We human beings breathe oxygen to live. But oxygen is also part of a class of materials - transition metal oxides - which have excited academics and industry alike. Little is understood of their properties. EU-funded researchers, led by Trinity College Dublin, are keen to change that. The team has developed modelling tools for investigating the behaviour of potential micro- and nanoelectronic devices using transition metal oxides.
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Nanotechnology offers human society a vast range of benefits, making possible startling advances in everything from medicines and cosmetics to energy generation, electronics and even 'hi-tech' clothing. What is more, this nanotechnology 'revolution' is still only in its infancy. Research into ever more applications is in full swing.
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Cancer causes some 13% of deaths worldwide. Of these deaths, some 90% are caused not by the original cancer, but by its spread to other parts of the body. These secondary cancers, known as metastases, are most often caused by 'circulating tumour cells' (CTCs) which escape from the primary tumour and travel around the body in the bloodstream.
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A radio made completely of plastic? We might see them in the near future, claim scientists. In 1977 researchers discovered that certain types of plastic can conduct electricity, just like metals. Initially these plastics remained a curiosity, but by improving their electrical properties researchers have now opened the way for their use in a large number of electric and electronic devices.
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Nanotechnology is opening the way to a new industrial revolution. From 'individualised' medical treatments tailored for each patient to new, environmentally-friendly energy storage and generation systems, nanotechnology is bringing significant advances. Exciting new futures await those businesses able to get ahead in the race to turn this wealth of promise into commercial success. But in a field which requires a high degree of coordinated effort involving many different stakeholder groups, including researchers, policymakers and commercial players across a wide variety of industrial sectors, it has perhaps been inevitable that fragmentation, disconnectedness and duplication have stood in the way.
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Every time a firefighter braves an inferno, a scientist wonders if a new material or special flame-resistant coating could be created to protect him. Today, armed with nanocomposite techniques and insights into bio-based materials, new classes of smart, adaptable super-surface coatings are possible.
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Electrochromic glass – which instantly glazes or shades at the flick of an electrical switch – has proved popular in a range of applications where the control of light and heat is important. But the physical nature of the glass and the costs involved limit the opportunities open to this technology. An EU-funded project has applied these 'smart glass' principles to a flexible film which opens up a whole new world of green, low-cost and commercially viable possibilities.
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Each year, twice as many people die in Europe from hospital acquired infections than from road accidents. These infectious diseases have developed antibiotic resistance and spread despite the best efforts of staff, mainly through textiles like bed linen. But the technology developed by a European research project helps fight back against the so-called superbugs, by using a revolutionary nanotechnology to treat bed linen and other textiles.
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Accounting for some 40% of all energy consumption, the building sector is one of Europe's most energy consuming. And as the vast majority of this power comes from fossil fuels, increasing energy efficiency, reducing CO2 emissions and using Renewable Energy Sources (RES) has in recent years become priority.
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Micro-products have become increasingly important in the medical, biotechnology, consumer and automotive sectors. However, products in these sectors such as innovative display solutions and light emitting panels require the integration of different functionalities and demand new mass manufacturing methods and technologies.
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An estimated 170 million people worldwide are infected with hepatitis C, which kills more than 350,000 every year from related illnesses like liver cancer. There is no vaccine for it, and treatments are costly thanks to the complicated chemistry used to make the drugs. However, if a way was found to simplify and speed up the manufacture of hepatitis C drugs, it could slash the costs of treatment and at a stroke promise to wipe out the insidious killer disease.
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Measuring between 1 and 100 billionth of a metre, nanomaterials may be tiny and invisible to the eye but what they lack in size, they make up for in impact. Engineered nanomaterials are already widely used in technologies and consumer products ranging from toothpaste to paints.
Faced with tough competition from low-wage countries and economic strife at home, European shoemakers are interested in clever and efficient solutions to design and customise stylish shoes that meet every customer's needs. But is ‘mass customisation’ like this a contradiction in terms? Not according to EU-funded researchers.
The goal of enhanced integration between the European Union and the Russian Federation was significantly advanced by a series of three linked EU-Russian research projects.
