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Converging technologies for micro systems manufacturing

Final Report Summary - COTECH (Converging technologies for micro systems manufacturing)

Executive summary:

The continuous development of ever-smaller products in almost every industrial sector not only leads to an emerging industrial demand for suitable micro replication processes but also leads to a demand for efficient process chains for the development and production of micro-mechanical components and systems.

The COTECH project is aimed at converging technologies and at developing hybrid solutions by following the vision of desktop or micro factories for the production of polymer-based micro-mechanical components and systems. To prepare the future micro factory for the polymer processing industry the COTECH objectives target at the following approaches:

1. concentration and combination of process technologies enabling the production of multi-material and/or multi-form polymer-based micro-mechanical components and systems
2. hybridisation of complementary replication technologies
3. concentration and combination of different processes for master and tool production needed for the replication processes.

Such an envisaged convergence of technologies and hybridisation will accelerate the production of complex shaped and even multi-material components in order to obtain an important reduction of the required supply chain space which will consequently lead to reduced time to market and cost reduction. Following the above mentioned complementary approaches for converging technologies, the objectives of COTECH are:

1. development and demonstration of new micro replication techniques and tool making technologies for the manufacturing of polymer-based multi-material components
2. introduction and demonstration of new micro replication techniques combining capabilities of different processes or techniques based on micro injection moulding (µIM)
3. implementation of global process chains for the manufacturing of polymer-based micro-mechanical components and systems, supported by the use of new advanced simulation models and 'in-situ' non destructive testing procedures
4. demonstration of the new micro replication techniques for the production of high added value micro devices with increased functionalities by realising eight demonstrators coming predominantly from the areas of healthcare and automotive industry. The eight COTECH demonstrators are multifunctional integrated lighting devices; self-ligating dental brackets; substrates for artificial skin production; accommodable intra-ocular lenses; smart diagnostic chips; cooling devices for electronic components; micro lenses for cell phone flash lights; and micro sockets for signal carriage.

Project context and objectives:

The trend towards ever-smaller products showing ever-smaller features down in the range of sub-micron and even nanometre scale is continuously progressing and is continuously leading to a demand for polymer-based micro-mechanical systems, which will require complex shaped and even multi-material components which cannot be produced using the available techniques.

In order to support European manufacturers in this context, existing micro fabrication techniques and tools need to be adapted and modified, which means that micro replication technologies such as µIM and hot embossing have to be improved significantly. Furthermore, automated part-assembly and highly sophisticated quality control techniques need to be established.

The COTECH project was initiated in order to develop and demonstrate new approaches of converging technologies and hybrid solutions for the manufacturing of polymer-based micromechanical components and systems.

COTECH gathers 25 European organisations, including small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), industrial leaders, research centres, universities and service organisations).

Converging technologies

The micro factory of the future has to enable the further concentration and combination of complementary techniques (e.g. µIM and hot embossing, µIM and localised coating) as well as to significantly improve replication accuracy and possibilities, to realise automated assembly steps and to include highly sophisticated quality control techniques in all steps of the process chain.

To prepare the future micro factory for the polymer processing industry COTECH aims at concentrating and combining complementary techniques by converging technologies and developing hybrid solutions in the full process chain of micro production. The following three approaches were investigated:

1. concentration and combination of process technologies enabling the production of multi-material and/or multi-form polymer-based micro-mechanical components and systems
2. hybridisation of complementary replication technologies
3. concentration and combination of different processes for master and tool production needed for the replication processes.

COTECH objectives:

1. development and demonstration of new micro replication techniques supported by emerging tool-making technologies for the manufacturing of polymer-based multi-material components
2. introduction and demonstration of new micro replication techniques combining capabilities of different processes or techniques based on µIM
3. implementation of global process chains for the manufacturing of polymer-based micro-mechanical components and systems, supported by the use of new advanced simulation models and 'in-situ' non destructive testing procedures
4. demonstration of the capability to produce high added value micro devices with advanced functionalities by means of realising the following eight demonstrators coming predominantly from the areas of healthcare and automotive industry.

