By Katrin Pudenz
Headed by Thilo Brückner, the VDMA Emint association is all about miniaturization. It was founded in 2014 and initially had a remarkable 98 members, which is hardly surprising when taking into account that the association was created by merging the Productronic and Micro Technology associations, as the two senior advisors Johanna Schreiner and Daniel Müller recall. "As of October 2017, we have 115 members," they say.
Blurring the lines between Productronic and Micro Technologies
Whether micro pumps, production tolerances in the nanometer range, microprocessors and integration of functions in integrated circuits - all of these products combine sensor and actuator technology, and wireless connections with data processing, power supply, and display and memory systems. They commonly used both in micro and nano electronics as well as in micro and nanotechnologies. While these two areas used to follow separate paths of development in the past, the boundaries have become increasingly blurred over time. "As more and more links between these two areas kept cropping up, a logical consequence of the developments in industry and research was to merge the two VDMA Productronic and Micro Technologies sector groups to establish the Emint association," explains Schreiner. "You could say that we followed suit with industry," emphasizes Müller.
"Productronic is actually a portmanteau word combining the two words 'production' and 'electronic'," explains Daniel Müller, VDMA expert for Productronic. "Productronic encompasses semiconductor and printed circuit boards (PCBs), chip machines, feeder equipment for PCBs, and soldering machines," he continues. Members include both companies that produce electronic components and companies that manufacture the machinery and plants used in their production.
"A tangible example of Productronic in our daily lives are all the tiny components and parts that bring our smartphones to life," says Daniel Müller. "This also includes the Touch ID function in new smartphone models, even though you could say that this has already become somewhat passé." The challenge of implementing Touch ID in smartphones finding enough space for the sensor hardware. "In addition to the actual optical sensor, which creates a digital image of the fingerprint, we also need to integrate other system components, such as a module that analyzes the individual features of a fingerprint and another module that compares these features with the reference data stored on the phone," explains Müller. Given their compact design and increasing miniaturization, the production of these sensors is also becoming more and more challenging. "Electrical contacts and handling are becoming increasingly difficult," the expert explains, adding: "Future generations of fingerprint sensors will be equipped with ultrasonic sensors, which means that they can be integrated directly in the display or, theoretically, also beneath aluminum."
In medical technology as well, the Productronic area is facing a number of special challenges. "Implants, in particular, can entail stringent requirements for power density and miniaturization that can only be met when using sophisticated miniaturization technologies," says Müller. "Micro integration offers various processes that can help us optimally meet the requirements placed on cyber-physical systems, for example in the fields of wafer-level and panel-level packaging." This way, it will be possible to further miniaturize all components of sensor/actuator systems, from sensors to power supplies.
"Silicon micro pumps can be used in future to treat conditions where minute quantities of drugs need to be administered, for example in the case of patch pumps for treating diabetes, or pain and hormonal therapies," explains Schreiner. The Fraunhofer EMFT (Fraunhofer Research Institution for Microsystems and Solid State Technologies EMFT) has developed a
5 x 5 x 0.6 mm3 silicon micro pump that is currently the smallest of its kind worldwide. These micro pumps meet the high reliability and safety requirements for dosing systems in medical technology. For example, they are equipped with a self-locking free-flow protection that prevents incorrect dosing even if excess pressure is generated in the medication reservoir.
Small and tiny components are also needed in watchmaking, and they need to be accurate down to the micro or millimeter. "Every mechanical clockwork consists of a series of meshing gears. If only one of these gears doesn't work as intended, the clock is fast or slow or even stops entirely," Schreiner emphasizes. "We need ever more precise production technologies in order to ensure the accuracy of these tiny components. Thanks to the continuous development of systems such as lasers, it is possible to produce components with the required precision. In future, 3D printers might also be capable of producing parts with the necessary precision."
After production, these ultra-precise components also need to be assembled. "This is where micro-assembly comes in," says Schreiner. "Suitable feeding systems are used to separate the small and miniaturized components, which are then assembled fully automatically or by hand. This also requires highly precise machines and plants."
Analyzing and exploring
The activities for the respective subsectors are defined and implemented in the sector groups of the VDMA Emint association, while the association itself develops joint activities. The Micro Technologies sector group is committed to analyzing markets and exploring them together with the member companies. They use the network to foster dialog within the industry and provide a platform for expert discussions. The Productronic sector group is well aware of the fact that electronic components are used in a plethora of applications and sectors. "It's anything but easy to keep track of everything that's going on," stresses Daniel Müller. For this reason, the Productronic sector group supports its members by identifying new technologies and markets as well as by compiling and providing relevant information.
The Emint association is also affiliated with the Organic Electronics Association (OE-A) and the Photovoltaic Equipment working groups, as well as with VDMA Battery Production.
In addition, Emint organizes network meetings twice a year, with a user industry always the focus of the spring meeting. The meeting in spring 2018 will concentrate on the automotive industry and take place at ZF Friedrichshafen. Under the motto "Industry Meets Science", the fall meetings are geared towards scientists and researchers and serve to foster exchanges between member companies and the world of science.