Over the last ten years, high power fibre lasers have moved quickly from the research laboratory into production. In stark contrast to traditional lasers, fibre lasers now offer near perfect beam quality ensuring optimal focus even in long distances. In addition, high efficiency, low operating costs and virtually no maintenance allow for a simple integration into industrial, automated production processes.
European nano-warriors tackle a big killer ... cancer (Namdiatream)
European researchers are waging war on cancer, a major medical and societal challenge today. Thanks to progress in nanotechnology and strong leadership by Trinity College Dublin, teams from diverse scientific fields are developing sensitive portable devices to diagnose cancer much earlier and to better monitor treatment when and where it is needed.
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European scientists develop pioneering adaptive system for advanced metal cutting (Adacom)
A team of scientists from nine different EU member states has created a generic adaptive platform in the area of metal cutting that can be applied to a variety of industries, from automotive parts to aerospace component makers, to enable them to respond to changing circumstances in the production process.
Developed under the European Commission-backed ADACOM (Adaptive Control for Metal Cutting) project, the platform allows for adaptation to variables such as rising temperature, the wear condition of cutting tools and the surface integrity of materials during production.
In the case of Daimler, one of the biggest automotive manufacturers in Europe, a new milling strategy has been developed to enhance the flexibility and reduce the manufacturing time of new gear concepts. Within this case study a standard milling tool has been used with an adaptive milling strategy to create new shapes of gears. This has enabled Daimler to prove new gear concepts in a fraction of time (10%), they usually need to create a new prototype by using state of the art gear wheel cutting tools.
By allowing for such adaptations, ADACOM improves the efficiency of production processes, providing European industry with a competitive advantage. It also results in less waste of materials and the use of fewer resources such as electricity and water.
Crucial to the success of ADACOM was the partnership between industry and academia. Developing the system and being able to test it at production sites gave the industrial partners a head start and access to the results and gave academics the insight they needed to perfect ADACOM.
The project brought together three academic partners – the University of Aachen, University of Dublin and Mondragon Unibertsitatea - as well as four SMEs and five industrial partners: Lola, Teks, Diad, Actarus, Kistler AG, HeidelbergAG, Bosch, Daimler, and Centro Richerche Fiat.
Since no single EU country could provide all the competences necessary to develop such an advanced system, ADACOM also had to be conducted on a European scale. A key advantage is that the knowledge created will be made available throughout Europe.
The project has attracted much interest from outside the EU and in other industries, notably aerospace. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) of the United States is now backing similar research and may develop a standard together with its European counterpart.
The ADACOM consortium is also considering the development of a global cyber platform that would provide access via cloud computing and application software to the data gathered by the ADACOM project.
Pioneering EU-backed research allows computers to perform faster data processing (Ultramagnetron)
Researchers from across the EU have discovered a technique to write information to computer hard drives faster, giving European industry an important edge when it comes to the development of the next generation of hard drives.
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An EU-funded project carried out by a team of scientists from the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Ireland investigated how to use light to write magnetic information (which comprise bits as small as a few nanometres) – a process the scientists dubbed opto-nano-magnetism.
Along the way, they made a breakthrough discovery: while scientists had for centuries believed that heat would only destroy the magnetic properties of materials, the UltraMagnetron team demonstrated that it can be actually be used as a stimulus for recording information to a magnetic medium.
This, together with the successful demonstration of opto-nano-magnetism, will be crucial for industry as consumers demand faster processing. A key problem that UltraMagnetron resolves is that although computer operating speeds are increasing and chip dimensions decreasing, the speed at which magnetic data is recorded has thus far remained limited.
There is also a positive effect for the environment since magnetic recording using the techniques pioneered by UltraMagnetron requires a thousand times less energy dissipations than the process that is currently used.
Industry eyes opportunity
Industrial partner in the project, Philips Electronics, has been analysing the market potential for opto-magnetic recording while hard drive manufacturer Seagate is investigating whether it will switch to All-Optical-Recording as a result of the ground-breaking findings of the UltraMagnetron project.
