Project Description


The main aim of 4M is to develop Micro- and Nano- Technology (MNT) for the batch-manufacture of micro-components and devices in a variety of materials into user-friendly production equipment, processes and manufacturing platforms for incorporation into the factory of the future. To achieve this the Network seeks to integrate currently fragmented R&D capacity in non-silicon microtechnologies in the ERA into a European Centre of Excellence. The establishment of such an expert resource and infrastructure at the European level is designed to help European companies engaged in satisfying the growing demand for portable, wireless communication products and many lifestyle, health and transport related systems incorporating MNT.

The Network has 30 partner organisations, including 15 core partners - each an internationally recognised centre of excellence, from 15 member states. The Centre intends to integrate facilities and create synergistic links to on-going R&D programmes with total values exceeding 110 M€ and 63 M€, respectively. More than 100 researchers will perform the 4M Joint Programme of Activities, organised into eight specialist technology and application cluster groups. The linking of this expert resource to business needs through collaborative working of multidisciplinary partner groups aims to impact on Europe's competitiveness in the rapidly growing global market for microsystems.

The existing imbalance between the ease with which batch-fabricated microcomponents and microsystems can be produced in silicon compared to the difficulties and the costs associated with their manufacture in other materials limits the speed with which new microsystems-based products are introduced into the market. At the same time, to broaden the range of these products and multiply their capabilities requires the introduction of new materials and processes that are reasonably compatible with IC-based, batch-fabrication processes.


A global market of 40 B€ growing at 20% per annum [1]. A European market of €550 billion for products containing them [1]. Microsystems are important to Europe's industrial and economic future. Micro-manufacturing is now a key value-adding element for many sectors of industry - and the predicted nanotechnology future will also be largely delivered by microtechnologies. The silicon-based microelectronics revolution of the late 20th century is about to be overtaken in its scope; micro- and nano- manufacturing technologies (MNT) in the 21st century need to be directed to making use of a variety of materials, components and knowledge-based technologies that provide functionality and intelligence to highly miniaturised systems for personal, portable and wireless products, and sensors for health, environment and transport-related applications [2]. MNT will impact society and lifestyles in an unprecedented way; the economic consequences will be dramatic - both for those who have the technology and for those who do not. It will allow the creation of products, which because of their minute size and potential ubiquity, will create new pressures for both individual citizens, companies, governments and international agencies. A report published by the Commission in April 2003 concludes: new paradigms of production and consumption will set the agenda for sustainable manufacturing to 2020. In this agenda the introduction of new processing technologies for new materials and the manufacturing of miniaturised products designed with an intelligent multi-material-mix will become a top priority [3].

The 4M Network of Excellence in Multi-Material Micro Manufacture seeks to establish a European Virtual Centre that integrates partner facilities and R&D programmes with total values exceeding 110 M€ and 63 M€, respectively. The Network aims to co-ordinate research into major open research issues in the field of 4M, to engage European industry in collaborative research, and to spread knowledge of this developing technology.


The developed world is moving rapidly towards a knowledge-based society with the largest contribution to GDP coming from knowledge-based enterprises. In this context, there is an increasing requirement for all of human endeavour to be assisted by new technology, which itself includes an ever higher 'intelligence', capability and knowledge-content - all in an ever smaller package. The microelectronics and IT revolution which started this process many decades ago was built on silicon-based IC technology. The increasing need now is to integrate this software-controlled electronic technology with other functional components to create new types of MNT microsystems, sensors and actuators. The existing imbalance between the ease with which batch-fabricated microcomponents and microsystems can be produced in silicon, compared to the difficulties and the costs associated with the manufacture of such systems in other materials, currently limits the speed with which new products are introduced into the market.

