Nano everywhere at Swiss Nanofair

Agie and Mecartex will demonstrate a new desktop sized machine for creating tiny precision parts (Agie)

A look at some of the new market-ready technologies that will be shown this week at Switzerland’s first Nanofair show that “nano” is more than just a buzzword.

This content was published on September 8, 2003 minutes

It is the foundation for new industrial products as well as a major theme of research at Switzerland higher institutes of education.

One of the demonstrations expected will be a new benchtop-sized “nanofactory” from the Losone-based companies, Agie and Mecartex.

The two worked with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology’s Laboratoire de Systèmes Robotiques (LSRO) to create a machining platform, capable of cutting out metallic components with precision in the sub-micron or nanometer scale.

The system is based on electric discharge machining (EDM) technology - a method of manufacturing Agie is specialized in. EDM relies on electrical pulses, like tiny lightning bolts, that blast metal into its component parts in order to shape the surface of metal components.

The machines can cut into the metal to make ultra-minute dies or it can build up a shape or part using a wire-cut method. The whole thing is extremely precise.

Delta Cube

Now a third prototype is underway. The Delta Cube II has already been tested and researchers say that it is a success. It is much smaller than existing Agie equipment and uses less dielectric liquids.

The firms hope that the equipment will be used to make forms for nanofluidic devices, medical implants, ophthalmic surgery tools, and cell research. The goal is to sell 50 to 100 machines a year once they get the system produced.

Another demonstration is expected by Nanonis, a spin-off of the Institute of Physics of the University of Basel. The firm was founded by Joerg Rychen who developed a vast set of software for metrology tools, such as scanning probe microscopes, used to measure the nanoscale as part of his PhD work.

Its flagship product is a modular and versatile controller for scanning probe microscopes based on the PXI-Platform and programmed completely in LabVIEW.

Nanonis has already won an important contract with National Instruments, the US market leader in computer-based measurements and industrial automation.

It is also supplying SwissProbe, another spin-off of the University of Basel that makes a high-resolution magnetic force microscope used by the likes of Seagate, a market leader in hard drives for personal computers.

Research on display

Besides the Nanoforum, there is also a Nano Conference. “The fair, the conference, and the forum are designed to serve as an international platform for innovations and market entries with nanotechnology in the fields of life science, metrology tools, sensors, optics, electronics, plus materials and surfaces,” say the organisers.

The companies sponsoring the event are keen adopters of nanotechnology. They also participate in research projects with Swiss universities in a state-funded research framework called Top Nano 21.

International companies and top researchers are also expected. For example, Nanosol of Sweden will present novel coating systems whose excellent dirt repelling characteristics, quick and easy cleaning, and high chemical and temperature resistance are apt to meet with vivid interest.

Research and development activities in industry and science will be the subject of a paper by Euresearch, the information network for European research programs. The paper is due to show how universities and companies cooperate, how new manufacturing and processing technologies are developed, and how top-class research results can be commercialized.

by Valerie Thompson

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