A global consortium of industry leaders in hard disk technology comprising Seagate, Toshiba, Hitachi and Western Digital has also asked the project leaders to come forward with research proposals concerning the possibilities of switching to All-Optical Recording while a patent has already been obtained.
The UltraMagnetron project, which received funding of EUR 3.15 million, brought together scientists from a range of disciplines, including X-rays and optics. Although the project was completed last year, the project partners are pursuing the opportunity presented by opto-nano-magnetism and seeking further funding to develop their research.
EU research leads to breakthrough technology in easy-clean surfacing for industry (Nanoclean)
An EU-backed research project in the field of easy-clean and self-cleaning surfacing for applications such as automotive parts, household appliances and biomedicine has resulted in the development of ground-breaking technology.
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The team of scientists, who came together under the NANOCLEAN project which received EU funding of EUR 2.9 million, developed techniques using existing technologies such as injection moulding for products such as car wing mirror casings.
Using nano-microstructured surfacing, they were able to control the wettability of the end-product, essentially creating what is known as a superhydrophobic surface that is extremely difficult to make wet and therefore is easy to clean or is even self-cleaning.
Previous technologies, while able to create such surfaces, were either partial solutions, not permanent or resulted in a product that required extra finishing with reactants or coatings. The technology developed under NANOCLEAN provides a permanent superhydrophobic coating.
Lower financial, environmental costs
Since NANOCLEAN technology allows for the production of an end-product that requires no further treatment, the cost to industry is much lower at a time when competition from countries outside the EU is one of the greatest threats to business.
NANOCLEAN technology also results in a lower cost to the environment. The chemicals used as reactants or coatings for products that do not have this superhydrophobic finish are typically harmful to the environment.
European cooperation leads to international success
The NANOCLEAN team comprised experts from Spanish thermoplastic injection moulding specialists Maier, Dutch laser specialist Lightmotif, Italy's Fiat's Centro Ricerche, Spanish consultancy Gaiker, German chemicals group BASF, the University of Twente and Dutch mechatronics group Demcon.
Bringing together a team from across the EU with the best specialists in their field was crucial to the success of NANOCLEAN and since it involved European companies with international profiles, this effectively creates an international sales network for NANOCLEAN.
Several target sectors of NANOCLEAN have already expressed an interest in the technology, providing hope for its successful commercialisation.
EU researchers develop breakthrough technologies in footwear and gloves (FIT4U)
A team of scientists from across Europe has developed a series of technologies central to consumer-centred product and process innovation in the emerging footwear and glove niche markets. Focused on personalised safety and outdoor sports applications, the technologies and processes will give a much-needed boost to European industry at a time when the market is becoming increasingly dominated by third country imports.
FIT4U, a project backed by the European Union, has created a set of integrated methods, tools and technologies that can be used by industry to develop customer-oriented products, providing for cutting-edge high performance and meeting the stringent regulations set by the EU, particularly for safety products.
Shop-based technologies, such as a device to assess gait, will enable customers to make more informed and effective choices while factory-based technologies will shorten production times and add value to components and to the final product.
Several of the technologies are set to be commercialised as of 2013 by spin-off companies while patents are pending for a number of others. One device, a high performing anti-perforation material, boasts breakthrough features and performance in the context of the EU market.
Under EU law, for a safety shoe to be certified, a nail with a diameter of 4.5 mm subjected to a force equivalent to 10 kilograms must not be able to pass through the sole. FIT4U has by far exceeded this target, creating a sole through which a nail of just 2.5 mm in diameter cannot pass.
Specialised safety footwear, sports shoes, and specialised gloves represent a dynamic growth market. Consumer expenditure on footwear products alone in 2005 amounted to EUR 64 billion. Of this, safety footwear accounted for 23%, free time and casual wear for 45% and sport for 24%.
There is a growing demand for specialised safety and sport footwear and gloves. In 2005, 60% of safety shoes sold were tailored to deliver more performance and quality. Given that many workers using safety shoes suffer from foot-related health problems, FIT4U predicts continued growth in this market segment. Meanwhile – and in a further confirmation of the project’s potential – the market for sports shoes and gloves in 2005 amounted to EUR 19.5 billion due to increasing demand for such items for leisure and fashion and an increasing number of EU citizens participating in sport activities.
