R2i – The Research to Industry Electronics Conference Sir Dennis Rooke Building, Loughborough University, 2 July 2013

Circuit World

ISSN: 0305-6120

Article publication date: 18 November 2013



(2013), "R2i – The Research to Industry Electronics Conference Sir Dennis Rooke Building, Loughborough University, 2 July 2013", Circuit World, Vol. 39 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/CW.21739daa.014



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

R2i – The Research to Industry Electronics Conference Sir Dennis Rooke Building, Loughborough University, 2 July 2013

Article Type: Conferences and exhibitions From: Circuit World, Volume 39, Issue 4

Dr Darren Cadman of the UK’s Innovative Electronics Manufacturing Research Centre (IeMRC) welcomed the many delegates to his parish, and it has to be said that Loughborough University are fortunate in having the modern Sir Dennis Rooke Building in which to hold such a comprehensive event in the surroundings of the delightful Holywell Park. The purpose of the rather full but very pertinent one-day conference was to make it possible for an understanding of the level of research in our universities to be available to as many people as possible, especially those from industry.

Organised by the ESPKTN, iMAPS UK, IEEE and IeMRC, it was Andrew Holland of iMAPS UK who explained what iMAPS is all about for those who were not aware, and reminded everyone that it is UK plc who benefit from an £80 billion electronics industry at present, with projections that the value will rise to £120 billion by 2020. The ESPKTN is an organisation, funded by HMG, which provides invaluable support for industry and academia in the areas of electronics, photonics and sensors, and advises on potential areas for economic growth and address socio-economic matters. The KTNs have 15 teams working in the field, responding to needs and input. IEEE, represented today by the ubiquitous Dr Nihal Sinnadurai have 420,000 members globally, the UK and NI have some 420 members and have been going for 50 years. They serve the engineering industry on a collaborative basis, and he confirmed that the desired outcome from today would be a path to exploitation from a research project to industrial acceptance. Professor Martin Goosey touched upon the work being done by IeMRC, who fund research all over the UK, down at the blue sky area, based on existing supply chains so that industry has that already in place. Electronics manufacturing in the UK is a diverse and fragmented industry, but now IeMRC has pulled this together under one banner.

There were four sessions to this conference, in each one there was a keynote speaker, followed by a handful of speakers who provided a snapshot of the work being done at their particular university.

Christophe Blanc from Yole Finance was the first key-note speaker, with COWIN as his topic. COWIN is the coordination of smart systems, operated by five companies, designed to fill the gap between technology and the market, with the main objective being to build relationships between industrial partners, transfer IP, and oversee the launch and growth of start-up companies. They now have a large portfolio of technologies, have identified technology partners, and sources of finance. Much of their work is to do with fitting the research projects with the market, and under seven portfolios there are now 500 industrial partners, and they arrange the meetings between the two “potential fits”, i.e. the research initiators and the industrial applicators. There are at the moment 20 start-up companies exploiting FP6/FP7 research projects benefiting from COWIN support. In the microelectronics field one is called Bi-Flow, which is a microfluidic system, and another is LabonFoil, a MEMS system, both of which have found successful collaboration. There are 130 others, and no less than 20 venture companies are working with COWIN, an acronym for coordination, Optimising, Winning new markets, Innovation support and Net value creation. Creative, yes.

David Harrison of Brunel University led the cohort of speakers with an introduction to Power Weave, which is all about a fabric, a system designed to generate and store energy within a totally fibrous matrix. Using photovoltaic fibres, and energy storage fibres based on supercapacitors, these are woven together into a textile, with a whole range of applications including diagnostics, telecoms, transport and safety, disaster relief, and leisure wear. The project had only been going for 12 months, but it had already produced a coaxial single fibre supercapacitor for energy storage, and a woven supercapacitor.

Dr Lijie Li from Swansea University spoke about a new resistance switching device with applications in sensors and adaptable circuits. The aim is to reduce the costs of producing resistive switching devices. Memristor devices have many applications; in memories, sensors, and can be used as a varistor, too, and discrete memristors. Their aim is to produce a process that can produce highly reliable devices, and they would like to work with a PCB company, which would speed things up more than a lot. They are looking for partners to be involved in R&D and early stage research funding is also sought.

Dr Nutapong Sornjit from The University of Leeds is leading a project involved with 3D microwave and millimetre waveguides; the latter are extremely low loss. They are making excellent progress in fabricating prototype 3D structures, and he explained how they make the LTCC in-house prototyping process more stable and repeatable. They are searching for industrial partners through TSB and EU projects, especially ones working in robotics and MEMS.

Dr David Hutt of Loughborough University has been working on copper filled adhesive pastes for printed electronics applications. The direct printing of circuits is growing fast as a process, but needs low costs materials, and here the copper filled media has a role to play. Copper has a non-conductive oxide which limits performance, so his department has replaced the copper oxide with a protective coating, which disappears during thermal curing, leaving a pure copper conductive path. Whilst the conductive material is still wet, components can be placed and the assembled whole can be cured at 150°C in argon. They would like to work in collaboration with adhesive suppliers, ink formulators, paste formulation experts and end-users in the printed electronics industry.

