It’s a common peril for many small companies that make circuits, sensors or other devices: Making a handful in a few days – no problem – but how are they going to make a million of them in a month?
The problem is called design-for-manufacturing – making devices with an eye toward scaling up for manufacturing processes later. The Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility (CNF) is partnering with a statewide educational and research powerhouse to solve it.
CNF, Cornell’s National Science Foundation-supported nanotechnology experimentation and fabrication facility, has formed a partnership with the Smart System Technology and Commercialization Center (STC) in Canandaigua, N.Y., part of SUNY’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE), to streamline the design process and help companies plan for mass manufacturing.
The project is aimed at assisting companies, particularly small businesses and startups, who are planning to make the transition from small-scale research and development to manufacturing of MEMS (microelectromechanical systems), sensors and other microelectronic components.
“Often people have a great idea and a great device but they don’t know how to manufacture it,” said Don Tennant, CNF director of operations. “We want people to build in manufacturability as soon as possible in the process.”
The key is a “tool map” that Christopher Alpha, a staff scientist at CNF, has helped develop. The tool map is a guide for companies who do their device design at CNF, but might want to use CNSE’s STC, which is a MEMS foundry, to mass-produce their devices once they’re ready for commercialization.
For example, CNF offers eight different lithography tools, only four of which have technical counterparts at CNSE’s STC. A company would reference the tool map and align their tool selections in the early design phases at CNF to adhere to the ones also available at STC.
“It is a pain that a lot of small companies end up having,” Alpha said. “You start a process at a place like this, and you have a very broad palette of tools to work with here. You go to manufacture your product, and you have to hunt around for a MEMS facility or foundry with the tools that match, but generally they don’t, and you have to overhaul everything. This slows down time to market.”
The partnership is still in its early stages, Tennant said. The hope is that such a model could extend to other sites in the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, of which CNF is a member, and that research facilities like CNF can be feeders for facilities like CNSE’s STC, as a way of bridging high-tech research and high-tech manufacturing.