Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers used a nanomaterial process to develop Janus structures, which may be useful in developing energy and information technologies.

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Selenium atoms, represented by orange, implant in a monolayer of blue tungsten and yellow sulfur to form a Janus layer. In the background, electron microscopy confirms atomic positions. Courtesy: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

A team led by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory used a simple process to implant atoms precisely into the top layers of ultra-thin crystals, yielding two-sided structures with different chemical compositions. The resulting materials, known as Janus structures after the two-faced Roman god, may prove useful in developing energy and information technologies.

“We’re displacing and replacing only the topmost atoms in a layer that is only three atoms thick, and when we’re done, we have a beautiful Janus monolayer where all the atoms in the top are selenium, with tungsten in the middle and sulfur in the bottom,” said ORNL’s David Geohegan, senior author of the study, which is published in ACS Nano, a journal of the American Chemical Society. “This is the first time that Janus 2D crystals have been fabricated by such a simple process.”

Yu-Chuan Lin, a former ORNL postdoctoral fellow who led the study, added, “Janus monolayers are interesting materials because they have a permanent dipole moment in a 2D form, which allows them to separate charge for applications ranging from photovoltaics to quantum information. With this straightforward technique, we can put different atoms on the top or bottom of different layers to explore a variety of other two-faced structures.”

This study probed 2D materials called transition metal dichalcogenides, or TMDs, that are valued for their electrical, optical and mechanical properties. Tuning their compositions may improve their abilities to separate charge, catalyze chemical reactions or convert mechanical energy to electrical energy and vice versa.

A single TMD layer is made of a ply of transition metal atoms, such as tungsten or molybdenum, sandwiched between plies of chalcogen atoms, such as sulfur or selenium. A molybdenum disulfide monolayer, for example, features molybdenum atoms between plies of sulfur atoms, structurally similar to a sandwich cookie with a creamy center between two chocolate wafers. Replacing one side’s sulfur atoms with selenium atoms produces a Janus monolayer, akin to swapping one of the chocolate wafers with a vanilla one.

Before this study, turning a TMD monolayer into a two-faced structure was more a theoretical feat than an actual experimental accomplishment. In the many scientific papers about Janus monolayers published since 2017, 60 reported theoretical predictions and only two described experiments to synthesize them, according to Lin. This reflects the difficulty in making Janus monolayers due to the significant energy barriers that prevent their growth by typical methods.

In 2015, the ORNL group discovered that pulsed laser deposition could convert molybdenum diselenide to molybdenum disulfide. At the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, a DOE Office of Science User Facility at ORNL, pulsed laser deposition is a critical technique for developing quantum materials.

“We speculated that by controlling the kinetic energy of atoms, we could implant them in a monolayer, but we never thought we could achieve such exquisite control,” Geohegan said. “Only with atomistic computational modeling and electron microscopy at ORNL were we able to understand how to implant just a fraction of a monolayer, which is amazing.”

The method uses a pulsed laser to vaporize a solid target into a hot plasma, which expands from the target toward a substrate. This study used a selenium target to produce a beam-like plasma of clusters of two to nine selenium atoms, which were directed to strike pre-grown tungsten disulfide monolayer crystals.

The key to success in creating two-faced monolayers is bombarding the crystals with a precise amount of energy. Throw a bullet at a door, for example, and it bounces off the surface. But shoot the door and the bullet rips right through. Implanting selenium clusters into only the top of the monolayer is like shooting a door and having the bullet stop in its surface.

It’s not easy to tune your bullets,” Geohegan said. The fastest selenium clusters, with energies of 42 electron volts (eV) per atom, ripped through the monolayer; they needed to be controllably slowed to implant into the top ply.

“What’s new from this paper is we are using such low energies,” Lin said. “People never explored the regime below 10 eV per atom because commercial ion sources only go down to 50 eV at best and don’t allow you to choose the atoms you would like to use. However, pulsed laser deposition lets us choose the atoms and explore this energy range fairly easily.”