The project, to which the EU provided financing of EUR 3.9 billion (close to 70% of the total funds), brought together researchers and companies from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and France while the sport industry federation ensured that the results of the project were made known to European industry.
Sustainability in the plastics sector will become a more pressing issue in the future as legislation and public demand force companies to manufacture more environmentally friendly products. A European project has been developing alternative materials, production processes and even products like a composite bus seat which could, in time, replace oil-based plastic versions.
EU textile technology to cut transmission of hospital acquired-infections (NANOBOND)
European Union scientists have developed pioneering textile technology that can reduce the transmission of infections in hospitals from items such as patient gowns, bed linen and compression socks.
By creating a new molecule – i-Link – scientists were able to activate the surface of textiles to increase the durability and efficiency of the antimicrobial aegis molecule that they contain. Using i-Link, scientists were able to make a polymeric coating of nano-thickness.
Hospital acquired infections (or nosocomial infections) are a major cause of death in both developed and developing countries. In Europe, more than twice as many people die each year as a result of contracting such an infection than from road traffic accidents.
Recent research shows that the role of textiles in transmitting superbugs, bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, has been underestimated. A 2008 study in The Lancet Infectious Diseases revealed that bed linen, patient gowns and tables were a more common source of superbugs than floors, while the World Health Organization said textiles offer the ideal breeding ground for superbugs.
Environmental and commercial benefits
As well as the health benefits, the use of i-Link technology increases the lifetime of textiles, may reduce the need for industrial laundry processes, and hence water use, and stops the environment from being 'swamped' with antimicrobial agents, since the layer limits their release.
Not only does i-Link technology protect the environment from antimicrobial agents, it is itself made using nanotechnology but without using nano particles, which the scientists have themselves noted is controversial due to concerns about the release of such small particles into the environment.
Commercially, i-Link has created a new business opportunity. The scientists worked together with six small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), creating the Nanobond consortium, which has received EU funding of EUR 1.6 million. The SMEs have all produced at least one prototype textile good.
The companies have agreed to create a business consortium to promote and commercialise the products of all the partners in their respective countries (Belgium, the UK, Slovenia, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany).
EU-funded plastic electronics project puts cheaper solar energy within reach (MINOTOR)
European researchers have made great strides in the improvement of plastic solar cells, making them a potentially affordable alternative to conventional silicon-based devices. Such research is making a major contribution to the global quest for energy sources that are not only sustainable and reliable but also more economical.
Picture: Visualization at the atomic scale of a self-assembled monolayer on a gold surface
MINOTOR, to which the EU contributed EUR 3 million in funding, brought together nine research partners from eight European Member States, including a world leading chemical company BASF, to examine the interfacial effects that can affect the intrinsic performance of plastic solar cell devices. These devices rely on the use of multi-layered structures, composed of thin films of nano particles.
The project’s mission was to develop a multi-scale modelling approach, ranging from the atomistic to the mesoscopic scale of the processes that take place at the interfaces in electronic devices. Such an approach aims to improve understanding of the modification of the electronic properties of materials at an interface and the impact of the different types of interface on the final characteristics of a device.
Among their findings so far, researchers have established the origin of electronic-level alignments at organic-organic interfaces that impact the short circuit current and the open circuit voltage of solar cell devices – key factors in the efficiency of those cells. Their research also shows how to modify the surface of electrodes to tune the charge of devices such as organic (plastic) light emitting diodes (LEDs).
Plastic solar cells are an attractive alternative to silicon-based devices because they may lead to flexible, unbreakable, light weight and low-cost devices with enhanced sustainability and recycling possibilities. However, they are not yet as efficient as conventional devices and are therefore not yet an affordable substitute. MINOTOR, a three-year project that was launched in June 2009, is thus a crucial contribution to world class research in one of Europe’s most challenging endeavours.
Micro-machining consortium seeks to boost European competitiveness (INTEG-MICRO)
A research consortium comprising academic and industrial partners from across Europe has developed a series of machines that combine complimentary high precision micro-manufacturing techniques that could potentially boost the competitiveness of European products such as smartphones, watches and dental equipment parts.
