Despite microfiber materials being around for many years and holding its own in the textile and filtration material market, the new exploration into the field of nanomaterials creating using the innovative electrospinning process is opening new doors for manufacturers of everything from pharmaceuticals and surgical equipment, to encapsulation of food and other products.
One of the driving reasons for this is the versatility of nanomaterials. The electrospinning machine can take a huge variety of raw materials and turn them into the base polymers or solutions needed, and the end result have hugely useful and varied properties. This is already being applied across a wide range of sectors, both in research and development and in live production, and for certain innovative front runners, this process has even been scaled up to mass production.
The great thing about this technology is that it can be useful across everything, but also that set up costs are relatively cheap compared with typical production implementation, and training of engineers to manage the machinery quicker than average. There is no limit to how far research in this area could take you.
What is involved in the electrospinning process
Of course, the physics are complex, after all the process is altering materials at a molecular level. A good knowledge of polymers, electrostatics and firm basis in research and chemistry is a good start for research and development stages of development.
However, the concept is quite simple when set up with the assistance of an electrospinning machine manufacturer. It starts with a polymer melt or solution, that encourages the process of chain entanglement. Of course there are a large range of raw materials that can be used for this from naturally occuring polymers to ceramic and metal. It all depends on the intended result.
When the solution is ready for spinning then it is fed through capillaries and an electric charge applied. This draws the material into a jet, the solvents evaporate away, and the material can be whipped or spun into the desired dry material or membrane.
How is this technology being used now?
The materials produced this way are highly versatile. They are also very strong, durable and virtually free of defects. There is also a high surface to volume ratio. Due to the properties of the different source materials, this can produce very different outcomes in the finished material and the full potential of this is only starting to be realised.
The current use in the pharmaceutical industry is two-fold. Firstly the use for encapsulation of drugs and medicines. Those encapsulated using electrospinning are known to last longer, maintain quality during transit and maintain the efficacy of the contents.
Nanomaterials are also used for alternative drug delivery methods such as via implant or patch, that allow for controlled and continuous release of drugs into a person’s system – avoiding interaction with the stomach and intestine and so reducing side effects. Research has even begun into how this can deliver nutrients into the body in the form of artificial food.
One other area showing great innovation and huge benefit to surgical patients is with wound patches and organ membranes that effectively act as fake skin to protect living tissue. With electrospinning is is possible to create materials that can be used to meld with living tissue and not be rejected by the body for example in skin grafts, hernia repair or protection for a damaged organ.
Nanomaterials are still very important in the production of fabrics and textiles. For breathable and lightweight material, for example, seamless sportswear, nanofibers are perfect. And for the protection of the wearer from toxic materials, while still allowing them to breathe, it can cope with this also.