Taking nanotechnology from lab to factory
8 February 2008
An EU-funded 'network of excellence' has helped micro
and nanotechnology make it from the laboratory to the factory. The Design
for Micro & Nano Manufacture (Patent-DfMM) network was granted €6.2m for a
4.5-year project that involved teams from the fields of packaging, test
engineering, reliability engineering, simulation and modelling. The project
is due to end later this year, but the network is expected to continue by
into nanotechnology is forging ahead in laboratories around the world. There
are a myriad of applications in areas ranging from cosmetics ingredients to
molecular vehicles for building new compounds. There is plenty of innovation
in micro- and nanotechnologies, but bringing new devices to market is often
prohibitively expensive. Many micro devices have small production volumes,
while design, packaging and testing are costly. Under the project, European
researchers have been breaking down the barriers by developing design
methodologies that focus on manufacturing, packaging and testing.
the development of marketable products lags well behind the scientific
advances. Often the devices only exist in the laboratory as a demonstration.
These prototype lab demonstrations look ugly, but often work and they prove
functionality at the nano- or micro-scale. They also often determine whether
the invention will ever see the light of day.
“For certain types of device, targeting very large volumes in sectors like
the automotive and, more recently, the computer gaming industry, there is a
promising future,” reveals Patric Salomon, a partner with the PATENT-DfMM
network of excellence (NoE). “But for many others, the lab is the only place
where these devices are ever really used.”
The reason is that up to 80% of
the unit cost for micro- and nano-devices is in the packaging and testing
phase, and the unit cost must often come in under
€1. “Many innovations are just too expensive to commercialise,” notes
But not, perhaps, for much longer. The PATENT-DfMM network was set up to
find a way to cut the cost of packaging, testing and manufacturing micro and
nano-devices. To do it, the 22-strong consortium had €6.2 million funding
from the EU.
“We had a lot of control over how we assessed projects for
funding within the network,” says Salomon. “As a result, we were able to get
quite a significant impact.” In the end, the NoE supported over 60
These looked at ways to simplify the “design for
micro manufacture” process. In essence, researchers learn about
manufacturing constraints before starting a design and they take these into
account during the concept phase, to optimise units for manufacturing
processes. This drives down costs and the time to market.
funded research into ways of re-using one design, or its building blocks,
for a different type of product. It also studied more efficient ways to test
for robustness and perform quality control. Already, these projects have had
an important impact, though Salomon admits that they are difficult to
The end of the beginning
But that’s just the beginning.
PATENT-DfMM also conceived a series of service clusters — groups of
specialists in particular areas of micro- and nanotechnology, offering
services in design for manufacture, testing and reliability.
specifically SMEs and can provide help for companies seeking to
commercialise a nano- or microtechnology,” notes Salomon. So far,
PATENT-DfMM has set up two; one specialised in miniaturised
health-monitoring systems (HUMS), while another focuses on reliability
In all, it offers hope of a commercial life for the thousands
of lost innovations gathering dust in labs across the continent, and more
importantly, to make sure future inventions are “designed for manufacture”
from their initial development phase.
For more information on PATENT-DfMM
Source: ICT Results