The five prototypes deliver performance that will be crucial for the production of complex 3D micro-devices used in a vast array of products, from consumer electronics to healthcare devices that replace invasive technologies for diagnosis and surgery.
Micro-technologies are becoming increasingly important, with the biggest innovations and most successful products achieved by down-scaling. However, European manufacturers have been lagging behind their global competitors, with countries such as China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan investing heavily in the development of machine tools for micro-manufacturing.
The EU has invested EUR 7.4 million in the Integ-Micro project to give a much needed boost to Europe’s production of micro-machines and promote the sharing of expertise across the EU’s 27 Member States. The establishment of a Europe-wide project has allowed for a pooling of resources and transnational access to facilities that would not have been possible for a single Member State to achieve in isolation.
The team comprised academic partners from Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (the Project Coordinator) and Università degli Studi di Brescia in Italy, Cranfield University in the UK, Fraunhofer-IPT and WZL-RWTH in Germany, and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. The industrial partners were DVST, Ce.S.I, CECIMO, DIAD, Fidia, Fundacion Tekniker, GSI Group, KERN, Kistler, LASAG, PEAR, and TWT.
EU-backed research boosts industrial safety and competitiveness (IRIS)
A risk-based management process that uses European satellite images to help companies improve the safety and competitiveness of their industrial plants and meet the challenges of tougher regulations in areas such as environmental and climate change law is attracting global interest.
Copyright photo: Prof. Dr. Helmut Wenzel, VCE Holding GmbH
IRIS, developed by a consortium of 40 partners from around the world, uses targeted satellite images to identify hazards, simulate processes and their development over time, and allow for the optimisation of operations. An open-source IT platform has been created, which is applicable to all industrial sectors.
So far, applications of the system, which was created thanks to the pooling of skills and harmonisation of data across EU Member States, have been introduced into the nuclear, chemical, mining, and energy production industries, which are all under intense pressure to ensure total safety and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
The EU has invested EUR 8.5 million into the development of IRIS. The project has also spurred significant amounts of private investment, more than the EU had expected at the outset, and the project has garnered support from a number of leading European industrial partners, including EDF, DoW Chemical, BBT, EGNATIA, Cuprum, and RWE.
The new process creates market opportunities across the world, in particular for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Already a US-Europe-Russia joint venture for application of the system has been created and a joint company headquartered in Vienna (AT) has been established. First contracts in the UK, Canada and Russia are now underway.
The new process is also attracting interest from standard setting authorities, including the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN). At a European level, the process will contribute to the harmonisation of fragmented Regulations, leading to the creation of European rather than national research policies and harmonised industrial safety procedures.
CORONA - Boosting European competitiveness in micro and nano devices
An EU-funded project to improve and strengthen Europe’s competitiveness in micro and nano devices has resulted in the successful development of a customer-oriented engineering methodology that will ultimately benefit a wide range of European industries that depend on these technologies.
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Micro and nano devices are used by many industries in the manufacture of their products, including the automotive, consumer products, and medical applications sectors. Boosting competitiveness in micro and nano devices, improving quality and providing new functions will therefore add value right along the European manufacturing chain.
The project – CORONA – brought together designers, manufacturers, tool providers, research institutes and end-users to tackle the technological challenges faced by the industry. Their overall goal was to reduce development times, crucial for competitiveness in this field since success relies very much on fast time-to-market.
It also sought to foster cooperation between companies, since much of European micro and nano device manufacturing is carried out by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the use of knowledge-based engineering methods are therefore key to improving Europe’s leading position in the market for these devices.
CORONA, to which the EU contributed EUR 3 million of the total EUR 4.4 million project costs, has resulted in the development of software tools for customer-oriented product engineering. Multiple demonstrations have already been rolled out in a wide range of business cases and parts of the software incorporated into commercially available suites.
Led by European micro-technology association IVAM, the project brought together 11 organisations, including micro-system makers Elmos and X-Fab, fabless micro/nano firm Theon, software groups Coventor and Process Relations, and the Universities of Cambridge (UK), Siegen (DE), and ITE in Warsaw (PL).
