Future micro factory

(Nanowerk News) In the last few decades, polymers have emerged as a cost-effective, flexible solution for numerous applications in the materials and chemical processing industries. Because of their light weight, impact strength and process ability at relatively low temperatures, plastic and rubber parts have experienced enormous growth in demand, despite surging oil prices and competition from alternatives such as metals and glass. At the same time, global competition continues to put pressure on profit margins and time to market, pushing manufacturers to constantly innovate in the areas of product performance and production efficiency.
The latest trend has been towards smaller products with smaller features in the range of sub-micron and nanometer scale. This is continuously progressing and leading to a demand for polymer-based micromechanical 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, existing micro fabrication techniques and tools need to be adapted and modified. This means that micro replication technologies such as micro injection moulding and hot embossing have to be improved significantly. Furthermore, automated part-assembly and highly sophisticated quality control techniques also need to be established.
The collaborative project 'Converging Technologies for Microsystems Manufacturing' (COTECH) will do just that. The project concentrates and combines complementary techniques by converging technologies and developing hybrid solutions in the full process chain of micro production. It will help shorten the time to market and reduce costs, evolving the vision of modular desktop or micro factories..
The micro factory of the future has to enable the further concentration and combination of complementary techniques (e.g. micro injection moulding and hot embossing, micro injection moulding and localized coating). It also aims 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. The technology produced by this project will be used mainly in the areas of healthcare and the automotive industry. It will help and demonstrate new micro replication techniques supported by emerging tool-making technologies for the manufacturing of polymer-based multi-material components.
Some of results include self -ligating dental brackets, mico sockets for signal carriages of a hearing instrument, lens for cell phone flash lights and many more.
The project is an EU funded project under the 7th Framework Program under the "NMP - NMP2-LA-2009-214491: Nanosciences, Nanotechnologies, Materials and new Production Technologies area. The project started in October 2008, with the consortium composed of 25 European organisations (SMEs, industrial leaders, research centres, universities and service organisations) from 10 European countries.
Source: Cordis
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