Q&A with Michael Edwards, Business Director – Advanced Materials, Thomas Swan

Thomas Swan & Co. Ltd. is an independent chemical manufacturing company. With offices and warehousing in the UK, USA, and China, the growing company exports to over 80 countries worldwide.

Thomas Swan’s Advanced Materials division is a global leader in the development and supply of carbon nanomaterials and other 2D materials for new and emerging technologies.

Ahead of The Advanced Materials Show 2019 where the team will be exhibiting, Steve Bryan, Conference Director, spoke to Business Director at Thomas Swan’s Advanced Materials Division Michael Edwards. 

1. Thomas Swan was founded in 1926 in Consett, in the North East of England – which is still home to your manufacturing facilities. As a now global company, how important is your British Heritage?

Well, that is a question you should be asking Harry Swan, our CEO. Thomas Swan is a family-owned business and as you say founded in 1926 By Harry’s great grandfather, which makes him the fourth generation of Swan.

My own personal take on this is that our British heritage is extremely important, particularly the fact that we are based in an area of both outstanding beauty and manufacturing heritage. Add to that our scientific innovation, global entrepreneurialism and technical creativity we are in the perfect place to take advantage of whatever outcome will emerge from the current political challenges we are all facing.

2. Michael, Thomas Swan’s origins are in road surfacing but you have swiftly diversified into a wide range of businesses. Can you tell us more about your work in the advanced materials industry and how this fits into the Thomas Swan portfolio of products and divisions?

Sure, since 2004 when we entered into the advanced materials area, we have been working predominantly with carbon-related and 2D products. We began with Carbon Nanotubes and most recently have been working in the production of both graphene and 2D Boron Nitride. Various manufacturing techniques have been deployed including CVD and liquid-phase exfoliation.

The advanced materials division is a relatively small group within Thomas Swan’s team, currently in a stand-alone nanomaterials set-up, even though we have the capacity to produce 20T of graphene per annum. We sit alongside the Performance Chemical Group which as the name implies provides performance chemicals globally into the Personal Healthcare, Inks / Coatings and Tyre/Rubber sectors. We also have a Custom & Toll solutions facility where we use our various techniques and processes to offer sub-contract manufacturing capability to global end-customers. In the longer term, creating synergy between the three groups would offer a broad spectrum of solutions to our major focus customers and markets.

3. The materials you develop serve 3 broad industries; Composites, Inks & Coatings, Energy & ElectronicsWhere are you seeing the most rapid technological advances?

Composite solutions are delivering the majority of opportunities for graphene today where our customers look to enhance one or two features of their products, so I would select that as the industry with most graphene-related technical advances. Those composite areas are going beyond traditional polymeric solutions.

In engineering, our focus is really maximising our current yields and scale-up.

4. Which industry can boast the most exciting level of innovation?

Now that depends if you are thinking about science (R&D), engineering and/or sustainability all of which are key focus areas for innovation for us as a manufacturer. We are exploiting innovation in our science, our processing capability and in our ability to deliver sustainability. Operating a Lean Sigma process means that we evaluate and process all of these innovation areas in our product development.

Furthermore, our customers are delivering innovation in their products – take for example the recent product innovation offered by Graphene Composites where they have used our Graphene to deliver bullet-proof and knife-proof composites for the use in schools.

5. Are there any emerging industries or markets?

Utopia (or single layer, defect-free graphene) is a wonder-material, but most manufacturing solutions today have some form of multi-layer version delivering some of the utopian-features. We are speaking with multiple partners about the use of production-level graphene in a wide range of exciting projects from medical to materials of various kinds. Remember Thomas Swan is a manufacturing company and we need to deliver volume product so that is our main focus.

6. You have recently launched a new product – EliSolve – which offers customers greater choice when it comes to graphene design. Can you tell us more about your work in Graphene and the market challenge EliSolve meets?

Actually, Elisolve is a concept more than a product per se. All of our engagements have begun with our customers expecting “Utopia” but realising quickly that graphene offers them some benefits. Finding the balance of benefit, future enhancement and cost is the objective, and time is the challenge to get new products to market. Elisolve offers customers a range of possible options at the outset to help improve time to solution, and then engagement with our experienced R&D/applications team.

7. What can visitors to The Advanced Materials Show expect to see on the Thomas Swan stand? What technology/solutions/products will you be showcasing across the two-day event?

Our focus at this exhibition is to share our main 2D products namely graphene and Boron Nitride. Our main attention this time will be to share our experiences with potential customers and to engage with new prospects in the application areas of lubricants, composites and thermal interface layers mainly. Of course, we will be happy to share our knowledge on other applications, but today is about sharing our 20T production capability to maximise value for our customers and Thomas Swan. As a UK manufacturing company, we want to showcase our capability for world-class manufacturing.

Thomas Swan Advanced Materials will be exhibiting at The Advanced Materials Show on Stand 1328.