Focusing European competence on mass producing piezoelectric MEMS
The EU-funded piezoVolume project is developing the design, production and testing of specialised micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) exploiting piezoelectric effects to enable such microsystems to sense and move. Success will help secure the competitiveness of European industry – particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – in advanced instrumentation for communications and sensing of mechanical, thermal, acoustic, chemical, optical and biomedical phenomena.
Future electronic devices need to be smarter and more independent than today. Europe's suppliers have to be in the lead to safeguard competitiveness. Piezoelectric MEMS are versatile and can fulfil many of the requirements of future devices with low power needs, small volume, high performance and ease of manufacture.
MEMS are very small machines, ranging in size from 20 micrometres to a millimetre. A piezoelectric element converts electric signals to a mechanical movement, or vice versa, in the same way as a human muscle contracts or a nerve senses vibrations. The piezoelectric element is added in a new sequence of processing steps on established MEMS manufacturing lines. In addition to the process itself, an important contribution is a description of how it can be integrated with existing infrastructure.
Until recently, tools to produce piezoelectric microsystems on an industrial scale have not been available. Now, piezoVolume is on track to develop the industrial tools and create a competence centre for such microsystems. Access to this competence and tools will strengthen European SMEs in a broad range of markets such as medical imaging, positioning systems, ink jet printing heads, pressure and flow sensors, gas detection, energy harvesting, accelerometers and micropumps.
Boosting the use of nanomaterials in everyday products
Nanoparticles 80 000 times smaller than the width of a human hair offer an ever-widening range of attractive functional properties that can be used in innovative consumer and industrial products. Their novel size, shape or surface chemistry can be engineered at the scale of atoms and molecules, resulting for example in more effective drug delivery, more durable coatings or better cosmetics. The EU-funded InForm project set up a global forum to improve cooperation between researchers working on formulation and those developing products.
Worldwide coordination on the formulation, processing and safety of nanomaterials is essential to take full advantage of their properties in new consumer products and obtain reliable data for policy makers and the general public. Researchers also need industrial feedback on the suitability of materials developed.
To tackle this, the InForm project brought together researchers from 17 world-leading organisations, both from communities working on the synthesis of nanostructured materials and on product formulation, to identify the major challenges and opportunities. This collaboration enabled the best research and industrial practice in Europe to be showcased in Asia and the USA and vice-versa. Partners provided access to their considerable scientific networks in their own regions and fields of expertise.
Thanks to this EU project, the mobility of scientists with complementary interests and expertise has increased, with new partnerships created between academia and industry across regions. These include bilateral collaborations between Australia, Malaysia and Thailand with European partners. This work is helping make sure that new advances in nanomaterials are as practical and useful as possible and bring benefits for consumers in Europe and around the globe.
Customised implants speed treatment and cut costs
A four-year EU-funded project has led to a breakthrough in the supply and fitting of customised medical devices. These can now be designed, manufactured, sterilised and delivered in a short timeframe, meeting the specific needs of individual patients. Not only will the results of the Custom-IMD project increase patient quality of life by potentially faster recovery and reduced risk of failure or side-effects but healthcare costs should also be cut by 20%, not least through simpler, lower-cost operations.
Europe holds the second largest share of the global biomaterials and medical devices market but has come under increasing pressure from scientific advances in the USA and lower labour cost manufacturing in Asia. Custom-IMD was conceived by a group of high-tech small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), SME medical-device manufacturers, expert research centres and surgical clinicians with direct experience in the field of medical implant devices to meet these challenges.
The project focused on three areas: a craniofacial bone plate; a lumbar inter-vertebral disc; and dental restorations. These new medical devices successfully passed all performance and biocompatibility tests. They are expected to be approved definitively for human use by the end of 2016.
CustomIMD developed a complete supply chain including new biomaterials, rapid manufacturing technologies, device demonstrators and protocols for customisation together with information and communication technology tools to support customised collaborative design and supply-chain management. The work plan was driven by the medical-device development. Thus, the biomaterials and processing technologies have been adapted to the needs identified during implant development.