The key to tuning the kinetic energy, Lin said, is to controllably slow the selenium clusters by adding argon gas in a pressure-controlled chamber. Limiting the kinetic energy restricts the penetration of atomically thin layers to specific depths. Injecting a pulse of atom clusters at low energy temporarily crowds and displaces atoms in a region, causing local defects and disorder in the crystal lattice. “The crystal then ejects the extra atoms to heal itself and recrystallizes into an orderly lattice,” Geohegan explained. Repeating this implantation and healing process over and over can increase the selenium fraction in the top layer to 100% to complete the formation of a high-quality Janus monolayer.

Controllably implanting and recrystallizing 2D materials in this low-kinetic-energy regime is a new road to making 2D quantum materials. “Janus structures can be made in mere minutes at the low temperatures that are required for semiconductor electronic integration,” Lin said, paving the way for production-line manufacturing. Next the researchers want to try making Janus monolayers on flexible substrates useful in mass production, such as plastics.

To prove that they had achieved a Janus structure, Chenze Liu and Gerd Duscher, both of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Matthew Chisholm of ORNL used high-resolution electron microscopy to examine a tilted crystal to identify which atoms were in the top layer (selenium) versus the bottom layer (sulfur).

However, understanding how the process replaced sulfur atoms with larger selenium atoms — an energetically difficult feat — was a challenge. ORNL’s Mina Yoon used supercomputers at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, a DOE Office of Science user facility at ORNL, to calculate the energy dynamics of this uphill battle from theory using first principles.

Further, the scientists needed to understand how energy transferred from clusters to lattices to create local defects. With molecular dynamics simulations, ORNL’s Eva Zarkadoula showed clusters of selenium atoms collide with the monolayer at different energies and either bounce off it, crash through it or implant in it — consistent with the experimental results.

To further confirm the Janus structure, ORNL researchers proved structures had predicted characteristics by calculating their vibrational modes and conducting Raman spectroscopy and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy experiments.

To understand that the plume was made of clusters, scientists used a combination of optical spectroscopy and mass spectrometry to measure molecular masses and velocities. Taken together, theory and experiment indicated 3 to 5 eV per atom was the optimal energy for precise implantation to form Janus structures.

Read to know how the many process manufacturing businesses around the world impacted by COVID-19 can bounce back.

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World War III rumors. Earthquakes. Cyclones. Locust attack. Bushfires. Worldwide economic downturn. Asteroids. COVID-19. All these events have happened in 2020, triggering the fear of apocalypse, and making people wonder whether the world will come to an end this year.

COVID-19 alone has been the biggest source of worry for people, claiming close to 4 lakh lives worldwide, and still going strong, even as the world struggles to come up with its vaccine. The Coronavirus pandemic has not just affected millions of lives, but also disturbed hundreds of thousands of businesses across the globe.

Impact on the manufacturing sector

One of the hardest-hit segments from COVID-19 is the manufacturing sector. The novel Coronavirus originated in China, which is home to the majority of the factories that supply raw materials to several manufacturing units across the world. Measures were taken to stop the spread of the virus.

The lockdown that followed brought the manufacturing facilities to a standstill, derailing the entire global supply chain. To put things into perspective, more than 75 percent of businesses have “one or more direct or Tier 1 supplier,” from China, and 938 of the Fortune 1000 companies have Tier 2 suppliers there.

This has triggered a chain of events, including a sharp decline in global FDI inflows, and a downturn in economies world over. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has estimated that the COVID-19 outbreak could cause global FDI to shrink by 5 to 15 percent, due to the downfall in the manufacturing sector coupled with factory shutdown. 

A look at the process manufacturing sector

The impact of COVID-19 on the global manufacturing industry can be classified into discrete manufacturing, i.e. automobile, machinery, electrical and electronics, metal, aviation, etc., and process manufacturing, i.e., food & beverage, chemicals, pharmaceutical and medical equipment, paint and coatings, and personal care & cosmetics, among others.