To broaden the range of the microsystems-based products and at the same time to multiply their capabilities require the introduction of new materials and processes that are reasonably compatible with IC-based, batch-fabrication processes. Although there may be commercial advantages to leveraging the present suite of IC-process materials, they will not be able to meet the manufacturing demands for high-aspect-ratio structures, enhanced-force microactuation, improved environment resistance, high precision microcomponents, and unification and standardisation [2, 3]. The research and development in MNT should be directed to establishing the technology base for batch-processing a variety of materials that will become an integral part of production equipment and manufacturing platforms for the factory of the future.

A Network of Excellence in 4M is considered an appropriate tool for integrating the R&D and technology transfer provision in Europe for the following reasons:

  • The development of knowledge-based microtechnologies beyond those that rely on conventional IC tools and materials requires an integrated approach to addressing the multi-faceted problems associated with the development of new production concepts. Bringing together R&D organisations with multidisciplinary expertise will help ensure that technology and application challenges are addressed concurrently and that “local” solutions that do not lead to a “global” optimum are avoided. To speed up the introduction of new microsystems-based products, it is required that the design of products and processes are carried out concurrently.
  • Similarities and common problems in microtechnologies for processing non-silicon materials require new approaches in knowledge management and sharing. A Virtual Centre is considered a cost-effective platform to extract more value from disparate expertise resources in 4M available within Europe.
  • The environmental impact and socio-economic issues associated with these new technologies and products are relevant at both the European level and at member-state level. Such a Network will provide a focussed resource to national and cross-border R&D efforts in consideration of sustainability issues associated with micro-manufacture.

The assembling of a critical mass from all disciplines contributing to the development of these multi-material microtechnologies will enable a single point of access at the European level for information in this area. Such a central resource will help alleviate some of the problems faced by companies, especially SMEs.


The main motivation behind this project is to create an expert resource hub in the EU that will underpin the development of knowledge-based microtechnologies beyond the ones that rely on conventional IC tools and materials. In particular, the objectives of the 4M Network are to overcome the following challenging problems in present and developing microtechnologies for processing non-silicon materials and in making them compatible with IC-based technologies:

  • Enhanced-forced Microactuation. Some of the existing microsystems-based products are not capable of withstanding forces proportionate to those in the macro world. In current microdevices the prime activation forces used are electrostatic or thermal expansion that provide relatively small forces with very limited interaction lengths. There are applications such as valves and motor drives that require materials that are potentially capable of delivering higher forces and interaction time. These are magnetic, piezoelectric, ferroelectric and shape-memory materials. Unfortunately, these materials either do not show optimal mechanical properties in thin films, or are difficult to deposit by typical IC-fabrication methods, or are incompatible with microelectronic IC processes. This requires new processes for manufacturing these components and also new assembly and packaging techniques for incorporating such components prior to more conventional processing or for adding them as an additional step.
  • High-Aspect-Ratio. Surface micromachining processes do not allow mechanical structures with vertical dimensions larger than a few microns to be produced. There are some solutions to this problem such as chip-on-chip system technology based on flip chip interconnects and thin chip integration technology for vertical system integration but they are not suitable for all high-aspect-ratio applications especially those requiring multi-material components. At the same time, there is a range of micromachining processes (micro-EDM, micro-ECM, micro-milling, X-ray&UV lithography plus electroforming, and laser ablation) that in combination with batch-fabrication methods (micro-injection moulding, embossing and coining) could provide a viable alternative for serial production of high-aspect-ratio structures in metals, plastics and ceramics. These basic ‘component’ technologies have to be developed further and innovatively combined into hybrid solutions that take into account a number of factors (compatibility with IC-based processes, specific application requirements, and material processing issues) to drive down the cost of such structures to a level that will support their broader use in next generation microsystems-based devices.
  • Environment Resistance. To meet the demand for progressive miniaturisation of products in a number of industrial sectors including automotive, telecommunication, healthcare and aerospace, their packaging and/or some of their component structures have to be fabricated in materials that can operate in severe environments. In particular, microdevices that can be used for optics, biological purposes, chemical-process control, high-temperature applications and other hostile environments introduce a range of new requirements that IC-compatible materials cannot satisfy. Therefore, “new” materials and technologies for their processing should be developed or adopted from the macro world to broaden the application area for microsystems-based products.
  • High-Precision. To achieve the required level of compatibility between structures produced using IC-based technologies and those produced using non-silicon microcomponents, a step change is required in technological capabilities of multi-material manufacturing processes. This is crucial in order to improve the functionality and quality of microsystems-based products. In addition, high-precision in the nanometer range is required to address very important issues concerning assembly automation and packaging of such products. The know-how in 4M processes needs to be expanded to meet the specific requirements concerning the fabrication of monolithic and hybrid multi-material microcomponents and assemblies. In future, the capabilities of 'top-down' microtechnologies that support feature size reduction towards nanoscale should at the same time satisfy requirements for nanometer accuracy and surface finish.
  • Unification and Standardisation. Interfacing of microsystems to their operating domain, and assembling them in larger systems are critical production steps that represent up to 80% of the systems' cost and require multi-material processing methods. The lack of publicly available microtechnologies or information to support packaging has led to product-specific solutions that cannot be produced cost effectively in batches. The establishment of a stable and repeatable technology base for serial production of microsystems-based products requires unification or/and standardisation of multi-material packaging components/solutions and the technologies for their fabrication. This is necessary for carrying out the design of packaging/interfacing solutions and manufacturing processes for their production. Such unification/standardisation will facilitate the introduction of design for manufacture and assembly rules that could have a profound influence on the rapid growth of microsystems-based products. The goal of this development should be to define generic, modular approaches and methodologies and extend batch-processing techniques into these so-called “back-end” steps of the production of microsystems-based products.


