Näf guides first nanotech risk management certification


Hans Näf
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Hans Näf joined a low-key celebration typical of the Swiss to commemorate completion of one of the world’s first certified risk-management systems for nanotechnology companies. The certificate, which recognizes development of a proprietary standard for best practices in nano safety, was granted to Bühler PARTEC GmbH during the NanoEurope industry trade fair held in St. Gallen, Switzerland, in September. Näf, 65, is supervisory board chairman at Bühler PARTEC, developer of nanoparticle upgrading and processing technology.

Dubbed CENARIOS (Certifiable Nanospecific Risk Management and Monitoring System), the standard was developed for Bühler PARTEC, the nanotechnology business unit of The Bühler Group. The certification audit took place in late August in Uzwil SG in northeastern Switzerland, location of Bühler PARTEC.

It is clear that the team approach is all-important at Bühler. Not only did unit managers work with two outside international risk management consulting groups to design and install the system, but much of the unit’s business is done in close collaboration with its customers. As Näf explained to Small Times’ contributing editor Jo McIntyre, despite the complexity of creating this new system, the cost was remarkably low.

Q: You have just received the world’s first risk-management certification known as CENARIOS. Why did you and your company pursue this certification?

We wanted to reduce risks for our employees in production and development, as well as to the environment. And it is critical for us to have the confidence of customers in our work and this new technology.

If you have some problems in the products or production processes, that could damage your image. We wanted to avoid damage to the image of PARTEC as well as to the whole Bühler group. Finally, we also wanted to make sure our investments in our product development and production plants are protected. The main thing is to have confidence from our customers in our products.

Q: What is Bühler PARTEC?

This is a new and small business unit formed in 2005 that has about 30 employees. The name PARTEC is based on the words “particle technology.” We produce and develop plans for production of color pigments for a variety of products. Bühler supplies nanoparticle suspensions or plans for implementing the associated production processes on a turnkey basis, so customers can produce suspensions themselves.

It is a small business unit of The Bühler Group, which is a 6,600-employee company that specializes in plant design and construction and related services for companies around the world that want to turn renewable and synthetic raw materials into a variety of industrial products.

We are leaders in the basic technologies of grinding, blending, and mixing; bulk handling, thermal treatment, and shaping for processing cereal grains and foods; producing and upgrading engineering materials; and die casting.

We work closely with our customers throughout the life cycles of their production plants by developing new values for their products.

Q: How did you get into this line of work?

I started as a mechanical engineer because it was an interesting profession. Later, I moved to the chemical side at The Bühler Group. Because of this experience, I was asked to form the nanotechnology unit.

We help our customers incorporate functionalized nanoparticles into their products to improve those products’ properties. Thus, for example, colored plastics become lightfast, or coats of paint become more scratch-resistant, or particles add color to currency. In fact, most currency colors worldwide were produced by Bühler plants.

Q: How do you make those tailored nano dispersions?

We produce the dispersions in bead mills. We add a solvent and special surfactants to suspend the nanoparticles and to deter their re-agglomeration. The particles come from a wide spectrum of pigments, including organic pigments, carbon nanotubes, and inorganic oxides such as silicium dioxide, zirconium dioxide, zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, and aluminum oxide nanoparticles.

Bühler PARTEC focuses today on converting such materials into useful products incorporating nanotechnology production techniques.

Q: What are some examples of particles Bühler PARTEC has developed?

Titanium and zinc nanoparticles are used for UV light protection products for lacquers and cosmetics. Zirconium nanoparticles are needed to repair teeth. Other materials PARTEC incorporates into products include organic pigments, carbon nanotubes, as well as the inorganic oxides mentioned above.

Q: What did Bühler PARTEC have to do to get the CENARIOS certification?

We selected the Innovation Society and TÜV Süd a year ago to help build up the system. Each of us had important separate responsibilities in developing it. After that, we had to integrate the system as part of our own quality-assurance program. Now every employee in our business unit has access to the risk management system and is required to use it on a regular basis.

The Innovation Society and TÜV Süd, headed by Christoph Meili and Thorsten Weidl, developed CENARIOS in 2006 to meet the safety requirements of companies that produce or handle nanomaterials. The system can be applied in all “nano-related” industry sectors (i.e., textiles, cosmetics, energy, packaging, food, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, automotive, and electronics). The certificate is intended to improve safety standards of processes and products.

Q: What alternatives to the present system did you consider?

We looked at several different organizations: Ernst Basler + Partner Ltd., a Swiss company providing international engineering, planning, and consulting services; Dekra, a German company; and the University of Lausanne.

Q: How does CENARIOS work?

Among other features, it includes a standardized catalog of requirements for certification. That means if we would like to develop a new product, for example, then we have to inform the monitoring sides of both TÜV Süd and the Innovation Society. We have set up monitoring capabilities on toxicology and other scientific concerns, the market, and various regulations.

As part of its risk-management system, Bühler PARTEC takes note of statements in scientific publications in nanotechnology and health, environment, and workplace safety.

We also will keep track of social and regulatory developments. We also scan the market to see what is out there, looking for ways to evaluate whether there has been success on the market side.

By looking ahead and monitoring these various aspects of nanotechnology processes, we also avoid taking a bad direction in product development. With foresight in monitoring both scientific and market regulations, we ensure we work in the right direction.

Q: Do you also look at what new regulations are being adopted around the world?

Yes. Currently, there are no uniform worldwide laws or regulations for the production or the application of nanoparticles. Like radar, we try to detect new or changed regulations with our monitoring process. It was very important that we be responsible for our customers, employees, and the whole company-The Bühler Group-to avoid damage to them or to their image.

Q: What part did the Innovation Society play in this effort?

Innovation Society’s Meili developed this standard for best practices in nano safety and helped us implement the first commercial application of it.

Q: How does TÜV Süd fit into this?

They have expertise in risk management in nuclear plants. Their Industry Services Ltd. department built up the system with us, and the TÜV Süd Certification unit, another completely independent department at the firm, does the certification.

It is important to know that one part built the system with PARTEC, and the other separate department is for certification.

Q: What continuing performance measures do you have to meet?

All of the original ones just developed. TÜV Süd will check the system again in about a year. We have internal checks, too, and have made internal exercises for checking the system.

Q: Does that mean more paperwork?

Yes! We have a 230-page book that contains the complete report. We had to work out a smaller report for our employees in management, production, etc., and have put it on the Bühler intranet for easy access for all employees.

Q: How many new people do you expect to hire to do this monitoring?

None. Samuel Schär, the PARTEC business unit manager, is responsible for operating the system. He’s the risk manager, and there is not a special risk manager. That’s important to know. We have no special employees. It was his job!

It is important to train our people, and we have our own training staff. We have to implement all these into our own business unit, but we also have to involve our corporate communication people, legal services, corporate quality-assurance people, and issue management and crisis management people in The Bühler Group.

Q: Are there other costs associated with initial and continuing certification?

Yes, it was necessary to compensate the people who prepared the report. To build up and install this whole system, the cost was $100,000, including our internal costs. For the continuing certification, we need about $30,000 every year.

The Näf File

Hans Näf began his career with The Bühler Group 35 years ago, following his schooling at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, ETHZ, where he earned his Master’s degree in mechanical engineering. He has been active in a variety of departments at The Bühler Group, including automatic and electronic departments, working with die casting and injection molding machines.

In 2005 he was given responsibility for building Bühler PARTEC, the nanotechnology group, where he is chairman of the supervisory board.