Through this blog, let’s explore the impact of COVID-19 on the process manufacturing industry, and the year 2020 in general. We’ll take a look at the process industries mentioned above, highlighting the impact of COVID-19 on them, and concluding with some collective measures that can help these process manufacturing industries find their feet again.

Pharma manufacturing industry

The disruptive effects of the COVID-19 have put the global supply of medical products under tremendous pressure, creating the problem of shortages. The USA and other major pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing nations rely heavily on sourcing material directly and indirectly from China, where the virus originated. With limited operational capacity in China, they now face high risks in supply shortages.

The USA, for example, gets 13 percent of its medical products manufactured in China. India, too, depends for about 80 percent of active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) on China, which is the world’s leading producer and exporter of APIs by volume. The pharma manufacturing companies in these countries have suffered heavily after the outbreak of the pandemic.

Also, India, another leading API manufacturer, has halted the export of 26 ingredients commonly used in pharmaceuticals in its efforts to ensure uninterrupted availability of critical APIs.

Clinical trials too are getting affected, as approximately 20 percent of studies are conducted in China. According to the clinical trials database of the USA, ClinicalTrials.gov, around 500 trials are conducted at sites in the city of Wuhan — the fountainhead of COVID-19.

COVID-19 has also forced many pharma manufacturing companies to focus on the production of masks, ventilators, and related components, sanitizer, and others. This way, they have been able to minimize the impact of the pandemic to some extent. But this cannot be their long-term strategy for survival, as they will have to focus on innovation, and the need to change business processes, to survive the pandemic.

Food & beverage manufacturing industry

In the current scenario, food & beverage manufacturing companies are facing significantly reduced consumption as well as supply chain issues. The grocery shelves are witnessing increased scarcity, and the rampant stockpilers who have indulged in panic buying have contributed heavily to it, apart from, of course, the supply chain derailment.

The supply of raw materials and ingredients to the manufacturing sites has been badly affected, which has hampered production, forcing manufacturers to shun operations. Also, manpower availability in the time of social distancing has been another major headache. As a result, the food & beverage companies have suffered a 22 percent loss in turnover globally, a study by French trade group ANIA suggests.

While at-home consumption has shown a spike, the out-of-home consumption, which traditionally generates the higher-margin, has come to a standstill.

Paint & coating manufacturing industry

The global paint & coatings manufacturing sector is also facing the prospect of a deep recession, as major markets continue to remain locked down to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus. Again, China being the key exporter of some critical paint & coatings raw materials like pigments and certain additives, dealt the global paint & coatings industry with a heavy blow.

The ripple effect is huge when something unprecedented like COVID-19 happens. This can be witnessed in paint & coatings industry’s case too, as in addition to its manufacturing operations getting affected, its big industrial customers, including automobile manufacturers and construction sites, have temporarily closed down in many countries, causing a significant fall in demand too.

Also, a recent increase in global oil prices has led to an increase in the costs of petrochemical-based raw materials, which the industry is heavily dependent upon.

Specialty chemicals manufacturing industry

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in global chemical production declining by 2.4 percent in February 2020, and 1.3 percent in the month of April, 2020.

Almost every type of chemical category has witnessed a decline in production. But, the production of specialty chemicals has witnessed a 9.4 percent decline.

The unprecedented crisis has forced leading chemical manufacturers around the globe to reduce capital and operational expenditure, and scale down their manufacturing operations to 40-60 percent capacity due to labor shortages, reduced demand, potentially tightening credit markets, and shortage in the raw material supplies.

The corona virus outbreak has also meant that many production facilities of several end-user industries such as plastic, fertilizers, medicines, packaging products, etc. have been halted. With this, the demand for chemicals used in these facilities has also declined.

Personal care & cosmetics manufacturing industry

The global personal care & cosmetics manufacturing industry that can be classified into skincare, haircare, fragrances& perfumes, and other cosmetics, has experienced a downfall in sales during the COVID-19 outbreak due to the closing of offline stores at various locations across the globe.