An integrated approach and a step-change in 4M capabilities are required to address these challenges. These can be addessed through a
well-targeted and executed joint research programme. The distinguishing characteristics of the R&D activities in the field of 4M are:

  • A “top down” approach in reducing the feature size of micro-structures towards nanoscale (including nanometre accuracy and surface finish);
  • Process characterisation to build up the necessary prerequisites for process modeling and simulation;
  • Development of “hybrid” micro/nano manufacturing methods. Manufacture of multi-material “hybrid” microsystems;
  • Material characterisation, material design and development of new nanoscale materials;
  • Interfacing/packaging solutions for connecting micro/nano devices to their operating environment;
  • Wide range of applications in different industrial sectors with their specific requirements;
  • Design for manufacture and assembly.

Eight thematic divisions will be formed to assemble a critical mass in interrelated technology and application areas. In this way, technology and assembly challenges will be addressed concurrently, and not in isolation. Each division will cover specific topics of research and development that will constitute its long-term research programme and will be an integral part of the 4M research programme. The following nine common research topics across these divisions are identified. These include the development of:

  • Hybrid tooling solutions for serial manufacture of microcomponents;
  • Materials and process characterisation to facilitate serial micro-manufacture;
  • New manufacturing platforms for high pressure and high temperature applications;
  • Joining and bonding processes for different materials, including IC compatible ones;
  • Development of production concepts for serial manufacture of high aspect ratio high precision microcomponents;
  • New manufacturing platforms for close integration of sensors and actuators;
  • Development of new sensors and actuators that utilise 4M technologies;
  • 3D–direct write processes;
  • Standardisation and roadmapping.

These topics will help develop a manufacturing base for non-silicon micro production and will provide a firm foundation on which to build a competitive European industry. In particular, the programme of jointly executed research will include topics that are interdisciplinary and directly contribute to the creation of the required 4M capabilities at the European level to meet the demand for manufacturing high-aspect-ratio structures, enhanced-forced microactuation, improved environment resistance, high precision microcomponents, and unification and standardisation.

1 Nexus MST Market Analysis, 2002

2 Implications of Emerging Micro and Nanotechnology, The National Academies Press, 2003

3 The future of Manufacturing in Europe 2015-2020: The Challenge for Sustainability, EC NMP website, 2003

Submitted on December 27, 2006 - 09:02.


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