Site: Kanagawa Academy of Science and Technology
#405 East Bldg, KSp
3-2-1 Sakado, Takatsuke
Kawasaki 213, Japan
Date Visited: September 28, 1993
Report Author: J. Giachino
Dr. Toshiro Higuchi Ultimate Mechatronics Project
Felix Moesner Graduate Student
Kanagawa Prefecture, which has an economy equal to that of Korea, provides funding for the Kanagawa Academy of Science and Technology (KAST) to develop a "center of excellence" for the prefecture. The results acquired in research activities will be open to the public in and out of Japan. Royalties from patents will be shared equally between the inventor and KAST.
Dr. Toshiro Higuchi is the project leader of the Ultimate Mechatronics project, a five- year project funded at $10 million, which provides equipment and supports seven researchers. In addition, there are four graduate students from the University of Tokyo who receive no salary from the prefecture, and thirteen researchers from industry. The companies pay the researchers' salaries and a small fee to allow them to work in the laboratories.
The project proposes to develop revolutionary machines to operate under extreme conditions (vacuum and cryogenic), and to pursue the limits of performance of mechatronics technology and its applications in industry. Staff members at the Ultimate Mechatronics project are conducting research to develop muscle-like electrostatic actuators, microrobots, and noncontact wafer transport systems.
The laboratory is in a new building with state-of-the-art equipment. There is adequate space to contain growth without affecting existing projects.
Dr. Higuchi is a mechanical engineer who approaches MEMS from the standard mechanical arena. His laboratory does no silicon wafer work. Dr. Higuchi believes that MEMS is a much wider field than just silicon. He defines a MEMS machine not by size, but by whether one can achieve the desired function solely by using small structures, even if the machine itself is large.
Dr. Higuchi believes that the next technical problem for MEMS is the assembly of small structures. His group is developing a flexible manufacturing system that includes assembly. A prototype is expected in a year. One of Dr. Higuchi's novel concepts is to leave the machined parts on the spindle and assemble the spindles.
Dr. Higuchi wants to show that conventional machine tools can produce structures with accuracies of microns. His laboratory has a machine built by Toshiba that has four axes, is numerically controlled, and is capable of resolution to 1 nm using holography (Egawa, Niino, and Higuchi 1991). The machine, which conducts grinding and lathe-turning operations, was used by a Nippondenso employee working at the laboratory to produce the die for the body of a microcar.
Dr. Higuchi believes that the key technology for micromachining is to have a good actuator guide system for the tool and an accurate feedback system. He believes that future systems will combine many micromachining technologies, including silicon, LIGA, plastic forming, and blanking. Dr. Aoki at Kanagawa University is making a piezoelectric actuated punch press to apply to microblanking.
Dr. Higuchi's research has resulted in a commercial instrument that is used by Prima, a meatpacking company, to fertilize eggs. The instrument uses a piezoelectric vibrating element to avoid deforming the egg, which occurs with conventional methods (Higuchi and Yamagata 1993). The group is working on the injection of DNA into cells.
The laboratory is working to develop an electrostatic actuator by using small efficient cells and stacking them to generate the large force. A demonstration was given in the laboratory of a film actuator (Higuchi, Yamagata, and Kudoh 1990).
Ultimate Mechatronics researchers are working with Toto, a large ceramics supplier in Japan, to develop microparts that work at low temperatures.
Panel members saw a video that demonstrated electrostatic levitation of a silicon wafer. Present systems use optical sensors for closed loop position control. There is a potential that they may switch to capacitive sensors. The video also showed an electrostatic linear actuator that was intended as an artificial muscle.
The laboratory is just setting up an STM. This program will be run by an industrial researcher who will be working on a potential commercial product.
Egawa, S., T. Niino, and T. Higuchi. 1991. "Film Actuators: Planar, Electrostatic Surface-Drive Actuators." Proc. IEEE MEMS 1991 Workshop. Pp. 9-14.
Higuchi, T., and Y. Yamagata. 1993. "Micro Machining by Machine Tools." Proc. IEEE MEMS 1993 Workshop.
Higuchi, T., Y. Yamagata, and K. Kudoh. 1990. "Precise Positioning Mechanism Utilizing Rapid Deformations of Piezoelectric Elements." Proc. IEEE MEMS 1990 Workshop. Pp. 222-226.