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Integrating European research infrastructures for micro-nano fabrication of functional structures and devices out of a knowledge-based multimaterials’ repertoire

Final Report Summary - EUMINAFAB (Integrating European research infrastructures for micro-nano fabrication of functional structures and devices out of a knowledge-based multimaterials’ repertoire)

Executive Summary:

Emerging micro and nano fabrication technologies, which have the capability to structure, functionalise and replicate down to several nanometres, are expected to lead to disruptive innovation in application areas of high societal significance. Examples include medical diagnostics, point-of-care and lab-on-chip solutions; improvements in components for lighting or energy saving, storage and management; and the provision of futuristic data communication applications. These technologies are rapidly developing, often require expensive equipment and highly specialised expertise. It is simply not possible for each research organisation or SME to maintain a state of the art portfolio. This barrier to progress can be lowered by open access infrastructures which are recognised worldwide as having growing importance as “hubs for innovation”, and indeed as being crucial for developing an effective technology innovation system.

EUMINAfab, the European research infrastructure for micro-nano fabrication of functional structures and devices, is a four year I3 project which has run under FP7 Capacities specific programme (March 2009 - August 2013). Open access to unique or rare high-end technologies in nano and micro structuring, replication and characterisation has been utilised within the scope of the project by 150 transnational users from European member and associated states.

During the past four and a half years, EUMINAfab partners have successfully integrated their outstanding, diverse expertise and capabilities. From the start, we have aimed to reach out beyond the boundary of our immediate sphere of contacts, provide a user-friendly operating system, build a pan-European infrastructure which can leverage the capabilities of partners and users and create an environment where we can stimulate innovation. Experience in open access has taken us further than the original offer of a technology toolbox and opened the way for functional solution provision in key application areas.

Networking and Joint Research Activities have been designed to support the framework conditions for user access. The networking activities publicised the fully funded access to new users, controlled the running of the EUMINAfab Entry Point, allowed researchers based at partner sites exchange visits to expand their experience, and enabled the definition of a sustainable model for the mid-term operation of EUMINAfab. The Joint Research Activities promoted knowledge transfer and technological integration. This was by the establishment of a knowledge management system, metrology benchmarking and technology readiness levelling assessment. A set of twenty-five cross-infrastructure projects have led to the creation of new process chains and related technology demonstrators. These new process chains open up new possibilities for further development in future collaborative projects and, in the immediate term, have advanced the state of the art which can be offered to users.

EUMINAfab has shown such impact during the FP7 Capacities Specific Programme funding period, both between the members of the consortium and in serving an ever growing user community that the partners are concerned that the progress made in integrating the open access facilities should be continued. The aim is to acquire funding to transform the original technology toolbox to an application-oriented fabrication centre ready to serve European industry and academia through and beyond Horizon 2020.

Project Context and Objectives:

The potential for enabling European researchers from academia and industry, to access new knowledge, skills and technologies at a very early stage in their development can significantly lower the barriers for the introduction of these skills by European stakeholders. In this context the project objectives were formulated, and during the course of the funding period, achieved.

Project Objectives

1. To open transnational access in a way not only to deliver, but also to harvest from users’ experiences and scientific requirements
2. To stimulate the creation of a sustainable and enduring integration in the area of multimaterial micro nano technologies (MNT)
3. To develop the vertical integration of distributed multimaterial MNT in order to achieve a higher level of interoperability, which is then demonstrated by the development of user-specific reference process chains (in collaboration with specific users and user groups)
4. To assess already classified technologies, and thus to describe their readiness and maturity level regarding a set of specific parameters in order to enhance the performance of individual multimaterial MNT
5. To evaluate and integrate the knowledge outside the consortium by means of specific interaction with external experts (e.g. interviews), using a foresight process and case studies that lead to technology-specific roadmaps
6. To compare and classify individual technologies, thus enabling potential users to specifically select the most appropriate technology
7. To develop and operate a knowledge management system (KMS) that physically integrates relevant information from the partners, as well as results from research and networking activities within EUMINAfab; it is an IT-based tool to increase EUMINAfab’s performance as an ERI.

The three pillars of EUMINAfab: Networking, Transnational Access and Joint Research Activities, are supported by an efficient management.

