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Patric Salomon



Worldwide Services and Infrastructure
for Nano- and Microproduction

by Patric Salomon

& Henne van Heeren (NL)


NanoTsunami readers know that a large number of applications and markets could be served by products based on the various micro nano technologies (MNT). However, the variety of MNT manufacturing technologies also poses a threat to the commercial breakthrough of MNT. With so many technologies available, most of them not yet standardised, and non-availability of standard equipment for several of them, how can MNT become commercially successful?

In certain high-volume markets, such as automotive, computer peripherals, and communications, the advantages of MNT were able to overcome the problems that follow technological diversification. The authors believe that only a good infrastructure of design houses, foundries, package/assembly providers and equipment suppliers is able to satisfy the demand in design, prototyping, and (mass-) production in all the MNT fields. This infrastructure is needed to provide an efficient route to commercialisation.

Fig.1: Services and infrastructure needed for the commercialisation of MNT


Foundries and Design Houses play a major role in the supply chain. Foundries, provide the infrastructure to prototype, fabricate and mass-produce the designs emanating from the design houses and other companies. The reason for the customers to rely on foundries can be diverse: ranging from pure financial reasons (investment, cost-price) to technical (availability of required technology). The desire to have a second source of supply can also be a reason for outsourcing. A ‘fabless’ design house can generally be described as the catalyst that enables ideas or concepts to migrate towards commercialisation. In this context, the fabless design organisation manages the process of technology transfer from R&D to a production line.

Packaging suppliers are another, often not very visible, part of the infrastructure. Although the diversity in packaging and assembly for MST/MEMS is notably high, they can be classified into the following four generic groups:

• Standard available packaging and assembly technologies. Techniques, which can only be used in a limited number of cases, often hindered by the (mechanical) sensitivity of the product, the small dimensions or the special demands in the field of interconnections with the outer world.

• Specialised assembly, often with special technologies ensuring ultra precise positioning and/or very careful handling.

• Adapted standard packaging, where use is made of the cost effective and high quality processing capabilities established for the high-volume electronics industry. The main trend here is to use a die protecting method during plastic moulding. Closure for sealing the package is achieved afterwards. The lid can be used to accommodate feed troughs for optical or fluidics access.

• Waferscale package. This method promises a, potentially, low cost solution which circumvents problems associated with handling sensitive products in an assembly line, by providing protection at an early stage of the processing.

Supporting the professional infrastructure are the equipment and material suppliers. The emerging markets for MST/MEMS (Micro Systems Technologies / Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) products have created a demand for specialised equipment. The first to fulfil that demand were suppliers of dedicated MST/MEMS tools including Deep Reactive Ion Etchers (DRIE), waferbonders and backside aligners. Those companies (STS, Aldixen, AML, EV Group and Suss Microtec) are still in the forefront of this market. Spin-offs from universities were started to fulfil (niche) demands, whilst established companies entered this arena at a later stage, offering adapted processing tools developed for other industries, such as, those specialising in thin film processing. More interestingly, even the (large) semiconductor equipment manufacturers have begun to show an interest. Within this context, there is now available a mixture of general equipment facilities, designed and developed for other applications such as semiconductors and also equipment adapted or specially tailored for Micro-Nano Technologies (MNT) production. It is noticeable that, although Europe (particularly Germany) is relatively strong in the area of MNT Back End equipment, the presence of European manufacturers is less impressive in Front End equipment production and almost non-existent in the area of nanotechnology.

Fig.2: Suppliers of MNT production equipment


When nanotechnologies are taken into account to be used with microproduction, the manufacturing technologies become even more diverse. To investigate the market and distinguish trends, the authors categorised the production processes for nanotechnology-based products into four areas (Fig. 3):

• Top down nanotechnology: Top down nanotechnology is mainly based on processes and equipment for high-end lithography and similar equipment. Technologies and equipment are aiming at producing large quantities of products, mostly on flat substrates.
• Bottom up technologies: Bottom up technology involves the building up of nanotechnology products from atom level, by either mechanical manipulation (using Scanning Probe Microscopes) or with molecules assembling other molecules (Molecular Self Assembly).
• Nanoparticle production: In nanoparticle production extended traditional physical and chemical methods are utilised to create particles with smaller sizes and special properties.
• Nanotube production processes. Nanotubes are seen as a very promising material due to its unique properties.