Project results:

COTECH developments

Tooling

The objective of this sub-project was to develop hybrid tooling techniques for the fabrication of micro mould inserts and to supply the necessary tools for research and technological development as well as for demonstration activities in the frame of the COTECH project.

For an optimal performance and better positioning accuracy, a new micro machining platform has been developed for the combination of two tooling processes in one high precision machine. The possible process combinations are electrical discharge machining (EDM) roughing and EDM finishing; high speed machining (HSM) roughing and EDM finishing; laser ablation and EDM finishing.

Advantages:

1. a method of high performance micro-machining
2. high accuracy
3. optimisation process without removing the piece ('One step process')
4. micro machining of various materials (e.g. metals, ceramics).

Furthermore, a new machine has been developed which can combine EDM roughing and micro-EDM (µ-EDM) finishing; laser machining and µ-EDM finishing; and laser drilling and µ-EDM machining.

Advantages

Micro laser ablation allows machining of non-conductive materials (e.g. ceramics, layered thermal barrier systems).

Micro replication

The objective of this sub-project was to improve the basic processes in multi-material replication (injection moulding, µIM and hot embossing) towards better quality by lowest cycle times. Based on advanced statistical process control, new process monitoring and modelling methods, a complete mapping of the relationship between process quality and process parameter has been obtained.

The following main results have been achieved:

1. determination of main influence parameters for advanced part weight and product quality control
2. reduction of cycle time in hot embossing has been reduced down to 2 min instead of typically 20 min
3. improvement of the injection rate stability in µIM by a new machine design (MicroPower) below 1 % instead of typically 4 %
4. improvement of surface replication fidelity
5. improvement of the packing cycle for micro and nano injection moulding
6. easy software adaption of improved pvT machine control strategies - from process control to product control.

Material optimisation, simulation, quality control and reliability

This subproject (SP) dealt with polymer and polymer/nanocomposites simulation, characterisation for micro-replication and hybrid processes. SP4 handled simulation, quality control and reliability of µ-replication processes. It also included the development of a new simulation tools' generation as well as a better understanding of polymer flow and their dependence on replication parameters.

Material optimisation

A new polymer high speed rheology database suitable for µIM has been experimentally developed and is now available for high temperature polymers, i.e. polyether ether ketone (PEEK) with glass fibres, optical polymer grades, i.e. cyclic olefin copolymer (COC), polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA), polycarbonate (PC) and polystyrene (PS), and polymer nano-composites, i.e. PC with carbon nanotubes (CNTs).

Process and product quality control:

1. The µIM process is now fully characterised with temperature, speed, pressure, demoulding force sensors measurements. Methods and procedure for optimised µIM processing have been established.
2. A new µIM process monitoring platform based on a fully monitored µIM machine with wireless connection for high speed process measurement sampling has been developed.
3. A new µIM control method based on integral values instead of single-point peak values of pressure-based parameters has been established and validated. The new µIM integral-based parameter provides a comprehensive representation of the process throughout its different phases (filling, packing, cooling, demoulding).
4. A major advancement in terms of optical metrology for micro manufacture was achieved: a new method based on the soft replica technique for micro/nano dimensional metrology was established and validated for sub-µm roughness polymer and metal surfaces, as well as for sub-mm to µm geometrical features.
5. The metrology framework for full traceability and µIM process/product capability is now established from sub-mm to sub-µm dimensional range. Methods and procedures have been successfully applied to the COTECH demonstrators.

New quality control technologies:

Alicona Gmbh has developed a brand new high-speed metrology system for micro metrology with reduced dimension and weight suited for in-line applications in micro manufacture. The instrument is now commercially available. Alicona Gmbh has developed a new surface roughness standard for calibration of micro/nano surface roughness optical instruments. The calibration uncertainty of the Alicona Infinite Focus using the new surface roughness standard is now of ±20nm for an Ra roughness of 500 nm. Alicona Imaging Gmbh and Wittmann-Battenfeld have developed a completely new micro manufacturing unit which includes µIM, handling and 100% quality control of polymer micro products with high complex geometry. The system is composed by: MicroPower µIM machine, InfiniteFocus three dimensional (3D) optical profilometre, robot for handling of micro moulded parts, software for 3D data set point evaluation and measurement. The components have been integrated in one unique fully-automated system where micro product quality control is in-line integrated with the micro moulding process.

