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Jun 28th, 2012
Cutting the cost of micro- and nanomanufacturing
A drawing programme and a 3D printer: that could be all it will take to produce the micro- and nanostructures required for the millions of devices and sensors of the future. With a new manufacturing technology, researchers at KTH Microsystem Technology hope to bring mass innovation capabilities to smaller companies and markets — just as affordable computers have dramatically increased innovation in information technologies.
Production of silicon micro- and nano-sensors with today’s technologies requires a full-scale clean-room laboratory costing millions of euros – facilities that few organisations can afford. What’s more, integrated-circuit manufacturing technologies used in sensor production are highly standardised processes, optimised for extremely large production volumes of hundreds of millions of devices per year. These sensors, known as Micro Electromechanical Systems (MEMS), are engineered from thin slices of silicon, the same material used to manufacture integrated circuits and other micro-sized electronic devices.
Schematic of the 3D printing process and an image of a manufactured micro-structure.
Researchers at KTH Microsystem Technology have demonstrated a manufacturing concept that could pave the way toward simple, inexpensive “printing” of 3D silicon structures.
“It could be made very easy, flexible and cheap compared with today’s manufacturing processes. All you’ll need is a 3D printer and someone to draw the structure in a drafting programme on a computer,” says Frank Niklaus, Associate Professor at KTH Microsystem Technology.
“In a future manufacturing process, the structure would first be designed in a 3D drawing programme. The drawing is then sent to a 3D printer that recreates the structure in silicon, layer by layer from the bottom up,” explains Niklaus.
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