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JUL/AUG 2013  

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News/Features: Last Word

Dr. Eric W. Forsythe, staff physicist for the Army Research Laboratory, Adelphi, Md., agreed to discuss the development of flexible electronics and flexible displays with MICROmanufacturing. Forsythe is the team leader for display technologies and is an associate program manager for the Army’s Flexible Display Center. One of the Army’s goals is to develop electronics for use in advanced communications devices with flexible displays. One of the main challenges is to increase the performance levels of flexible electronics to more closely match those of traditional printed circuit boards.

A revolution is happening at the micro- and nano-scales—the ability to “program” physical and biological materials to change their shape and properties without human intervention. Called self-assembly, it is the spontaneous formation of ordered structures from smaller parts, taking advantage of the natural motion of molecules when energy is applied to them, and the tendency of those molecules to stick together via intermolecular attraction.

Most manufacturing companies operate under a set of core values, attributes and principles—either clearly stated or implied—that inform and guide the actions and decisions of all employees, from the CEO to the operator on the plant floor.

Micromanufacturing continues to amaze me. As the event manager for the Society of Manufacturing Engineers MicroManufacturing Conference, I have worked with professionals in this field for more than 10 years. Yet each year I am surprised by the latest applications of micro technologies.

The lifeblood of young industries like micro and nano manufacturing is turning research into new products. This column addresses how the commercialization process can be improved from the perspective of John Hart, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Art+Design at the University of Michigan.

The drive for product innovation typically leads to packaging more technology into a smaller footprint. A conventional approach to miniaturization is to alter an existing product line by pushing the limits of current manufacturing methods to obtain smaller features with modified equipment, tooling and fixturing.

Unlike traditional circuit boards, flexible circuits feature plastic substrates that allow them to bend during use. In certain medical procedures, for example, flex circuits are better able than their rigid counterparts to handle the bending and twisting involved in moving a tiny electronic device to its destination inside the body.

Deburring is a major challenge when micromachining. Making microparts often involves milling and drilling them, then removing them from the machine for hand deburring.

One of the challenges of micromachining is polishing post-machined part surfaces. On some microparts, the surface-roughness dimensions approach those of the part’s features. In an effort to improve manual polishing techniques, researchers have examined pulsed laser micropolishing (PL?P).

Being able to measure what you make is critical to successful manufacturing. And as manufacturing evolves, so too must the science of measurement.