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Microsystem technology as a field of research: smaller, faster, more intelligent

Microsystem technology

Smaller, faster, more intelligent

Research in the field of microsystem technology is concerned with the development and manufacture of components with dimensions in the micron range. Both traditional and new processes from the micro-technology sector are used to this end.

The integration of micro-mechanical or micro-optical elements into micro-electronic assemblies results in what we call microsystems. Microsystems of this sort contain structures that are much smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

Due to the trend in automation towards “smaller, faster, more intelligent”, innovative sensors and actuators play an important role for use in miniaturized and distributed control systems with integrated intelligence (smart systems). Smart systems reliably measure physical variables such as position, temperature, pressure, vibration and force.

As a result they provide operating parameters for production, support the quality assurance function and make it easier to maintain production systems. The more physical variables can be measured by intelligent sensors the greater the efficiency of these control systems. The processes and systems can be optimized by evaluating the data. This also results in the motivation to make sensors smaller, more rugged and more flexible. MST methods are predestined for this type of work.

Micro valve technology

Familiar products based on micro-electro mechanical systems (MEMS) can be found in dosing systems for liquids and other

applications in the field of medical technology. Most of these valves are switched by an electrostatic or thermal actuator. However, these actuators are less reliable and are capable of only limited strokes. For the design of pneumatic valves and other components with their typically demanding requirements for durability and service life, other methods of micro technology and precision engineering have to be used, which also meet miniaturization requirements for use in industrial automation.

And thus our research is also concerned with micro valves which include piezo bending actuators or compact electromagnetic actuators. In this respect, attention is focused on the virtual layout and simulation (magnetic field calculation or the performance of piezo benders), as well as on building prototypes.

Sensor technology

Sensors provide important information for the operation of an automation system. Measured values such as flow, pressure and actuator positions must be acquired continuously with high accuracy to this end.

During the course of research, sensors with new functions are developed which are targeted at promoting further miniaturization by means of functional integration. For example, printed magnetic field sensors for measuring positions on pneumatic actuators have been studied in research projects. Other research plans involve flexible electronics in thin films which, when applied to a gripper, for example, make it possible to determine gripping force and object size.

Printed electronic components for pressure or force sensors, as well as wireless concepts for data transmission purposes, are also the object of research work. Using the latest simulation technologies, research also makes an important contribution to the layout of sensor/magnet pairs for the design of future pneumatic actuators.

Actuators

In addition to piezo and electromagnetic actuators, new types of actuators in the form of electroactive polymers are also being investigated. These have performance characteristics similar to those of electromagnets. In principle they behave like piezo actuators, which means they’re very energy efficient, although they have greater performance capabilities than piezo bending actuators.

The disadvantage of electroactive polymers, which are produced in stacks, are the high operating voltages ranging from roughly 2000 to 3000 V. Within the framework of subsidized projects, we’re conducting research on reducing this voltage in order to open up the range of applications for electroactive polymers.

Camera technology and image processing

Cameras are increasingly used in industry for production processes. Cameras are used primarily for the so-called “grab from the conveyor” process, and for the detection of objects for the purpose of quality inspection of components and assemblies.

In the future, people will work together with machines much more in production. Camera technology, combined with appropriate image processing algorithms, is capable of delivering critical added value for human-machine interaction. And thus we evaluate systems available on the market in our research department with regard to requirements for human-technology interaction, and we develop new camera systems with our research partners. Algorithms must also be implemented which improve the interaction between people and robots, or make it possible at all.