Design your own shoes
Imagine designing your own shoes while paying mass-produced prices. This is just what the EU-funded DOROTHY project has made possible while strengthening European shoe manufacturers’ capability to face global market challenges. Customers will be able to walk into a DOROTHY shop, have their feet measured and specify their desired fit, function and style. The customised design would then be manufactured in a multi-site factory, designed thanks to DOROTHY tools.
European shoe manufacturers face intense and growing competition from developing countries offering low-cost workforces for labour-intensive, low value added goods. Moreover these countries are rapidly modernising their production methods and enhancing their technological capacities.
DOROTHY has developed tools and methodologies enabling, on one hand, the design of customer-driven, added value shoes and, on the other, the design, configuration and reconfiguration of flexible multi-site digital production facilities to manufacture them. The project also developed the necessary business model to enable the interaction between the tools and reduce the gap between value perception and value proposition for these customised products.
A key result has been the development of a multi-client factory layout planner which provides a natural and intuitive approach to the different phases of configuration and reconfiguration of production plants. This innovation has enabled DOROTHY to move beyond the footwear sector, with validation of its tools in a different manufacturing sector, namely woodworking.
The resulting design tools and innovative business model represent valuable foundations for the future collaborative, open and service-oriented European platform for manufacturing engineering as a whole.
Modular Production System Boosts in-House Assembly
A large and growing proportion of European assembly activities are being outsourced to non-EU countries. The EU-funded IDEAS project has now developed a flexible approach to automated production to make assembly in-house more cost effective, particularly for new products and markets. It introduces an entirely new way of developing production systems based on highly automated modules which can be combined as required with no programming or expert knowledge required.
The evolvable assembly system consists of self-configuring, highly adaptive and process-oriented components which shift the technological focus from complex, flexible, multi-purpose systems to simpler, dedicated machine modules with embedded controllers that are maintained by a highly distributed control system. Communication between the modules establishes what functionality is required each time a module is added, activating the pre-programmed code accordingly. IDEAS has now been applied within a medical testing/production system at FESTO (see figure). If the system requires DNA testing, such a module is added. If any other testing is suddenly demanded, only the needed modules are replaced. The time taken is only a few seconds and anyone is able to do it. Other systems are being built for high-variant products such as automotive Engine Control Units and washing machine components.
The highly flexible and modular IDEAS production system enables small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to invest in automation gradually and without any need for expert knowledge. SMEs can now keep production in-house and eliminate outsourcing. Their product designers will know, from the outset, which design aspects correspond to which production machine component.
This innovative technology will help improve the competitiveness of European SMEs. Companies will not have to train personnel to program and run automation equipment. Moreover, the modules are reusable, so SMEs can lease rather than having to purchase the equipment. The result is a dramatic reduction in costs when automating – allowing for more product variants, shorter time-to-market and the industrialisation of products which cannot be assembled manually.
FIBLYS – a "Swiss-knife" Nano-tool
Seeing is believing – and understanding. When it comes to analysing and controlling matter at nano-scale this however requires highly sophisticated instruments.
The FIBLYS tool offers unique opportunities for analysing and designing new nano-scale materials in a more accurate and efficient way.
Today, industry can rely on a variety of single instruments to analyse materials at micro-and nanoscale. A key problem is that different modes for measurements and manipulation are realised with separate instruments. This causes a number of problems, most importantly contamination during transfer, ease of use, and the difficulty to target the same area with different methods and combine the data.
The research team of the EU project "FIBLYS" succeeded in combining several analytical, manipulation and modification methods into one instrument. All techniques form a modular system so that the interested user can choose a desired combination of them. It is thus flexible to different needs of various R&D fields.
Nano-membranes against global warming (NanoGLOWA)
The ultimate way to capture carbon dioxide from flue gasses is with the use of membranes. Membrane technology is an attractive alternative for molecular separations because of its high energy efficiency, small foot print and reliability - no moving parts.
