Microsystems technology is seen as one of the key technologies of the next century. But with few notable exceptions, the industrial-scale manufacture of microsystems is still in its infancy - a fact attributable to the lack of suitable manufacturing technologies.
They have become a familiar sight in medical engineering and in the automotive industry: microsystems - minute devices that combine electronic, mechanical or optical functions. They help surgeons to operate endoscopes, or they trigger airbags in the event of a collision. Scientists have also developed a great number of micro-engineering prototypes in other fields. But because there is a lack of suitable manufacturing technologies for microsystems, progress towards implementing scientific findings in marketable products has been slow. One major problem in series production is the handling and placement of the minute microsystems components.
This is why microsystems technology has thus far not really gained a significant foothold in mechanical and process engineering: "Microsystems that meet the requirements of the mechanical engineering industries simply don't exist - systems available in small to medium volume at an acceptable price. That is the greatest disincentive at the moment", says Johann Dorner, head of the microproduction department at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart, pointing to the root of the problem. This prompted the IPA to join forces with the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM and the Verband Deutscher Maschinen und Anlagenbau VDMA. Together they have developed a building-block system for modular microsystems designed specifically to meet the needs of mechanical and process engineering companies. The manufacturer's "building kit" contains electronic components (sensors, actuators, etc.) and the user's kit contains the user-specific parts such as connectors and housings. Using these modules, it is possible to construct complex microsystems. The building kit creates a link between the manufacturers of the machines and the manufacturers of microtechnology components, enabling the customer to have a direct influence on the design of the necessary microsystems. This approach allows around 80 per cent of customized solutions to be constructed using standard parts.
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Economics / business administration, Electrical engineering, Energy, Materials sciences, Mathematics, Mechanical engineering, Physics / astronomy
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