Over the next 10 to 20 years, projections anticipate that micro- and nano-technologies will change almost every product on the market today and result in an estimated $2.6 trillion global market. Miniature and micro-manufacturing technology will play crucial roles in making this happen through making these products with volume production.
At the same time, over the last decade, the manufacture of miniature and micro-components and the miniaturization of manufacturing equipment/devices has gained notable development globally, which deals with the manufacturing at miniature (< 50.0 mm), micro (<1.0 mm) and sub-micro (0.1 to 1.0 mm) scales.
However, the production of miniature and micro-components by traditional fabrication techniques for micro-electronics as well as by machining and forming is not always adequate since only a very limited range of materials can be processed.
On the other hand manufacturing methods such as conventional sintering and metal-powder injection molding would need longer process chains and/or less balanced cost to performance ratios.
There are still significant challenges to the manufacture of miniature and micro-components to meet the requirements for multi-materials and multi-functionalities while maintaining low manufacturing-cost, which hinders the introduction of new tools, new components and products into the market.
Micro-components for aggressive environments, micro-components with biocompatible functions, optical properties, tribo-chemical functions and excellent electrical conductivity, excellent tribological and barrier functions and magnetic properties, etc, are just some of the targeting applications.
Although the progress in miniaturization of product and systems will continue in the near future, this progress in Europe will depend largely on the availability of cost-effective and high-quality manufacturing methods for the volume production of multi-materials, high-performance miniature and micro-parts, in order to compete globally.
Electric-Field activated sintering technique (FAST) is a latest development in powder sintering which enables an increase of manufacturing flexibility and high-quality components (e.g. various metals, cermets, magnets and composites with desired structures and functionalities, including use of nano-alloys).
However, existing FAST processes cannot be simply scaled down to the manufacture of miniature/micro-components, due to: difficulties of handling powders; strong “size-effects” at the micro-scale; different sintering mechanisms at the micro/nano-scale; lack of design, manufacturing guidance and facilities for producing complex shaped components through high-throughput and cost-efficient production. In fact, almost all the current applications of FAST involved component larger than 5.0 mm, reflecting these constraints.
A new process concept - Micro-FAST - is proposed which scales down conventional FAST process to the micro-scale (<5.0 mm) and combines micro-forming with FAST sintering resulting in a high efficiency process.
Near-net-shaped, bulk fully-dense (up to 100%), nanostructured components will be produced with expected significant increase of mechanical and functional properties.
The main techniques to be used for overcoming barriers of the FAST process at micro scale are:
- Combining micro-forming with the FAST to enable complex shapes/features at the micro-scale, assisted by using large current density;
- Using multi-scale modelling techniques to develop understanding of the mechanism of the powder densification at the micro-/nano-scale;
- Directly forming the component using the shaping dies/moulds without using lubricants, including a laser die-cleaning technique integrated into the forming-machine;
- Introducing in-situ handling to enable handling of the micro-components inside the machine-chamber
- Developing innovative nano-phased powder materials (with particular interest on difficult-to-cut and difficult-to-form materials eg, metallic alloys, ceramic, nanocomposite).
The aim of the project is to develop a completely new industrial manufacturing system, for the volume production of miniaturized micro/nano components made with a wide range of materials (metallic alloys, composites and ceramics). The system will rely on the development of:
- a new industrial Micro-FAST CNC Machine based on a high-throughput, flexible and cost-efficient process by simultaneous micro-forming and electric-fast-sintering (Micro-FAST);
- nano-materials with high-performance;
- an innovative multiscale modelling technique for the analysis of the micro-structural behaviors of materials and its interactions with the production processes;
- an innovative powder-feeding, inline monitoring and quality inspection system;
- new tooling techniques for high-performance micro-tools;
The whole project will take into account energy savings, cost and waste reduction and recycling issues that will be analyzed thoroughly through an expertise Life-Cycle Assessment.
WP1. Industrial Needs, Products
The industrial needs (demonstrators and materials) will be updated and well defined. A multi-scale modelling approach and life-cycle analysis will be developed to support the process and equipment development to achieve quality products.
WP2. New Material, Micro-Tooling and Processing Technology
Through different available techniques for powder materials production provided by partners (spray drying, chemical synthesis, and mechano-chemical synthesis) a set of materials (metallic, ceramic and composite powders) will be prepared for the manufacture of sample parts.
Innovative micro-tool-fabrication techniques (Laser, EDM, surface modification, coating, etc.) and tool design will be developed to enhance the lab processes and for the manufacture of the 1st set of demonstrators.
WP3. New Machine and Manufacturing Automation Technology
Advanced machine-technologies concerning sensors, monitoring, data-acquisition, processing and analysis, component geometry inspection, manufacturing, environment monitoring, energy-supervision etc. will be developed. Moreover detailed design of the machine system and components will be carried out to ensure that the output can be readily integrated into the full Micro-FAST machine system.
WP4. Materials, Tools and Process for Micro-FAST
Process development will be focused on the scaling up of the manufacturing process which will include process optimization for higher yield, repeatability and quality, and refining the process for high-throughput volume-production.
Micro/nanostrucutred powders with controlled chemical and components distribution and flow-ability, will be developed for the manufacture of a 2nd set of demonstrators. Furthermore an innovative micro-tooling process chain will be developed to address the needs of manufacturing small dies and creating specific surface functionalities on the tool-surfaces.
WP5. Micro-FAST Machine System
The machine system for Micro-FAST manufacturing will be constructed, which will involve the development of a series of sub-systems/devices to be installed onto a manufacturing platform.
WP6. Manufacturing Trials, Validation and Zero-Series Production
The integrated machine system, including an Integrated Manufacturing and Production Management System for Micro-FAST, will be subjected to manufacturing trials on the demonstration parts defined by industrial partners and potential end-users, followed by the zero-series production. These efforts are expected to lead to an optimized prototype production system which will be able to demonstrate the technological advantages and competiveness.
The effort will be focused on the refining of the individual technologies, devices/tools and systems developed to deliver demonstrate-able ones and demonstrate these to the end-users/targeted groups and generic public through demonstration workshops, and an industrial-scale prototype production show at an industrial manufacturer’s site will also be hosted.