PLANT

Integran’s “nanovation”


Rich Emrich, Integran Technologies’ program manager, business development, and Jonathan McCrea (foreground), principal nanomaterials engineer, display a piece of carbon fibre after an application of Nanovate-NV.
Photos: Stephen Uhraney

In the rarefied and complex world of nanometallurgy, reducing the grain in almost any metal greatly increases strength and resistance to wear, which increases tooling performance and better controls costs. So, as an entry into this esoteric sector of scientific pursuit, welcome to the age of specialized, high-performance, nanostructured metal products where Toronto-based Integran Technologies Inc. is proving that big is not always better.

By combining its core competency—metallurgy, chemistry and materials science—with its proprietary nanocrystalline material synthesis capabilities, Integran is expanding the material engineering horizon for a broad base of international customers.

“Our nanotechnology platform is based upon engineering the internal structure of metals, alloys and metal-matrix composites on a scale that achieves enhanced, desired functions and structural properties,” says Gino Palumbo, the firm’s founder, president and CEO. “We can supply nanomaterials in quantity and a multitude of project forms: powder, foam, sheet, plate, foil or provided as a stand-alone material.”

The company’s primary focus is a manufacturing process that creates metals with a grain size 1,000 times smaller than would otherwise occur and increases tensile strength and hardness by five times. These metals are applied to parts as a coating supplied as either a foil or a stand-alone material, and they’re used extensively in aerospace and defence structures, although sports equipment and biomedical markets are growing.

A four-year, intensive research effort has yielded an innovative new material called Nanovate-NV (also known as Nanovar), a low thermal expansion, very hard nanometal surface coating that’s especially well suited for carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) composite tooling. Because of its higher yield strength, wear and fatigue resistance, resilience and thermal-shock resistance, it provides improved performance and longer tooling life.

This technology is promising enough to earn a $4.6-million repayable investment from the federal government’s Strategic Aerospace Defence Initiative (SADI). The money will go towards the development of Nanovar for the Joint Strike Fighter program, a US multinational effort to build new stealth fighter aircraft—just another step in the company’s impressive progression.

What is now Integran began in the early 1980s with fundamental R&D that was carried out at the University of Toronto and Queens University. Initial research was co-ordinated by Professors Uwe Erb and Karl Aust, both of whom continue to play an active role in the company. Francisco Gonzalez, another member of the original core team, is vice-president of Integran’s process and product development activities.
By the early 1990s, Nanometals Corp. was founded to capitalize on some of the nanostructured materials technologies that were developed. A strategic partnership was also formed with Ontario Hydro, which resulted in the development of one of the first large-scale industrial applications for nanostructured materials: the electrosleeve process for nuclear steam generator repair.

In 1999, Nanometals Corp. and Ontario Hydro merged their respective intellectual property portfolios and partnered with Babcock and Wilcox to launch Integran. In October 2002, with financial backing from Mosaic Capital Partners, a management/employee team bought out the major shareholders.

Today, Integran has a staff of 40 highly qualified personnel and well-equipped electrochemical and metallurgical laboratories. Affiliated companies include: Morph Technologies, Toronto, which is focused on advanced materials solutions for the automotive sector; Powermetal Technologies, Carlsbad, Calif., which develops and manufactures products for the sports equipment and consumer product sector; and Integran Defense Systems, Pittsburgh, Pa., which develops leading-edge technologies for defence and homeland security.

The company added to its industry stature last year when Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters recognized its achievements, particularly for the development of Nanovate-NV, as Innovative Business of the Year.