Nano-OPS Printer for High Rate Nano-Manufacturing and Support Equipment

Lead Research Organisation: University of Surrey
Department Name: ATI Electronics


The Internet is expanding beyond the traditional computing and communications devices that we use daily to include any physical object in our environment. This expansion is known as the IoT. Next generation mobile communications networks will allow sensors attached to any object to share information about its local environment over the Internet. These sensors are being developed and initial versions that have been deployed are already making in-roads into retail, health-care, environmental and security monitoring. With large numbers of sensors in place, they enable a detailed understanding of our environment, which allows better monitoring and new types of control for higher living standards.

The IoT has the capacity to revolutionise individual lives, physical infrastructure, and the delivery of services at the global level. With this comes an estimated total potential economic impact of $3.9 to $11.1 trillion per year by 2025. However, to enable this, the cost of basic hardware must significantly decrease and an order of magnitude reduction in costs over conventional fabrication processes must be achieved [McKinsey, 2015]. Nanotechnology enables this cost reduction. Furthermore, the reduced dimensions render the technology unobtrusive and less energy intensive for both their device fabrication and operation. But, thus far a significant bottleneck has been the lack of a high-throughput and reliable nano-fabrication capabilities that render the processes suitable for scale-up and ultimately manufacture. The key technical challenge is to be able to fabricate devices at small enough geometry, in a highly repeatable manner, over very large area, using inexpensive processing, and can be scaled-up without loosing the performance advantages in the fabrication of the device systems.

The IoT will have a revolutionary role in defining next generation engineering and services. Our objective is to position the United Kingdom in a leadership position to define this future. To do this we propose to purchase a nano-manufacturing research tool that will enable us to pull-together the strongest possible team of users, designers and engineers to work as a team to produce multifunctional novel devices and systems via innovative fabrication research. The tool will help develop a nano-fabrication capability, which provides an inexpensive, high throughput, high-performance platform integrating sensors, actuators, communication, energy capture and storage functions with low power circuits. The platform will enable the design and prototyping a large variety of devices and sensors. Our project partners and supporters (some still to be connected) will employ these new scale-up capabilities to design, develop, and manufacture sensors for smart homes, vehicles, wearables, hospitals, and cities.

The e-Stamps fabricated using the process optimised Nano-OPS tool will be maximally energy efficient, will be enabled by the nano-scale device features that will open a new era in flexible electronic backplanes. These functions will be augmented by smart material interfaces that enable quasi-passive systems: for example a sensor that periodically updates an output that responds to interrogation by modulating a signal. There is also the challenge to harvest and store the energy to allow long-term autonomous operation of e-Stamps.

To achieve all these objectives requires a closely coupled team of researchers who can cover the range of materials science, device design & physics, device fabrication, characterisation, testing, and system integration. In addition we will in particular support SMEs through the lower technology readiness levels that require more research input and experience. We will help identify and mitigate risks through small-scale device fabrication, providing a more rapid prototyping route and will help define strategies to pull through to pilot scale.

Planned Impact

A key beneficiary is UK electronics manufacturing. Nanotechnology applied to high throughput device fabrication will enable the development of large area high performance devices and systems, new products and deliver an order of magnitude process cost reduction during manufacture. The potential market is huge. The EU noted the global market for nanotechnology was $147B in 2007 and would grow to a possible $3 trillion, by 2015. The UK is well placed to capture a significant market share. ESCO (UKEA) report that 14 of the world's top 20 semiconductor companies have established design and/or manufacturing operations in the UK. UK Electronic Systems manufacturers employ around 800,000 UK people in around 5,000 operations and exporting some 72% of output (NMI). Our partners that include QinetiQ, have spun-out highly successful companies such as Omni-ID, a primary manufacturer of Industrial RFID Tags and solutions globally and OptaSense a world leader in distributed acoustic sensing. Therefore, we will be having two way conversations to help facilitate more industry related research, as well as helping to facilitate more innovative products in the market place. The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult network, together with the Centre for Innovative Manufacture of Large Area Electronics at Cambridge, will take the research into scale up of the Nano-OPS printer and help promote and distribute its capability to the UK industrial electronics client base.

The IoT potential is even greater. Sir Mark Walport's IoT review presents data suggesting the IoT has the potential to add $6.2 trillion to the global economy by 2025. The electronics we develop will be used in all sectors including aerospace, defence, retail, transport, health, consumer electronics, built environment, agriculture etc. We illustrate those benefits through two specific examples. In transport, UK congestion costs the UK economy Euro24.5B a year in lost production. The introduction of smart transport infrastructure is expected to lead to estimated savings of up to £8 B/annum. The availability of low energy electronics will facilitate the rapid introduction of smart infrastructure. In healthcare, the IoT and associated changes to service delivery will help reduce the pressures associated with an ageing population. Wearable devices offer solutions to health care providers. The monitoring and feedback from wearables accounted for more than 70% share of the global wearable medical device market in 2015. The global market was worth $3.3 billion in 2015, and has been variously estimated to be growing to between $7.8 (Mordor Intellegence) and $41 billion (Soreon research) by 2020, with segments for diabetes, sleep disorders, obesity and cardiovascular disease driving growth.

With regards to people we will have multiple routes to deliver the impact of the research to the community. Those researchers directly involved in the work will benefit from the activities conducted and the interactions we will have with a wide variety of supply chain providers. Many university partners have already been advised of the capability of the tool we are proposing to establish, and all of them have indicated their willingness to work with us to help exemplify the research potential of the machine. We will also contribute to seminars and workshops throughout the year to exemplify the potential of the nanotechnology research to contribute to devices, systems and technologies. Popular research will be presented to the press and popularised via the archival journal and conference routes.


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Description QinetiQ partnership on energy materials 
Organisation Qinetiq
Department QinetiQ (Farnborough)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have now set up a joint laboratories between QinetiQ and Surrey on sharing capability in energy materials and in particular on wearable technologies.
Collaborator Contribution QinetiQ have provided invaluable support, advisory board membership and mentoring, and started an iCASE award in Oct. 2019 valued at £88k to work on this project.
Impact Joint research and laboratory capability made available in 2020.
Start Year 2017