HTI Micromanufacturing Blog
Dedicated to enhancing understanding of micromanufacturing techniques and capabilities.
Transparent Stainless Steel?
Well, not exactly. HTI's fine etching capability is being demonstrated by Keith Johnson, HTI Director of Marketing & New Business Development. This sheet of 40 micrometer thick stainless steel has been chemically etched with a pattern of over 8 million 55 micrometer (~ 2mil) holes in a 8" square area. The holes are so small and packed so densely that they are not able to be perceived by the naked eye, causing the metal to appear transparent.
HTI's fine screen etching capability is currently being used for solar & fluid filtering applications, but can also be used in medical, aerospace, food processing, & many other industries requiring durability & precision. This particular screen is used in the solar industry to print silver conductors on crystalline cells. A patterned emulsion is placed over the screen leaving tiny 1 hole wide lines where the silver ink is screen printed through. Etched screens are much more consistent and durable than standard mesh screens and enable more print cycles and reduced silver ink consumption. Additionally, HTI's ability to make smaller holes than standard mesh enabled a reduction in the conductor size. For solar cells this is critical, since the conductors are on top of the cell and block light from entering the cell, therefore improving efficiency.
Medical Device Miniaturization Perspective
As medical devices get smaller and more devices move out of the hospitals, what is the next step in this evolution?
Device manufactures will be challenged by the desire for more functionality in an ever reducing size (and cost). Parallels to what the medical device community faces can easily be seen in product evolution from the electronics, computing, and telecom industries. One enabling strategy that has been effective in those industries is adding functionality to individual components in an assembly. An example of this is placing electrical conductors on a structural element to gain space and eliminate wires. In addition to reducing form factor, this strategy can also reduce costs through reduced component counts and assembly time, with the extra benefit of streamlining the supply chain.
Generally, added functionality and reduced size/cost are not complementary requirements. Simple evolution of existing designs isn't enough. Finding new solutions to size and functionality requirements will drive device manufactures to new technologies or to combine existing technologies into a more complex component. An example might be to combine etching, coating, and forming to achieve a 3D part with built in standoff pads, electrical insulation, and assembly aids. This would generate a more complex component, but can simplify the overall assembly, and be instrumental in achieving the desired functionality improvements and lowered overall cost.
HTI's Development Labs
One of my favorite activities in business development is giving customers a tour of our facilities, especially our development labs. HTI has 10 distinct labs that total 27,000 square feet and contain $21M of equipment. As the tour moves from one lab to another, customers are astounded at the breadth of capabilities. What excites customer the most is the possibility that they have stumbled upon a partner, a secret weapon, that can enable their product roadmaps. More than once, we have helped customers build prototype parts that previously went untested because they were unable to build the part themselves or find others that could do so.
Our customers look back and wonder how they functioned before without a supplier with a wide breadth of capabilities. Previously they struggled to get prototypes built in the right way and in a reasonable timeframe, where they had to work with several suppliers to get to right mix of manufacturing methods. In addition to part fabrication, there is also the challenge to test the part against dimensional and performance specifications or perform failure analysis. At HTI, we have labs that cover all aspects of development including part fabrication, metrology, performance testing, and failure analysis.
You may be wondering, what would you possibly have that would require 10 different labs. Here’s a quick run-down. We have five prototype production labs that have a small version of the manufacturing equipment located in our factories. These five also have additional processes that expand our lab capabilities beyond what we have in our factories. These labs include both “wet” process such as etching, plating, photolithography, and “dry” process, such as forming, stamping, welding, and joining. These are not comprehensive lists, but a subset to give you an idea. There are two labs devoted to materials and chemical characterization, which enable us to develop and test new materials, precisely control our processes, and perform failure analysis. Two other labs are focused on the evaluation of products against dimensional and performance specifications, including mechanical and electrical performance, as well as reliability. Another lab, making the total ten, is where we develop vision systems that are used for auditing or 100% inspection of products in production.
With so much capability under one roof, more can be achieved faster, at a lower total cost, and with a higher likelihood of success. While that initial tour of our labs is exciting, what is really satisfying is the outcome months later when the customer launches their product successfully … due in part from the development and manufacturing partnership with HTI.
Steve Young – Director of Business & Technology Development
The Need for Speed: Time to Market Means Money
Last fall Apple announced a new sales record for a product launch, selling nine million iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c models during the first weekend they were introduced. We all want the “latest and greatest”, and we are willing to stand in line all night, and even to pay a little more, for the newest “hot” product. Device makers like Apple know that, so they work hard to launch new products as fast as possible. They also know that getting to market before their competitors is critical to their profit margins. For example, a McKinsey study several years ago reported that each day of delay in introducing a new car model represents a $1 million loss in profit! That’s why at HTI we put such a strong emphasis on helping our customers reduce their time to market. Our customers have found that HTI’s broad set of capabilities can shave months from their product development cycle.
We recently helped a customer during product development by using a combination of photoetching with stamping, to reduce prototype tooling lead time by etching the part outline and only stamping areas that required 3D forming. This cut tooling lead time by several weeks, and also allowed multiple design iterations to be created simultaneously. Other ways we help our customers reduce time to market are by using soft tooling like Laser Direct Imaging for prototype builds; by utilizing our internal labs for real time product analysis; and by having all the manufacturing steps under one roof.
I enjoy helping customers launch a variety of different products, from medical devices to fiber optic connectors. Hearing success stories from top product development companies like Apple provides added motivation, and more confirmation of the need for speed!
Business Development Manager