Fig.3: Nanoproduction technologies



It should be noted that the top down and bottom up approach (except Molecular Self Assembly) are mostly equipment oriented. Molecular Self Assembly, nanoparticle and nanotube production are much more process oriented. Top-down and bottom-up nanotechnology equipment benefit from the equipment infrastructure for semiconductor lithography and deposition and the ample availability of Scanning Probe Microscopes. Most of the development of processes for the production of nanoparticles is done in-house. The equipment market for nanoparticle production is not well developed, although it benefits from knowledge from the chemical/physical process equipment market.


The use of MNT based products is growing in a number of application and markets, ranging from life science to telecommunications. Besides a few notable exceptions, the MNT market is still a sum of niche markets. There is a general consensus that the overall market will grow, but that commercialisation will take longer than was anticipated a few years ago.

Packaging still remains a bottleneck introduced, belatedly, at the end of the design cycle, and often delaying or even preventing industrialisation and commercialisation. It is well known that selecting the appropriate packaging method may be the decisive factor that determines a product’s success or its premature failure. Choosing the right technology, therefore, is not a marginal concern, but pivotal to the product design. The existence of professional suppliers of packaging and assembly is an essential element in the supply chain and critical for the manufacturing and commercialisation of MNT-based products. In addition, the incorporation of packaging and assembly techniques at the front-end of the engineering cycle will pay back in terms of financial savings and shorter timescales to market. Methodologies for a ‘design for micro nano manufacturing’ approach are under development.

Many companies working in the field of nanotechnology aim at the extension of semiconductor equipment to suit the market needs (the so-called “top down” approach). Also several companies are offering equipment based on chemical and physical processes for the production of small particles and nanotubes. The “bottom up” approach, aiming to build nanotechnology products practically atom by atom, is less prevalent. There is an ample supply of Scanning Probe Microscopy based tools, but such instruments are not yet able to combine nanotechnology precision with industrial volume demand. Processes for molecular self-assembly, which are potentially more suitable for economical mass production, are still in development and far from industrialisation.

The industry as a whole could benefit from exchange of information and consensus over process and product specifications and related equipment specifications. It is however unlikely that industry wide roadmaps will play a role similar to the one played for the semiconductor industry. This is due to the fact that there is no MNT equivalent to the transistor and it is not to be expected there will be one. It is more likely, however, that application roadmaps will extend their influence into the MNT arena. In essence, the customers and the end users will determinate the roadmap and not the (equipment) suppliers. This will undoubtedly lead to a more diverse set of processes, equipment and standards in MNT as compared to semiconductors. A situation that is likely to create a much wider range of opportunities for smaller (equipment and material) suppliers, as long as they are able to combine flexibility with quality and staying power. However this lack of commonly shared technology platforms is a serious threat to the realisation of reliable and low cost products.

In addition to the availability of a services infrastructure, the availability of a wide ranging, industry-based intelligence information is of vital importance in order to optimally select from this array of enabling capabilities. This array of information is provided through the enablingMNT Industry Review series: Design and Engineering Companies, Foundries, Packaging and Assembly Suppliers, Equipment Suppliers (MEMS Front-End, Back-End, Nanofabrication), MNT Web Directories / On-line Communication Channels, and Materials for MST/MEMS Production. Reports on Test and Measurement Services & Equipment and Design Tools are underway. All reviews cover worldwide activities and sell at € 280 each.

Customised research and consulting services offered by enablingMNT range from market research, business development support and partner search for industrial customers to benchmarking and exploitation strategy development for public bodies.

Patric Salomon, Germany
Henne van Heeren, The Netherlands
E-mail: info@enablingMNT.com

Link : enablingMNT


Copyright © 2004 Patric Salomon

Patric Salomon


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