The University of Warwick has Dr Gunwant Dhadyalla working on electronics in transport systems. So much of air transportation in particular relies upon complex wiring, with inherent weight problems, and his attention is to look at the wireless concept as a replacement. Wi-Fli, possibly?

Xiaoxin Zhu of the University of Greenwich is perfecting computer simulation of electro-migration. This causes void generation or open circuits, and electro-migration of solder joints will become a limiting factor, so they are researching a new structure that can increase the lifetime of a solder pads by a factor of 5-7. The research is at TRL 2-3 presently.

Session 2 was kicked off by Dr John-Paul Rooney, who is a cheerful patent attorney with Withers Rogers. He came along to talk about patenting, or commercialising research. Patents mean a return on investment, a means of protecting your IP, and the great research being done in the UK must be protected. There are four basic methods of making money out of patents, of which two are valid. The fortress model (prevalent in the pharmaceutical world) is one, and then there is the mutually assured destruction model, the monopoly in a box model, and the licensing model. Here you can offer a license to others, collect royalties and this works well in some industries. In the field of semi-conductors, where he has considerable experience, he highlighted ARM as a company who have an excellent licensing system. The mutually-assured destruction model can be likened to the Cold War in which each side builds up a massive arsenal of patents, so that no one is going to strike first, or strike back.

He gave two examples of where there has been successful application of IP, one of them at the University of Salford, who have been working in the world of automotive suspension units, and they have now linked with a large German company manufacturing components in this area, which has led to further research into other applications, the costs of which are borne by patent payments.

Dr Andrew Ballantyne at the University of Leicester is pursuing a fluxless soldering process for the electronics industry, and runs two IeMRC funded projects looking at the fundamental ionic liquid based chemistry behind it. Conventional fluxes are expensive, and malodorous. However, deep eutectic solvents have high oxide solubility, are environmentally benign components, and potentially lower cost. His project is working with organic salt with halide anions and various complexing agents to make an anionic complex. This remains liquid at room temperature, and is efficacious at much lower cost. The project aims to pursue a strategy to exploitation, and they are already working with PCB suppliers and related associations, such as Merlin, the Smart Group, and EIPC.

Dr Vaidhyanathan of Loughborough University is looking at the use of microwaves to process electronic ceramics. Here they are used to sinter ZnO varistors, and electrical properties are improved thereby. Processing nano MLVs with microwaves leads to a significant cost reduction, and it has been proven that microwaves can lead to a lower temperature for sintering, whilst retaining the nanofeatures. Scaling up the process is the next step.

Stewart Smith from The University of Edinburgh has been working on the integration of magnetic components with silicon IC technologies. Integrated inductors have many applications, and the target market is power supply ICs. A spiral inductor has high aspect ratio coils with a nickel iron alloy, with higher induction, on a copper seed layer, and they are developing new techniques for characterising magnetic hysteresis.

Dr Darren Cadman spoke on how The University of Loughborough is working with Heriot-Watt University in Scotland on a bid for an embedded intelligence training centre. Embedded intelligence means “machines which talk”. They are hoping to set up a new centre for doctoral training in this subject, with £6 million requested from EPSRC, and another £1 million coming in from industry. This could commence in September next year and will accommodate 10-15 students per annum passing through a four-year study programme. He hopes that industry can help by supplying equipment or giving access to equipment, other facilities, placements, etc. The end result with be highly trained and highly specialised engineers providing solutions to problems.

Professor Guglielmo Aglietti from The University of Surrey is working on the structural analysis of electronic assemblies. Testing assemblies in harsh vibration environments is old hat, and he is looking at a new modelling system to measure the response from assemblies undergoing shock or vibration. And then see how they be made to survive.

Professor Jeremy Everard of the University of York is working on low noise oscillators, and a programme on RF and Microwave design is also being undertaken. His university has a very well-equipped facility with 3D autocad design and a four-axis milling machine for prototype manufacture.

Professor Martin Goosey, the IeMRC’s Technical Director came on after lunch to provide the third keynote speech on academic research to exploitation – the right path. He was aware of the many challenges to successful R&D projects. As a nation we have a successful track record of innovations; radar, the hovercraft, the jet engine, liquid crystals for displays, TV, the computer, the internet, the light bulb, but we are less successful in exploiting this technology. There are many areas in the UK where we are world leaders, such as power electronics, but how do you capitalise on this?

Projects are measured in technology readiness levels (TRLs) and it was Lord Browne of Madingley who described the Valley of Death, where so much never gets beyond the R&D stage. One example of a success is where the IeMRC supported an ultrasonic project at Coventry University on ultrasonics, The TSB supported a technology feasibility study, and then the EC supported an industrial implementation. Funding was maintained throughout. This “Susonence” project was then launched, and the EIPC and six other partners were tasked with putting this process into commercial acceptance. The industrial scale production plants will be in Prague, Paris and Cheshire.

MESMOPROC was another project to do with maskless electrochemical surface modification process developed by Sudipta Roy at the University of Newcastle. Combining this with another project called EnFace, she was moving the project to commercial acceptance.

