nanotechnology is still not ready to hang its "Open, Come on In!" sign. Good PR people and journalists -- and I admit my guilt in this, too -- have pumped nanotech up beyond its current capacity. The small group of nanotech tinkerers out there are the victims of their own hype, having bought into this concept of "nanobusiness," then fooled themselves into believing it's all true.

The NanoBot difference? I know that most of these companies are not yet ready for Wall Street, or even Main Street, and have no interest in promoting them as such. I've often repeated that nanotech is so young that it is more of a concept that reflects the world view of the beholder. To me, that makes it even more interesting because it is ripe for the "bottom-up" approach.

Now is the time to fire up the imagination and challenge the young and young at heart to mold and shape nanotech into whatever they want it to be. That's the model that works -- not putting out the word from on high, dictating what nanotech is and is not, and then pushing that concept onto a closed group of people who, ultimately, are not ready to sustain one another as an industry.

But you know who is just hungering for nanotech information? A much larger group of students, entrepreneurs and concerned citizens who just can't get themselves excited about nano-enhanced pants, sunscreen and tennis rackets. They are citizens who ask not what nanotech can do for them, but what they can do for nanotech.

I'm betting that there are creative people outside the laboratory and entrepreneur community -- even those who have never even paid much attention to nanotech -- who want to learn more about nanotechnology as it could apply to their own interests. What is important to scientists and business opportunists is not necessarily what is important to the rest of us, from eye surgeons to nanotech virgins.

Most of the "breakthroughs" you read about are still a few steps removed from actual application. Most will ultimately be used in a way that hadn't even occurred to the inventor. That's why it's up to you, specialists in your field or just the curious browser, to take nanotech research to its next phase. Use your expertise and your imagination to put the pieces together. New ways of thinking do not rise magically from new enabling technologies. They come from practitioners who can look at the pieces and see what nobody else can see: a new opportunity.

What can you do now to help NanoBot's mission? Make a donation through Amazon or the PayPal "Make a donation" button on the left, or why not buy an ad?

Meanwhile, I'm hard at work in this end, creating a more-useful nanotech information service. I think most of you will like the results. As always, your thoughts are welcome, either through the "comments" button below or by e-mailing me directly.

NanoBot Backgrounder
Images of the possible
VC: Don't follow the baloney
Wanted: Independent nano watchdog

2 comments:

Keith Blakely said...

Howard - I have only seen the Executive Summary of Lux's report. However, it should come as no surprise that there are disparate expectations at this early stage of a new material's or technology's introduction between the suppliers and potential users. The past 50 years are rife with similar stories from the plastics, electronics, semiconductor, composites, and ceramics industries. The problems, quite often, relate to a lack of information on both sides - potential users may not have a clear way of describing what they want in a new material or how they expect the product to be characterized and tested. Nanomaterials suppliers are offering to sell what they can make today, which is not always what the market needs and, as importantly, they often can only make it in laboratory or pre-pilot quantities.

That said, it also is no surprise that most of the 200 companies that Lux refers to are struggling in terms of satisfying expectations. Taking a new process technology or material out of the laboratory (where most of these 200 companies began) and setting it up even at a pilot level is not always a straightforward task. Going beyond that to commercial scale is even more challenging; but vitally important if you want to offer customers the quality and economics that they are getting from their current (conventional) materials suppliers.

That said, NanoDynamics, and a handful of others, are already succeeding in creating commercial nanomaterial businesses. As a nanomaterials supplier, from the very beginning, we focused on manufacturing processes that were commercially scalable and which were able to deliver consistent and economical nanomaterials. Our first nanometal production line has a capacity of roughly 100,000 kgs per year. One of our very first hires was a Director of Quality to ensure that our processes and products were delivering what the market, in general, and our prospective customers, in particular, were looking for. We have extensive process and product documentation to ensure that we deliver on our promises and that our customers understand what they are getting.

We also spent considerable time understanding how these materials were going to be used by customers, what acceptance tests and standards they were going to apply in evaluating our materials, and reaching agreement on how to achieve targeted economics (by modifying specifications to improve manufacturing costs, by agreeing on long term supply arrangements, etc.). In other words, we approached the nanomaterials business with a "market-pull" orientation and not a "technology-push" one.

The materials business is not an easy one, as many companies are learning. Each customer has their own set of requirements, each testing method has its own quirks, each application has its own sensitivity to one materials' characteristic or another, qualification cycles are long and expensive, and customers generally do not want to look at a new material unless they understand the commercial availability and economics - all of which are challenging issues when a material is first introduced. Close cooperation, coordination, and communication between the supplier and user side of this equation is critical - a lesson learned from a quarter century in the advanced materials business.

AShalleck said...

Hi Howard...

I want to support Keith's lucid discussion of the real world of taking products to market. Many a slip ...

However, you, personally, can't jump from booster to blaster in response to one research report that tries to cover up the biases and shill factors that the parent of Lux Research and JWolfe put into the market every day...if you heard his webcast last week you would have been totally turned off...Lux just isn't credible...there is no real separation or chinese wall that I can discern. Find another source and verify whatever Lux puts out. Be a reporter, not a repeater.

Keith puts out good stuff with real professional quality control...I saw what he was doing when we talked in Chicago....he's a pro and his company supplies large amounts of product to very tough big companies...with repeat orders.

Tons of nanotubes are being made this year...a few batches may be bad...so what! just buy elsewhere....Why would you indescriminately slam all nanotech manufacturers broadly ...especially those very professional and careful Presidents of companies I have met in the industry ...by using a few examples quoted from a suspect source as generally representative of the industry. I don't manufacture a thing these days...I write as you do ...but in the past I have manufactured much ... and it isn't easy going to market from beta.

The industry will have growing pains...some bad batches will go out and they will be quickly replaced and corrected .... that doesn't mean what it is going on generally, even specifically in certain companies, isn't exciting and market revolutionary. What about self cleaning glass? (Pilkington and PPG are not startups.) What about flat plane displays driven by OLED or nanotubes? What about the military coatings business? these are real..and QC'd supplies are hitting the market every day...Why doesn't Lux mention them?

With billions being spent by gov'ts world wide and more this year from corporations, and knowing that much good stuff is in the pipeline for introduction next year, why would you slam an entire industry that is investing in parallel, with superb marketing enabling breakthroughs every week, and even producing healthcare discriminating FDA approved nanoarrays that are beginning to be placed in clinical laboratories as we write. The trends and outlook for 2005 are very encouraging. That's our perspective and it's based on the facts we have learned and been told...not by the purveyors!

We at NanoClarity, tell it as it is...in a balanced and real way. I teach entrepreneurism and strategies...and managing technology ... at a well known B-School so I see what's in the world and have a broad perspective. I put that into Nanoclarity. We don't own stock in companies that we review. We don't worry about stock price or short term swings. We bring a longer term value and a longer term business analysis to NT's worth than others. We see real progress and the tearing down of roadblocks to NT commercial exploitation every day. This is exciting space to be in from our perspective.

That's not a "shill" for the industry...it's a reality. I agree that the current managers of NT companies should get more product into the field sooner rather than later...but there are wonderful new NT developments in commercial test today and over the next year they will begin to fulfill the projections made ... The disruption will begin.

Alan Shalleck, Publisher Nanoclarity.