Thinking small

Microsystems have the potential to provide designers with the low cost and reliability they now expect from silicon chips. The only obstacle is the low yield of the fabrication process and the infrequent use of batch processing techniques.

Europractice, an EU initiative, is seeking to address this problem by promoting the uptake of microsystems and other advanced technologies. The initiative helps potential users take their application requirements from concept to manufacture, by providing access to design, prototyping and manufacturing facilities.

The first step for the designer is to select one of six centres of competence. Made up of universities and institutes, these centres have been established in different areas to offer application and technology specific assistance. For example, Medics – based in Sulzbach, Germany – provides services focused on the biomedical industry while Norwegian company Sintef specialises in silicon radiation sensors. These centres evaluate product concepts, fabricate prototypes and advise customers on manufacturing facilities.

In addition, Europractice has established five manufacturing clusters, using pools of existing manufacturers to assist in product development, packaging and testing and finally, medium to high volume manufacture. Manufacturing Cluster 3 (MC3), a collection of UK companies with a central contact in Oxfordshire, offers a number of services including silicon/glass technologies and reliability and environment testing.

General information about Europractice can be found at