Membrane systems do not require any chemicals and neither do they need any regeneration steps. The world most focused and comprehensive efforts in membrane development for CO2 capture from flue gasses have been executed in NanoGLOWA. The FP6 project has reached an important milestone towards industrial breakthrough: at 3 different coal-fired power stations industrial pilots proved that polymer membranes withstand long term flue gas exposure while performing at high selectivity and with good fluxes
Lighter, innovative materials for multipurpose industrial applications (Nanotough)
Lighter and more resistant materials are needed to construct cars and aeroplanes that consume less fuel, have lower operational costs and a lower environmental impact. The EU funded NANOTOUGH project has created several polymeric materials that could meet these challenges.
NANOTOUGH is optimising and developing new nanocomposite materials that can serve as an alternative to conventional polymer materials that are heavier or much more expensive. Imagine an automotive bumper that only weights half of conventional bumpers but has the same or even better properties. A prototype of such a bumper has been produced with the new materials developed within the NANOTOUGH project. The bumper will be evaluated in a crash test at the end of 2011. A success of NANOTOUGH materials in such a critical application will open the door to many other applications with strong requirements in regard to impact resistance, for example in aeronautics.
Organic Nanomaterials for environmentally friendly devices (ONE-P)
ONE-P has invented a great variety of new materials that can be used in an emerging industrial field of great prospects called “Plastic Electronics”. Europe is still leading the emerging industrial field of plastic electronics which has a current market value of 1 billion euro.
“Plastic Electronics” enables the production of light, thin, flexible and cost effective devices. For a great number of applications, these organic materials can be tailored to reduce energy consumption and establish more environmentally friendly production processes.
These new materials and process technologies are needed for several applications such as low cost solar cells; efficient, lighting devices; printable backplanes for and lighter electronic books. Health applications will include highly sensitive, low cost, portable and reliable sensors which would allow to detect, for example, asthma, glaucoma or toxic gases to meet the increasing needs of affordable health and environmental monitoring sectors. These applications will very probably be on the market in a few years.
Flexible manufacturing for a competitive European industry (XPRESS)
Today's customers demand products that are tailored to their individual needs. Manufacturers need flexible systems to meet variations without slowing down the process or increasing costs.
The EU funded XPRESS project mobilised manufacturing industries and the most relevant skills in Europe to improve the production of electrical components, vehicles and aeroplanes. The XPRESS Manufactron system has been certified for safety and quality and incorporated into the Airbus Super-Jumbo production line at Nordenham. FP6 project XPRESS - Flexible Production experts for reconfigurable assembly technology.
Producing Clean Water from Smoke (CAPWA)
CapWa applies membrane technology to produce clean water from the water vapour present in the air or in the smoke emitted by various industries.
The project aims for a commercially available system in 2 to 3 years time. Recent press releases in English and Chinese sparked considerable interest in CapWa technology, both from the media and from potential end users.
FP7 project CapWa - Capture of evaporated Water with novel membranes
Exploring robotics for the factory of the future (COMET)
Today, EU manufacturing enterprises, in particular SMEs, have to adapt to global competitive pressures by developing the necessary enabling technologies to support EU manufacturing across a broad range of sectors.
COMET perfectly fits this aim. Since the start in September 2010, the consortium already realized 7 robot cells which are or will be equipped with the outcomes of this challenging project. FP7 project COMET - Plug-and-produce COmponents and METhods for adaptive control of industrial robots enabling cost effective, high precision manufacturing in factories of the future
EU Research Team Develop textiles to kill MRSA Superbug in Hospitals (BioElectricSurface)
Partners of the research project BioElectricSurface, have developed textiles that will kill the MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) superbug. The technology developed could significantly improve cleanliness in hospitals and help to reduce the occurrence of hospital-acquired infections
The team has used nanomaterials that activate agents to kill MRSA on textiles used in hospital drapes*, bed linens and upholstery. Nanomaterials, which are a thousand times smaller than a human hair, are known to possess extra-ordinary physical and chemical properties.
New metallic materials to reduce energy needs (IMPRESS)
Alloys are metallic materials that are at the core of many industrial products. IMPRESS has become the world leading project in intermetallic materials and their applications.