Busting Myths on Microtechnology

Opportunities are fast emerging for the smallest of manufacturing processes. Here are six truths you should know.

Imagine machining or molding a piece so small that it can't be seen with the naked eye. Sound like science fiction? It's far closer than you think.

While they may sound like futuristic concepts, micromanufacturing and nanomanufacturing will soon become as significant to industry as the moving assembly line.

There are many myths associated with these smallest of manufacturing processes and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers sets the record straight on several of them.

Myth #1: Nanomanufacturing and micromanufacturing are technologies that may be something great in the future, but they are not viable for today's business environment.

Fact: Both nanomanufacturing and micromanufacturing are actively being used by many manufacturers. Nanomanufacturing is a key enabler of the new generation of lithium batteries for electric cars. Micromanufacturing is being used by Boeing, Rubbermaid, Gillette and many other companies.

Myth #2: Micromanufacturing is only used in the electronics industry.

Fact: Not anymore. Micromanufacturing reaches far beyond electronics. For example, it is essential in the production of many medical devices and critical aerospace systems.

Myth #3: Micro and nano are just reduced sizes of the "life-sized" objects.

Fact: The rules of the game are changed when dealing with these technologies. There are significant process and material behavior changes beyond size that need to be understood.

Myth #4: If I can machine "small" stuff, I can "micro" machine.

Fact: Machining micro pieces requires special tools and skills. In traditional machining, the greater force is exerted by the tool onto the material. For micromanufacturing, it flips, and the material exerts more force on the tool.

Myth #5: If I can mold "small" stuff, I can mold micro particles.

Fact: Molding micro pieces also requires special tools and skills. Often with micro molding, the piece or feature is smaller than the pellet size of the material. This requires special attention to the flow, pressure, fill time and increased impact of the material reaction with the mold wall and, most critically, the design of the mold itself.

Myth #6: Even if I wanted to use micro or nanomanufacturing processes, tools, suppliers and materials are practically nonexistent.

Fact: While that might have once been true, it's not so anymore. There are growing numbers of processes, tools, materials and suppliers available for manufacturers ready to move into micro and nano manufacturing.

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