Networking Activities

The EUMINAfab Entry Point is both the “e-public face” of EUMINAfab and the central point of access to the integrated services. It creates a focal point for EUMINAfab: all material necessary to inform users of the offer of fully funded open access to EUMINAfab is available the calls published, and applications are received, reviewed and. managed. The knowledge management system, developed in the Joint Research Activities, is implemented, and serves also as a communication platform for the project participants. The resultant single entry point for user requests is compatible with the individual mechanisms of the partners’ home infrastructures.

Micro and nano fabrication technologies are cross cutting technologies and serve a wide range of application areas. Roadmapping can give insight on possible future success stories and highlight challenges facing further progress. Roadmapping activities have focused specifically on the technologies offered by EUMINAfab with the potential of highlighting a combination of technologies which could have a major impact. To date 120 documents relevant to EUMINAfab have been analysed and two Hot Spots of activity have been recognised.

• Self-assembling technologies for direct use or mask making processes and related metrology issues.
• Non polymeric (glass, ceramic, metal) materials replication processes in the micrometre/sub micrometre range including suitable tool fabrication

Initially dissemination activities have focused on making known the offer of no-fee user access to EUMINAfab. This has largely taken place by being present at conferences and exhibitions using elements of the EUMINAfab Roadshow. In addition to these publicity exercises, the results of the recently completed user projects and JRA work packages are published in appropriate journal and conferences. We have been present at a wide range of events euspen, MM Live, E-MRS fall meeting, Micronora, Manufuture 2011, Fumat 2011, nanofutures 4M 2009-2013.

Our dissemination plan extends beyond the end of the funding period. Already planned in 2013:

• Symposium at the EMRS Fall meeting in Warsaw together with the I3 projects H2FC and Quality nano (September).
• EUMINAfab session at 4M2013 Conference in San Sebastian, Spain. (October)
• Third EU-Australia Workshop in Canberra - linkage with industry plenary session jointly organised with the Australian National Fabrication Facility ANFF (November).

Within the Researchers Exchange Programme (REP), EUMINAfab researchers were able to take the opportunity of trying out ideas at partner sites. Proposals could be submitted via the project intranet and were evaluated by a panel of senior EUMINAfab scientists. The REP projects are typically of two weeks duration and often led to the design of JRA projects between two or more partners. The skills gained by the candidates could also be applied to user projects and are of particular value when a technology expert was approached by a user request requiring skills available at different partner sites.

The discussion of the sustainability of EUMINAfab beyond 2013 has enabled us to devise a model which provides a structure for integrated transnational access to this valuable infrastructure, and is compatible with the members of our diverse partnership. Funding for transnational access is, however, very fragmented in Europe and until the difficulty can be solved, the I3 Capacities Programme is an essential underpinning element of our model. The reason for this is that each country, region and organisation has its own way of supporting open access and there is very little compatibility between the schemes. Partly as a consequence of this difficulty, and in recognition of the fact that without the input of funding the partners are not able to offer no fee access on a transnational level, but more so in response to the growth in maturity of the access offer, we have concluded that a future funding under the Capacities Specific programme in H2020 would give the optimal support for expanding the Consortium, the maturity of our services and our user base. We submitted a contribution to the EC Consultation of Infrastructures in October 2012. In this we proposed our plans to expand the current partnership to include additional upcoming technology providers and to further develop the application-focussed offer of transnational access.

Access activities

The technologies offered in EUMINAfab each have a unique combination of technological capabilities and operational expertise. Some of the equipment is highly coveted by R&D departments unable to invest in such high-end equipment, such as e-beam facilities, x-ray lithography or helium ion microscopes. Other pieces of equipment are not necessarily expensive to run; however, they are newly emerging technologies only available at one or two locations in Europe. Examples are dip pen nano lithography and 3D laser writing. EUMINAfab is an FP7 Infrastructure project which seeks to overcome the bottleneck of the lack of widespread availability by opening the doors of several key European sites to users from across Europe. After four years of integrated user operation, the offer of no fee transnational access has enabled more than 150 users from more than 120 different academic and industrial organisations, based in twenty different EU member or associated states, to benefit from the FP7 funding allowing no fee access. EUMINAfab scientists work with the users and are available during the proposal stage to discuss the feasibility of new ideas right through to the completion of the projects.

