In the course of researching, designing, and manufacturing imaging products, Fujifilm has developed more than a few advanced technologies. One of these is microcapsules, new applications for which continue to be discovered. In this article we’ll take a closer look at this microscopic but mighty technology!
As the name suggests, Fujifilm’s microcapsules are microscopic capsules measuring a few micrometers in diameter up to a few millimeters in diameter (a human hair is 50-100 micrometers thick). A Fujifilm microcapsule product comprises the encapsulated material and the shell material. When a physical stimulus is applied to the product, the capsules are broken, and the encapsulated material interacts with one or more external materials, producing the desired result.
The encapsulated material can be virtually anything, but examples include fragrances, dyes, and drugs. Moreover, the diameter of the capsules and the thickness of the shell material may be adjusted to control the timing with which the encapsulated material is released. The shell material can even be designed to prevent the capsules from breaking; instead, pressure causes multiple materials inside the capsules to undergo a chemical reaction.
Indeed, microcapsule technology is so versatile that imagination is the only thing that limits its potential functions and applications. Apply pressure, and liquid glue instantly becomes solid. Pour hot water on a food product and put it in your mouth, and delicious flavor is released. Put on an article of clothing, and it quickly warms up or cools down to a comfortable temperature. Virtually any desired effect is possible.
Fujifilm’s microcapsule technology dates back to 1963, when the company launched a pressure-sensitive carbonless paper. Pressure-sensitive paper comprises two sheets. When the user writes or types on the top sheet, the application of pressure causes a copy to be made on the bottom sheet. Microcapsules coated on the reverse of the top sheet contain a color former. When pressure is applied, the color former is released from the capsules and mixes with a developer coated on the bottom sheet. These two substances interact and produce a visible ink, forming the copy on the bottom sheet.
Building on this successful application of microcapsules, Fujifilm launched “Prescale” in 1977. A film that can precisely measure pressure, pressure distribution, and pressure balance, Prescale changes color wherever pressure is applied; the more pressure applied, the deeper the change in color. Forty years later, Prescale is going stronger than ever and is now available in a wide range of specifications, from low-pressure types that change color with the touch of a finger, to high-pressure types that measure pressure by the metric ton. One of the main applications of Prescale is in manufacturing quality control. The low-pressure type is used to measure the pressure with which the screen is applied to the body in the assembly of smartphones, while the high-pressure type is used to confirm press tolerances in the fabrication of high-mass metal parts. In factories around the world, Prescale helps companies make products at a much higher level of quality and precision.
Building on the Prescale concept, Fujifilm has developed a range of similar products. Thermoscale changes color when heat is applied to measure heat distribution, while UVSCALE changes color when ultraviolet light is applied to measure UV light volume distribution.
The development of Prescale led Fujifilm to further refine its microcapsule technologies. The company discovered how to decrease capsule diameter to less than 1 micrometer, precisely control the thickness and hardness of capsule shells, and manufacture microcapsules and the products that contain them even more stably and efficiently.
Fujifilm continued to apply the manufacturing processes it developed for photographic film to microcapsule technology, finding ways to use microcapsules in membranes and precision coatings and combining microcapsules with its nano dispersion technology. In this way, Fujifilm found new ways to turn microcapsules into highly value-added products. In addition, Fujifilm made advances in materials that were more friendly to the environment, such as polyurethane, and featured them in microcapsule products.
In order to fulfill the potential of microcapsule technology, Fujifilm’s sales, marketing, R&D, and manufacturing personnel has joined forces to promote the use of this technology both within Fujifilm and beyond in the form of Open Innovation. New applications and functions continue to be created in every field and industry, such as food products, healthcare, energy, and more.
Fujifilm also offers a range of technological services that can help companies create unique new products. Fujifilm can develop new encapsulated materials and determine how to manufacture them, develop methods to encapsulate a specific substance, and even develop methods to further process microcapsules after they are formed. In addition to traditional polyurethane as a base material, Fujifilm is researching and developing advanced new substances to take microcapsule performance to the next level.
More than a half-century has passed since the development of Fujifilm’s first microcapsule product, and forty years have passed since the introduction of Prescale. Going forward, Fujifilm will continue to build on this technology and innovate new applications. In fact, in the near future, new products with advanced microcapsule functions are likely to reach consumers in a range of new and exciting applications.