In laboratories dotted across the continent, dedicated and ingenious researchers work feverishly for years, or even careers, to increase our understanding of science at the small scale. Along the way, they develop new, innovative devices to detect pressure, acceleration, temperature or direction – and that’s just the beginning.
Researchers now explore tiny devices that eject a dose of medicine at pre-determined intervals. They create entire, micron-sized laboratories or computer systems on a chip. They are discovering just how much room there is at the small scale, as physicist Richard Feynman famously predicted almost 49 years ago.
Ugly, but it works
But innovation at the sharp end lags behind 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? Up to 80 percent 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 a euro. “Many innovations are just too expensive to commercialise,” notes Salomon.
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 small-scale projects.
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.
The network 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 quantify.
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.
“These target 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 (EUMIREL).
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.
Christian Nielsen | ICT Results
21.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
AI implications: Engineer's model lays groundwork for machine-learning device
18.08.2017 | Washington University in St. Louis
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
21.08.2017 | Medical Engineering
21.08.2017 | Materials Sciences
21.08.2017 | Life Sciences