Nano-manufacturing facility set to deliver future wireless smart devices

Electronics for future smart consumer and industrial products are to be produced at a £4m nano-manufacturing facility that will be opened by Surrey University.

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The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has awarded £1.6m to the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) and the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at the university to establish a hub that will bring the manufacture of smart materials and self-powered electronics to Britain.

Prof Ravi Silva, director of the ATI and the new nano-manufacturing hub, said: “We will develop new technologies and techniques that will allow us to make the dream of a fully wireless smart home or smart factory commonplace in the UK.”

The £4.2m project, supported by 32 partner organisations, was co-developed with Qinetiq and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL).

A portion of Surrey’s funding will be used to purchase the NanoOPS (Nanoscale Offset Printing System) printer, designed by Northeastern University in Massachusetts, that will give the hub the ability to produce plastic nanoscale electronics suitable for devices including wearable sensors, electronic tags, and various wireless technologies.

The NanoOPS printer is said to remove the bottleneck in high-throughput and reliable nano-fabrication manufacturing. According to the university, the hub will be able to reduce, by a factor of ten, the cost of manufacturing plastic electronics, supporting the development of internet-of-things (IoT) devices for smart-homes, smart-cities, and smart factories.

Prof Sajad Haq, chief scientist, advanced services and products at Qinetiq, said: “This new high-rate facility will make the manufacturing of inexpensive tagging and tracking devices that are unobtrusive and autonomous possible. These can provide real-time data in many environments critical for asset management.”

“This investment is an invaluable step forward in positioning the UK as a global competitor in advanced manufacturing and IoT,” added Dr Fernando Castro, principal scientist at NPL. “The hub, combined with our innovative measurement and data analysis, will provide the confidence in new advanced manufacturing processes, and the adoption of materials and sensors into industry.”

The new facilities are expected to be operational in third-quarter of 2018.