Process simulation:

The Autodesk Moldflow software was validated for µIM simulations in relation to flow pattern shape, injection pressure, part weight, part dimensions and shrinkage. Methods and procedure for optimised µIM simulations have been established. Autodesk Moldflow has developed a new software module for 3D injection compression moulding simulations. The software module is now available for no additional cost to all existing Autodesk Moldflow customers including COTECH partners.

Technology convergence based on hydrid process

The aim of this sub-project was to investigate technology convergences based on the combination of two processing technologies for directly producing functionalised µ-devices with reduced assembly steps. The following approaches have been investigated:

1. convergence between µIM and hot embossing. This convergence permitted to improve part weight constancy, optical properties and lowest shrinkage behaviour as well as excellent part surface quality with typical cycle times below one min (20 times faster than conventional hot embossing).
2. multi-material µIM. An investigation on convergences of µIM with insert moulding had been done to offer wide range of multi-material micro components.
3. convergence between µIM and metal deposition. With this convergence no patterning process is required after injection moulding and also a wider range of (non catalystic) polymers can be used. Processing time of the plating is compatible with IM.
4. convergence between µIM and surface treatment. The atmospheric pressure plasma enhanced chemical vapour deposition process (APPECVD) was applied successfully on the GBO demonstrator (microfluidic application) for surface functionalisation (hydrophilic and hydrophobic coatings.

Up-scaling of new production processes for multi-material micro-devices

This sub-project aimed at up-scaling new production processes for multi-material micro-devices based on µIM. In this context, a new generation of µIM machinery has been developed in order to generate a minimum necessary melt cushion, to avoid any kind of cold material slug and to realise a high accurate and reproducible injection to eliminate all disadvantages of existing machinery.

Based on the new generation of µIM machinery special processes have been up-scaled to enable the production of multi-material micro-devices, such as insert µIM, multi-component µIM, reel-to-reel µIM and µIM with localised surface treatment of moulded micro-devices.

For further improvement of micro replication and part quality, a converged process has been developed and realised to combine advantages of µIM and hot embossing applying a compression with hot embossing pvT-characteristics during the packing phase of the µIM cycle.

Industrial prototypes and demonstrators

The objective was to build the initially chosen eight industrial demonstrators with the converged process chain developed within COTECH. This sub-project was dedicated to through design, manufacturing and characterisation of the complete demonstrators taking into account the knowledge developed in other parts of the project:

1. based on systematic design iterations the eight industrial prototypes were designed intended for the application areas like health, biomedical, information technology, microelectronics and automotive industries. The design was focussed to facilitate the COTECH converged production technique which could at the end reduce the cycle time and produce functionally versatile products with reduced production cost.
2. different potential processing routes were developed for all industrial demonstrators and best processes were chosen from technical and economic perspectives. All eight demonstrators were produced with the most promising production routes by the use of the advanced machines and tools developed within the frame of COTECH projects.
3. the technical and economical benchmarking for all eight newly developed demonstrators were made to verify the advancement associated to all demonstrators. Benchmarking showed that the new products are more innovative, cost effective, superior in performance, aesthetically appealing and environmentally friendly.

Main innovation related to COTECH demonstrators

Micro-prismatic light-guide for automotive lighting application (CRP, Italy):

1. enhancement of the optical output of automotive tail light by the innovative design and integration micro prismatic structures on the light guide (efficiency increased by 48 %)
2. development of the vacuum moulding system for the flawless production of the light guide which contributes to optical output improvement of the overall system by 21 %
3. converged production technology based on insert moulding technology and the use of the moulded interconnect device (MID) substrates as printed circuit boards (PCBs) of the system add to the innovation of this demonstrator.

Smart diagnostic chips for biomedical applications (GBO, Germany):

1. cheap design and development of the geometrical layout of the fluidic device
2. smart use of electric filed to separate deoxyribonucleic acids (DNAs) from biological fluids and finding the dependency of DNAs on pH, sodium (Na+), chloride (Cl-) etc.