There are various schemes at the UK and European level which will take a project from basic research to commercial exploitation, and here the IeMRC can help enormously, as can the KTNs, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), and the European Commission.

Following on from Martin came the 5-minute snapshot specials, led by Roya Ashayer-Soltani from the National Physical Laboratory, who is working on wearable electronics. This sector will be worth £1.8 billion by 2015, and NPL are well under way with this, having developed a wet chemistry additive technique, with 100 percent silver encapsulation of fibres, as well as a copper conductive fabric. The applications are in the medical and healthcare, sport and fitness, consumer electronics, and defence applications.

Mark Sugden from Loughborough University cares about metal nanoparticles. His idea is to replace tin palladium catalyst with a copper catalyst, aiming to improve adhesion with functionalised copper nanoparticles. This has been shown to activate the electroless plating process effectively, and oxide is not critcal to the process, it seems,

Dr Xiao Liu from UCL illustrated the use of microelectronics for healthcare and industrial applications. Integrated circuits such as System on Chip are ideal for use in the medical device market which is showing growth of 8 percent p.a. and will be worth £74 billion by 2018. Such areas as bladder control, nerve stimulation for epilepsy, nerve stimulation for people with paraplegia, as well as temperature sensors, all are important areas. The three key applications are medical devices, microelectronic sensors, and opto-electronics using silicon technology. Dr Liu ended by described the funding arrangements possible.

James Glover of De Montfort University had thermal profiling across devices as his theme, and he described how to measure the thermal profile of a GaN heater structure using micro-particle sensors.

Tin whiskers fascinate Mark Ashworth at Loughborough University, and he has an IeMRC project entitled Whiskermit to run. Tin whiskers are again widely found in electronics, and the hard bit is understanding the relationship between the tin deposition process, and the process parameters. The process can be optimised, but it is not possible to eliminate them completely, and present conformal coatings do not provide adequate levels of protection against whisker growth. A new conformal coating is required, which he is endeavouring to establish along with the project’s partners.

Adam Lewis came up from The University of Southampton, where he is with a team of people working on carbon nanotubes, and composite surfaces for electrical contact interfaces.

Heading the final session of the day was someone who had actually started up a company, by name David Tester. His field was in semiconductors, he had a real mine of experience in that turbulent field, and having been so involved he had some useful pointers.

What are you producing? Is it a product or is it a feature? What is the size of the market? What are the barriers to entry? Who are the founders? What is the business model? How will you fund it? Fundraising is hard work. Only 0.1 percent of pitches to a venture capitalist get funding. Wise words from someone who has been down the path to success. Then, he added, there is people. There are only two types of employee, mercenary or missionary. But you need both, although they are motivated differently. Do not avoid painful decisions. Finally, strategy, tactics, planning and execution are the main points. The founder of AIR was never lost for an answer.

He was followed in short(s) order by Jim Clare from the University of Greenwich who was concerned about predicting reliability in power electronics. There are three main features of a power electronics module, where failure can occur, in the wirebonding, the solder, and the ceramic. Developing the accurate physics of failure models is one of the challenges, and they are looking at the prognosis for reliability. Such modules are used in many applications, ones where failure can be disastrous. His work is vital.

Aleksandr Tabasnikov from the University of Edinburgh is working on materials and process and test designs for sensors for extreme conditions. Sensors have to sustain performance in harsh environments, and have to cope with such as radiation, corrosion and temperature. Target markets are in aerospace, automotive and energy industries, also the High Pressure High Temperature market (HPHY). The structure is ready to be integrated with SiC electronics.

Rob Seager from the Wireless Communications Research department at Loughborough University is involved with a research programme on fabric antennae. They have developed antennae, with frequency selective surfaces, and can tune into wireless signals into rooms, buildings, etc. The fabric samples can be produced by embroidery, weaving, and screen printing. Fully fabric antennae are now being produced.

Gavin Williams from the University of Sheffield described the application of 3D photolithography, and demonstrated how they can image onto non-planer surfaces. Using a computer-generated hologram with a laser light, they can image onto non-planer surfaces, and the deposition of a resist using photoresist using a conformable means, all of which is perfect for mass production.

Dr Martin Foster also from University of Sheffield introduced us to the capabilities of the Electrical Machines and Drives Group there. They are involved with research into energy storage, and thermal management, power electronic devices, power electronic energy conversions, and machines, and are working with a whole range of blue-chip companies right around the world.

Finally, Mr Mohammed Samie from the Cranfield University spoke about designing FPGAs, a subject of great importance and interest to the many microelectronic engineers amongst the audience.

To conclude the day Dr Chris Bailey from the University of Greenwich awarded the prizes for the presentations which reflected projects with good exploitation potential and a good opportunity of being commercialised. The winners were Dr Andrew Ballantyne, Dr Vaidhyanathan, Adam Lewis, and Nutapong Sornjit.

The winner of the iMAPS UK award of £1,000 for the best project presentation was Mr Xiao Liu of UCL, presented by Mr Peter Barnwell, iMAPS UK Treasurer.

Overall this was an excellent event which gave a snapshot of the wide range of electronics research that was being undertaken in UK universities and which should be of potential to the UK electronics industry.

John Ling
Associate Editor

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