Pioneering Microsystems Assembly Technology Could Lead To Cheaper, More Advanced Electronic Products

The manufacture of electronic devices such as the new generation of video mobile phones could be revolutionised thanks to assembly research being pioneered at the University of Greenwich.

This research will provide industry with the microsystems assembly technology to allow cheaper mass production of the next generation of intelligent products, such as mobiles, visual display equipment and medical devices. It could, for example, be used to develop minute ’invisible’ hearing aids.

Rajkumar Durairaj, a research fellow in the university’s Medway School of Engineering, was invited to the House of Commons to exhibit his work on the project, entitled ’Microsystems Assembly Technology for the 21st Century’, during a reception for Britain’s Young Engineers in December.

He explains: “Microsystems are expected to be the next logical step in the silicon revolution which began over three decades ago with the introduction of the first integrated circuit. We, in the Electronics Manufacturing Engineering Research Group, are working on a multidisciplinary
project to identify a process route to integrate microsystems-based components using low-cost manufacturing methods.”

This project concentrates on integrating low-cost ’flip-chips’ – the latest electronic micro-chips – in existing manufacturing processes for intelligent consumer products. In addition to gains in production volumes and lower retail costs, the MEMS technology, which includes flexible printed circuit boards, will allow the creation of smaller devices with even more functions.

Until now, microsystems-based technology has been mainly reserved for the space industry rather than consumer products. The automotive industry is starting to employ Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) to produce cars which can switch on their own lights and windscreen wipers.

The project, which is being led by Professor Ndy Ekere, Head of the Medway School of Engineering, began in June 2001 with £150,000 funding from the EPSRC (Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council), with the option of extension for a further year to 2004 under EPSRC’s Research Assistant Industry Secondment Scheme.

As part of a parallel EPSRC-funded project, Professor Chris Bailey and his group, from the University of Greenwich School of Computing & Mathematical Sciences, and Dr Marc Desmulliez, from the Microsystems Engineering Centre at Heriot Watt University, are researching the performance of Microsystems assembly in terms of their in-service
reliability. The projects are being supported by various partners in industry, including Celestica UK, a world leader in the delivery of innovative electronics manufacturing services, DEK Printing Machines, Merlin Circuits, Micro Emissive Display and Alpha Fry Technology.

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