Substrate for artificial skin production (GEMA, Spain):

1. nanostructured surface for the production of artificial skin and it can reduce the use of animals in the test and facilitate the rapid tests
2. the use of newly developed µIM/HE converged process for the for the replication of nano structures is another important innovation related to this demonstrator.

Cooling device for microelectronic applications, CNTs polymers (Atherm, France):

1. miniaturisation of thermal devices (small pins) and metal coating of the substrates in smart and innovative ways
2. increasing of thermal conductivity of polymers by addition of CNTs : thermal conductivity reaches 1W/mK
3. use of mass produced technology like injection moulding supported by surface treatment to replace slow and cost intensive machining technologies.

Innovative self-ligating dental bracket (EO, Spain):

1. first self-ligating brackets made in polymer. Aesthetics of the brackets are significantly improved by the use of transparent polymers. Manufacturing constrain is overcome by injection moulding process which could replace slow and const intensive machining techniques.
2. modular design concept with four covers that can coordinate with 13 different base to provide a complete set of teeth to adapt to the different phases of treatment
3. the newly developed orthodontic brackets incorporate a tied arch mechanism to eliminate metal ligature improving comfort for the patient
4. pressure control of the arch decreases friction and increases the effectiveness of the device resulting in shorter treatment times and fewer visits to the dentist.

Eight Pin receiver in the canal (RIC) socket for hearing aids (Sonion, Denmark):

1. this versatile new socket for hearing aid can combine the functions of RIC socket and programming socket to reduce the number of components in the hearing aids
2. sufficient number of contact pins provides the possibilities of having two speakers in the same ear canal to give the precise directional indications of the incoming sound and also to give a stereo-effect to the listener
3. innovative and simple lock/unlock mechanism based on the snap principal increase the user friendliness and life time of the RIC connector
4. it will enable simultaneous programming of the hearing aids meaning the programmer can program the hearing aid while it is sitting in the patient's ear and can get real time feedback from the patient
5. converged and automated production based on fully automated insert moulding and online quality control system.

Accommodable IOL (BI, Germany):

1. first accommodable intra-ocular lens (IOL). No real accommodating IOL in the market. The problem to restore the eye accommodation capacity as and accommodable IOL is addressed with this demonstrator.
2. first IOL made by mass production-industrially adaptive µIM process.

Micro-Fresnel lens for cell phones (Heptagon, Finland):

1. heptagon micro-structured flash lenses consists of a mixture of refractive (central part) and total-internal reflection (TIR) structures (edge of the lenses) arranged in a sectored way in order to perform the beam shaping of an optical beam emitted by an light emitting diode (LED).
2. the combination of both types of structures allow to have superior performances in terms of efficiency (that is how much of the light emitted by a light source is redirected into a target scene) and uniformity (to ensure that the corners of the target scene are not too dark compared to its central part).
3. development of the new production process and finding the tuning factor for injection moulding (IM) to generate precise surface details for better intensity distribution.

Potential impact:

The results of the project COTECH will contribute to enhance quality of life by enabling a new generation of more cost effective micro-optical, bio-medical and energy products to emerge. Results will be useful for the design and manufacturing of numerous micro devices that will bring a greater comfort to consumers in many aspects of their life. The integration in micro manufacturing can reduce the consumption of energy and raw materials and also the production of waste.

COTECH is an essential project to maintain high employment rates in the micro manufacturing industry. The project is expected to have a significant impact on the improved use and the development of high qualified skills for the micro manufacturing industry. The project allowed to maintain and to create employment within all industrial partners and especially small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). One spin-off was established leading to the creation of two full jobs.

Several partners have been able to develop new products that have been sold before the end of the project:

1. Sarix has developed a new micro machining platform for the combination of two tooling processes in one high precision machine, three machines have been sold.
2. Alicona has developed a new optical measuring system for µ-metrology, 30 instruments have been sold.
3. A new 3D injection compression moulding software has been developed by Autodesk, this additional module is now available to their customers (licensed).
4. A new generation of µIM machinery has been developed by Wittman Battenfeld, 41 machines have been sold (machine patents applied).
5. Sonion registered the design of new generation of RIC connectors for hearing aid instruments with capability of programming with simultaneous feedback.
6. Two patents have been applied by Be Innovative for their Intra-ocular lenses.
7. Euroortodoncia applied for a patent for self-ligating orthodontic braces.

