An e-fab way for making the micro world

September 01, 1999

A new manufacturing technique that has produced what researchers believe is the world's narrowest chain could open a whole world of new micro-mechanical devices. The technique, known as EFAB (electrochemical fabrication), is much faster and quicker than other microfabrication techniques, allowing the research team to manufacture new devices at a fraction of the cost but more complex than ever before.

EFAB, being developed by researchers at The University of Southern California (USC) and the Information Sciences Institute (ISI), works by building up layers of a material to form the shape of the component being constructed. The success of the technique is mainly thanks to the development of an 'Instant Masking' process developed at USC. A 'mask' is pressed onto the surface of a prepared substrate allowing so-called 'sacrificial' materials to be electro-deposited. The mask is removed and the gaps are filled in with structural material to form the pattern of the mask. The layer of materials is planed down to as thin as 1 micrometre, according to the researchers, and the process can then be run again.

The EFAB process can be repeated to form multi-layer three dimensional (3D) complex mechanical devices. "The [devices] we are looking at seriously [include] microcombustion based generators, smaller than a shirt button, that will generate electric power by burning hydrocarbon fuels", says EFAB project leader Adam Cohen. "These promise about 10 times the performance of the best batteries, on an energy per weight basis", says Cohen. Other uses for EFAB technology include the manufacture of coronary stents, the devices used to help keep arteries open. These could be manufactured for less than 5 dollars compared to tens of dollars using traditional techniques.
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Notes For Editors
  • This item is due to appear as "An e-fab way for making the micro world" by Dr Steve Hill in the September issue of Materials World, Volume 7, Issue 9, page 538.
  • Materials World is the journal of The Institute of Materials, the professional organisation of materials scientists, engineers and technicians working throughout the world in areas involving the use and application of plastics, rubber, metals, composites and ceramics.
  • Brief contents of Materials World are also available on the web: www.materials.org.uk
  • The views and opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and are not necessarily the views of Materials World, IoM Communications or any other organisation with which they are associated.

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