Our colleagues of nanowerk have published a very good article about the use of nanotechnology in the furniture sector. Just like other industry sectors, the furniture industry is trying to get more efficient by minimizing material use, minimizing waste, and optimizing energy consumption while improving the performance of their products. Nanotechnology and nanomaterials can play an important role in achieving these goals. In the near future, using nanomaterials in furniture may lead to a reduced need for adhesives and functional textiles. Expect to see “smart” furniture – furniture that heats itself when it’s cold; becomes opaque when the sun is shining intensely; changes color upon demand; measures core body functions; has antibacterial coatings that get activated on contact or self-healing coatings to repair scratches and minor damage; has embedded electronics that for instance signals you when you run out of food supplies; or includes shape memory alloys that change their shape
Some of the materials which could be developed in a near future are:
Glass: Over the last years, nanotechnology has been applied to develop and produce different types of glass, i.e. non-reflectivity glass, privacy-glass, thermal isolation glass (based on InfraRed light reflection or absorption) and biocidal glass. Researchers have already managed to develop “multifunctional” glass that is based on surface nanotextures that produce an array of conical features, is self-cleaning and resists fogging and glare.Not strictly furniture, but window glass provides a huge area for using nanotechnologies to improve functionality, for instance by generating electricity from outside heat.
Metal: Metal improvements using nanotechnology take place at the level of metal-structure modification or at the level of surface modification. A better control of the metal production process at the nanoscale of the material enables the fabrication of stronger, more durable metals. In furniture, no examples could be found to date. Surface modification of metals focuses on coloring, preservation against oxidation and corrosion and on improving scratch resistance.
Textiles: synthetic nanoparticles can be integrated into the fibres or the textile, or applied as a coating on the surface, therefore nanoparticles can be added to the nanoscale fibres or coating. Application areas for nanotechnology are easy-to-clean textiles, biocidal textiles (see for instance: “Innovative medical nanotechnology textiles eliminates bacteria”), or textiles from nano-cellulose, which enables the manufacturing of new environmentally friendly materials. More advanced nanotechnology applications would lead to electronic textiles, for instance e-textiles for biomonitoring and wearable electronics.
Adhesives: Nanomaterials that are described are based on silica or silane compounds that act as cross-linking agents within the adhesive polymer structure (i.e. to optimize the performance of the adhesive) or as a stabilizer of water based adhesives to fine tune the viscosity of the product.
Coatings: As nanomaterials are typically new and expensive and the majority of the furniture sector is a relatively conservative one, main movements in product development are observed in the application of nanocoatings. These nanocoatings typically make use of one nanomaterial to introduce a specific functionality and then change the coating base to allow for the application on a large variety of substrates.
Application areas for these nanocoatings are:
–easy-to-clean and water repellent coatings
– bactericidal coatings