Other patents applications are still under consideration.

The project established a dialogue between COTECH partners and the public through many ways of communication and may participate in research design. COTECH objectives and results have been disseminated to the scientific community and industry on a regular basis at international conferences and workshops. In the first and second period 63 scientific publications (papers and presentations at conferences) related to COTECH can be registered.

COTECH partners hosted, co-organised or took a leading participatory role in the following key dissemination activities:

1. 4M International conference on micro-manufacturing (ICOMM) Conference 2009, 23 to 25 September 2009 in Karlsruhe/Germany, see http://www.4m-association.org/conference/2009 A special conference session was dedicated to COTECH, which was moderated by the COTECH coordinator, both as speaker and chairman.
2. Polymer process engineering (PPE) 2009 conference, 27 and 28 October 2009 in Bradford/United Kingdom (UK), see http://www.polyeng.com/ppe09 The main focus of this conference has been put to polymer micro and nano technology with a strong contribution from COTECH partners.
3. First micro-nano moulding seminar - technologies and applications, 27 April 2010 in Copenhagen/Denmark, see http://www.atv-semapp.dk/arr2010/100427_micro-molding/pg_100427.html The seminar was attended by 68 professionals with a strong contribution from COTECH partners giving seminar lectures.
4. COTECH booth at K2010, 27 October to 3 November 2010 in Düsseldorf/Germany
5. 4M conference 2010, 17 to 19 November 2010 in Oyonnax/France, see http://www.4m-association.org/conference/2010. A special conference session was dedicated to COTECH, which was moderated by the COTECH coordinator as chairman.
6. COTECH training for Professionals, 27 April 2011 in Copenhagen/Denmark, see http://www.atv-semapp.dk/arr2011/110427_MiNaMould/pg_110427.html The COTECH training was held in conjunction with the second micro-nano-moulding seminar organised by the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). The training was attended by 50 professionals. Training lectures were given by senior representatives of COTECH beneficiaries, exclusively.
7. DTU summer school on 'Micro mechanical systems design and manufacturing' for PhD students, 20 June to 1 July 2011 in Copenhagen/Denmark, refer to http://microsummerschool.net The summer school was attended by 20 PhD students representing 7 countries and it was supported by COTECH, featuring guest lecturers from CEA, CU, Sonion and Fotec.
8. 4M Conference 2011, 8 to 10 November 2011 in Stuttgart/Germany, see http://www.4m-association.org/conference/2011 A special conference session was dedicated to COTECH, which was moderated by the COTECH Coordinator as chairman.
9. PPE 2009 Conference, 6 and 7 December 2011 in Bradford/United Kingdom, see http://www.polyeng.com/ppe11
10. COTECH training two for Professionals, 8 June 2012 in Stockholm/Sweden, refer to http://www.stockholm2012.euspen.eu/page1687/Cotech/Cotech-Project The COTECH training was held in conjunction with the 12th International European Society for Precision Engineering and Nanotechnology (EUSPEN) Conference and Exhibition. Training lectures were given by senior representatives of COTECH beneficiaries, exclusively.
11. COTECH training three for professionals, 8 October 2012 in Vienna/Austria, see http://www.4m-association.org/event/Training-Professionals The COTECH training was held in conjunction with the 4M Conference 2012. The training was attended by 40 professionals. Training lectures were given by senior representatives of COTECH beneficiaries, exclusively.
12. 4M Conference 2012, 9 to 11 October 2012 in Vienna/Austria, see http://www.4m-association.org/conference/2012 A special conference session was dedicated to COTECH, which was moderated by the COTECH Coordinator as chairman.

Project website: http://www.fp7-cotech.eu

FOTEC Forschungs- und Technologietransfer GmbH

Helmut Loibl

loibl@fotec.at

Telephone: +43-262-290333120.

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