The offer of open access by EUMINAfab partners means that users do not only have the benefit of access to unique equipment and the specific expertise at the partner sites, but also that the user projects themselves challenge the current capabilities of these technologies, demand new technology variants, new structures, devices and applications. The spin-off effect is to ensure that the new emergent MNT evolves relevant to the Europe-wide user community. Herein lays the opportunity to accelerate the uptake of emergent technologies and the transfer of the knowledge gained into application-relevant discoveries, even at this early stage.

EUMINAfab user projects have shown a strong application relevance to a broad range of application areas. The area of life science illustrates the versatility of the many techniques offered. Improved diagnostic sensitivity and reduced dosage in X-ray imaging is an important goal which is being reached with the aid of X-ray gratings made possible by the lithography equipment available in EUMINAfab. Another frequent type of user request is for microfluidic cartridges tailor made for specific analytical purposes to enable further research in adapted point of care diagnostics. With longer term application in mind techniques enabling the bio functionalization of surfaces are assisting advances in high through put screening, patch clamping and biodegradable cardiovascular stents. EUMINAfab services support the access to the state of the art technologies and the development of functional demonstrators and prototypes. That this is a valuable asset to SME’s can is illustrated by the user project from ACI-ecotec, Germany, visiting host partner Cardiff. (Figure)

Joint Research Activities

The overriding objective of the joint research activities (JRAs) is to enable a strong operative interaction between European micro and nano infrastructures and R&D institutions. At the start of user operations, the basics were in place to offer users coordinated access to our facilities. During the course of this funding period, much work has been carried out to further the technology integration into new process chains, to demonstrate new capabilities and to improve the flow of information, both within the consortium and with our users. The progress made in the three JRA work packages is described below.

A workflow system for the handling of user requests was established and following this a knowledge management system (MinaBase) was developed. The MinaBase is the first step on the way to a holistic approach for an integrated organisational system. It enables a user-friendly operability and robustness of EUMINAfab’s offer of user access services, which is intended to last beyond the project duration. Minabase has been publically available since November 2012, and gives users the opportunity to search more deeply for technologies, applications, and example structures and parameters possible at EUMINAfab partners’ sites.

The research on “Design for manufacture knowledge” has provided an interface between a modularised "solution neutral" description of TNA requests (application/user groups oriented) and prototyping or batch manufacturing solutions offered within EUMINAfab. The results have led to the guidelines for process design - these integrate the Technology Readiness Levels of the processes and process chains, the technological capabilities, and the information gained on the reliability and robustness of processes. An essential aspect for the sound establishment of new processes is traceable metrology. With the aim of allowing the external community to benefit from a set of standards, artefacts for the calibration of areal surface topography measuring instruments have been manufactured and characterised. The full set of artefacts, known affectionately among the partners as the “Bento Box” is now commercially available along with a set of free good practice guides that describe the calibration process in simple yet detailed terms.

The activities in “Technologies and process chains” have supported the integration of EUMINAfab installations in both horizontal and vertical dimensions.

a) Horizontal integration: for the long-term sustainability of EUMINAfab, a traceable calibration system is essential. A series of reproducibility and repeatability trials have been carried out with particular consideration to the broad spread of capabilities within the technology portfolio of EUMINAfab.
b) Vertical integration: the focus is the development and characterisation/comparison of process chains in order to satisfy application-specific requirements of the EUMINAfab user community. A set of internal projects, sometimes linked with user requests with a high research factor, was carried out. The focus was, e.g. on the production of technology demonstrators using the combination of process chains, or to compare, test and improve alternative fabrication and structuring technologies.

Project Results:

The attached pdf-file contains the description of the main S&T results.

Potential Impact:

The attached pdf-file contains the description of the potential impact and the main dissemination activities and the exploitation of results.

List of Websites:

The project website was established and will be maintained after project end in order to publicise the ongoing activities.


Coordinator: Susan Anson
+49 721 608 28103

User office: Thomas Schaller
+49 721 608 23123

Administrative and financial Coordinator: Roswitha Marioth
+49 721 608 48357