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Multi-Material Micro Manufacture: Technologies and Applications

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Mass manufacture of miniature components

Silicon Valley has been synonymous with technological innovation for the last 75 years. EU-funded researchers provided a roadmap that may help transform Europe into the ‘Nanotechnology Valley’ of the future.

Industrial Technologies icon Industrial Technologies

Silicon Valley has its origins in the late 1930s when William Hewlett and David Packard laid the foundations for one of the world’s foremost technology innovators in the humble confines of a small garage. Since then, the input of huge amounts of venture capital has resulted in an amazing outflow of electronic devices based on the use of silicon. The landscape is changing, with micro- and nanotechnology (MNT) reshaping the frontiers of electronic devices. MNT has facilitated the development of ever-smaller devices with ever-increasing functionality, from portable wireless communication devices to a seemingly endless assortment of lifestyle, health, transport and manufacturing equipment. However, in order to exploit the full potential of MNT, suitable mass manufacturing processes are required. European researchers seeking to enhance the speed and reduce the cost with which MNT-based products are brought to market initiated the ‘Multi-material micro manufacture: technologies and applications’ (4M) project. Investigators conducted an extensive review of technologies for multi-material micro manufacture in order to identify discrepancies between current and future requirements and existing capabilities. The 4M team concluded that no one technology will dominate future innovation. A variety of technologies already exist to support the transition from design of MNT-based products using specific materials and specific processes to design and processes enabling the production of emerging multi-material components. Many promising processing chains incorporate both traditional mechanically-based ultra-precision engineering and micro- and electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) and integrated circuit (IC) manufacturing technologies. Whereas the dominance of the Silicon Valley in new technologies was fostered in large part by huge venture capital investments in start-up companies, Europe’s progress is slowed by a lack of such investment. In addition, organisational and ideological stumbling blocks related to a lack of unified standards and conservatism among some industrial sectors impedes innovation. However, Europe has a well established machine tool industry and the highly-trained human capital needed to exploit it, perhaps the most important ingredients for successful MNT innovation. 4M results regarding the current and future landscape of micromachining of multi-materials just may help transform Europe into the ‘MNT Valley’ of the future.

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