Scaling up. Graphene is currently moving out of the lab and into the materials of tomorrow. It’s a long journey, cautions the CSIRO’s Dr Shaun Smith, but the impact to manufacturing could be significant if we get it right.

Every day in the lead up to the Internet of Industrial Materials Conference 2017 on August 17th we will be featuring conversations that Brent Balinski had with the presenters.

BB: Could you please tell us about the interest that graphene-based materials hold for you and what your work is around these currently?

SS: Graphene is a new form of material that CSIRO is trying to take from lab level and scale it up for manufacturing purposes. We have the equipment and capability to take graphene material and either deposit it onto or into textiles or fibres. With just a few grams of graphene you can make prototype samples that might be 50 metres in length of fabric. My talk will look at this in greater detail.

BB: Could you please expand a little on your presentation?

SS: CSIRO has sampling and prototyping equipment giving us the ability to manufacture samples in woven, knitted or non-woven format. Depending on the application we can make quantities at the kilogram scale.

Graphene itself comes in containers and needs to be put on a substrate. The substrate can act like a template and can be made to support the graphene in certain configurations, making it useable by industry. The support can be made of any fibre, from natural to synthetic, and if required given a coating. Graphene can also be formulated into a polymer or composite mixture and coated onto the substrate. CSIRO can coat and cure allowing us to take graphene and produce an actual sample that can be shown and tested.

BB: You mentioned that you have the capability to prototype and get graphene onto knitted, woven and nonwoven fabrics. Do you have any projects on the go at the moment involving graphene?

SS: We have projects underway with Imagine Intelligent Materials, who are using our capabilities in putting graphene on a substrate. My group at the CSIRO has the capability to take some of the concepts Imagine IM are working with from the lab and turn them into a prototype. So that’s the area of interest for us.

BB: Is adopting graphene materials something Australian manufacturers should be considering if they can benefit from them?

SS: Overall, Australian manufacturing is transforming and there are growth opportunities for the sector. Globalisation, digitalisation and the increased demand for more bespoke and complex solutions are causing Australia’s long-standing disadvantages such as high labour costs, geographical remoteness and a small domestic market to be less important.

We need to be doing something that’s different to the rest of the world or is somewhere we can add value. It is important we look at new materials, like graphene, and where those new materials can add significant value in certain applications. We’re interested in helping Australian manufacturing companies, like Imagine IM, become successful in working with high-tech new material. Helping Australia SMEs be successful means that Australian manufacturing is successful.

BB: Do you have anything to add on why this might be an exciting area for Australian manufacturing?

SS: Graphene is a new material with a lot of promise. The lab work is interesting, but as with materials like carbon nanotubes, turning it into a commercial reality is a challenge. It has great attributes in terms of how it can perform if it’s in the right application. I feel CSIRO and our partner universities have the right R&D capabilities and infrastructure in place to take graphene forward.

This is an edited version of an interview with Dr Shaun Smith, Research Group Leader: Fibre Innovation and Composites, at the CSIRO. His presentation at the August 17 Internet of Industrial Materials Conference 2017 is titled “Manufacturing New Materials at Scale”. For more information on the conference, click here.