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Building a mini-factory from a technology construction kit
Microsystem technology and miniaturization are becoming more and more important in the automotive industry, investment goods industry, communications technology, medical device technology and in the field of life sciences. The results from a NEXUS study carried out in 2001 forecast a worldwide increase in the turnover of microsystem products and components of up to 60 billion US$ in 2005.
Numerous companies are presently being confronted with demands to bring increasingly smaller products in high-variant series onto the market with shortened development times and with the same high requirements regarding quality. Small and mid-sized companies especially are still at the laboratory production stage and are only able to meet rising future demands by implementing economical automated solutions.
Research and analyses of manufacturing techniques have shown that existing equipment is often economically inefficient, too large and too inflexible. The ratio between productionsystems and micro-products is becoming more and more imbalanced. Today's systems are mainly optimized with regard to throughput. Due to their fixed interlinking, they are only flexible to a certain degree as far as the performing of refitting, adjusting and programming tasks are concerned.
As part of this paper, extracts will be presented from the results of the joint project \'84MiniProd", which is carried out by the Fraunhofer IPA together with industrial partners and sponsored by the BMBF (federal ministry for education and research). The aim of the research project is to develop a marketable, miniaturized highly-flexible production system capable of reproducing the correct size proportions between a product and its production environment and also able to intelligently integrate processes which had previously run separately. Using the \'84plug-in" principle, the user is able to construct his own miniaturized factory from individual production modules. The overall system has beendesigned using the modular concept and will be presented here together with the hard and software interfaces of the individual production units, the \'84plug- and produce" control architecture and a specially-programmed 3-D planning and configuration tool. A further topic will be the presentation of miniaturized process modules for the micro-bonding, micro-screwing and precision handling of miniaturized parts and components.
Using application scenarios from the opto- and micro-electronics industries, the limits of the selected micro-processes in a miniaturized production environment will be analyzed and evaluated.
With the newly-developed miniaturized production system, it is possible to manufacture economically and with high level of flexibility a wide range of micro-products such as micro-switches, micro-valves, micro-lenses and even bio-chips.