Many countries still being in the lockdown mode across the globe, personal care &cosmetics manufacturers have had to shut down their production units due to labor shortage, and reduced demand, with finding markets where goods can be exported to, becoming hard.

Just like other industries, the personal care & cosmetics industry too has been severely affected at the supply chain front. Halted factory work in China has been the prime reason behind this disruption. In near future too, the industry is likely to remain affected by these developments, with e-commerce majors including Amazon and Flipkart halting the supply of non-essential products (including cosmetics).


All the major sectors of the process manufacturing industry are suffering in the time of COVID-19. Reduced demand, and disrupted supply chain have been their major headaches. However, with challenge comes opportunity. Once the dust settles, the process manufacturers will find it imperative to innovate and change with time to remain relevant. The need of the hour though, for them, is to:

  • Introduce worker safety measures, along with best hygiene & sanitization practices, at work

  • Revisit their sourcing strategies, and line up alternate suppliers

  • Rationalize their product ranges

  • Evaluate supply chain agility, and make it more resilient

  • Review their crisis or emergency response plans

  • Optimize & streamline e-commerce & distribution networks

  • Revisit their pricing, and promotion strategies

A good process Manufacturing ERP software can help achieve most of the objectives mentioned above, and beyond. The sooner the process manufacturers realize that an ERP software for process manufacturing can be of great help in the post-COVID world, the better for them.

Digital transformation (DX) provides manufacturers with more flexibility and transform industrial processes and operations. See five ways metrics cover the DX solution lifecycle.

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Courtesy: Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC)

Digital transformation (DX) enables more efficiency, new business, operational opportunities and flexibility for manufacturers. DX leverages emerging technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to transform industrial processes and operations to produce better outcomes.

However, the business case for undertaking such transformations is rarely clear from the start. How much value can be gained and are these gains worth the investment costs and process changes? Are companies creating more risks and complexity, are there unexpected adverse effects and how can companies evaluate and mitigate the risks and the complexity? Will a digital transformation solutions (applied hardware, software and services) withstand operational changes over time and still show value?

The role of metrics goes beyond known business key performance indicators (KPIs) and operational performance indicators.

The trustworthiness space as defined by its metrics. Courtesy: Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC)

Five metrics for industrial digital transformation

The investigation phase of a solution: Measurements keep track of operational performance and its correlation with the context of operations, revealing improvement opportunities (such as how to enhance a product, a process, or how to increase sub-optimal service availability).

  1. Agreements and contracts such as a service-level agreement (SLA): What do we expect and what is defined as a success. A precise definition of metrics and agreed targets for these brings everyone on the same page: customers, end users operational personnel, service providers, solution developers, technology vendors, regulators and external experts. DX solutions often involve several partner, beyond the understood customer-vendor relationship.

  2. Solution assessment (outcome evaluation): This is not a one-time activity. DX solutions evolve, objectives and constraints change and measures are needed to validate performance. In addition, many DX developments are incremental and involve cycles of trials and errors that require a prompt assessment. Non-functional properties such as safety, security, reliability, or resilience have their own objectives that must be part of a well-rounded set of evaluation metrics.

  3. Managing trade-offs:  The operational expectations that motivate DX are easy to formulate: performance, throughput, productivity, cost reduction, response and lead times, defect or error rates.Understanding adverse effects is key to long-term viability. These include undesirable side effects, unexpected costs, overhead, disruption, the rigidity and fragility of a process and other risks. Establishing the right metrics to capture both positive and negative aspects is crucial to controlling the impact of DX choices in a complex environment.

  4. Establishing good practices for DX technologies. DX solutions involve a growing set of technologies (such as AI, digital twins, real-time analytics, time-sensitive networks (TSNs)), the deployment of which in industrial context needs to be adapted to specific conditions. Measuring the value of these technologies for digital transformation technologies and their operational contexts is critical to developing best practices for applications. The other facet of associating digital transformation best practices with a solution is the capture of its requirements such as the type and volume of data, characteristics of physical assets to be connected and networking constraints, which require their own measurements.

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