Site: Micromachine Center
3F Sanko Building
3-12-16 Mita, Minatoku
Tokyo 108, Japan
Date Visited: September 27, 1993
Report Author: L. Salmon
Takayuki Hirano Executive Director, Host
Takayuki Tsunemi Managing Director, Chief of Secretariat
Akira Inoue General Manager
Makato Takahashi Counselor
Takaharu Idogaki Manager, Research Department
The visit began with an overview of the center, including background information about the Micromachine Center. The Micromachine Center was founded in January 1992 to promote micromachine technologies, including coordination of the research and development portion of the MITI Micromachine Technology Project. The project funds are given by MITI to NEDO which, in turn, awards the funds to the Micromachine Center, which then writes contracts to individual companies. The objectives of the center are to: (1) establish micromachine technology; (2) disseminate the technology to industry; (3) help industry develop commercial applications with the technology; and (4) foster international collaboration in the area of micromachine technology.
There are four types of membership: "Research Supporting," "Group Supporting," "General Supporting," and "Special Supporting." Current membership is shown in Table Micro.1. The research supporting membership consists of Japanese companies that are funded directly by MMC to perform research for the MITI micromachine program. The group supporting membership consists of two Japanese industrial associations that are interested in the research performed by the center and the four non-Japanese institutions are included in this list since one is a company, one is a non-profit organization, one is a government laboratory, and the fourth is a university.
The general supporting membership consists of companies that have access to all information developed through the center, but do not have any intellectual property rights to the work developed with NEDO funds. Membership in this category is open and new members can be added at any time. Membership in the research category is closed because all members in the research category are participating in the ongoing MITI project. Group supporting membership consists of organizations such as non-profit enterprises. The fourth type of membership, special supporting members, now consists of the banking institutions that handle funds of the center. The fees paid by the members become discretionary funds for MMC. Research supporting members also provide staff on assignment to manage the R&D program of the center.
The staff members of the micromachine project see micromachine technology as a common component of solutions to three major industrial challenges. The first challenge mentioned was that of increasing the efficiency of large, complex industrial facilities by improving the reliability of such facilities and by reducing the cost required to maintain them. The power plant pipe maintenance project in the MITI program is an example of how micromachines can help address the challenges faced by such facilities.
The second challenge mentioned was that of decreasing the environmental impact of industrial production systems. Micromachines can help achieve goals in this area by reducing energy consumption of industrial production, and by reducing consumption of natural resources.
The third challenge is the reduction of trauma to the patient during medical procedures. Micromachines can assist in this area by providing alternatives to surgery and by reducing trauma caused during necessary surgery. Micromachines can also assist in the diagnosis of medical conditions.
The MITI micromachine program focuses on a micromachine system for pipe maintenance/repair in a power plant. The project is divided into four parts that correspond to the four micromachines that comprise the projected system: the central control and distribution module (mother ship); the floating observation vehicle (microcapsule); the wireless, directed repair and observation module (inspection module); and the wired, directed repair and observation module (operation module). Each part of the project was given to a team of companies with one company chosen as the head of the team. The purpose of the project is not to produce the projected system as a product, but rather to develop the technology that will enable such a project to be built.
The first five years of the project are designed to investigate the research requirements of the project. During this phase changes can be proposed to MITI for approval. After the first five years, the project will be evaluated by NEDO and MITI. An evaluation team will consist of representatives from universities, industry (both producers and suppliers), and government. AIST will evaluate not only the technical progress of the program, but also the effectiveness of the project in attaining national goals, a process that AIST appears to be pioneering with this project. The center is staffed by assignees from industry (currently three) and national laboratories (currently one). They serve for a term of two years and then return to their institutions.
Two tables were shown that summarize the connections between the different parts of the MITI micromachine effort. Table Micro.2 is a matrix of the parts of the overall project and the major system component technologies required to build the system. For example, an energy supply is required for all four parts of the system, but each module requires a different type. The project will result in research directed toward at least four different types of energy sources. Since the purpose of the project is to develop technologies, research in energy supplies with different characteristics is desirable.
Table Micro.3 shows a matrix of micromachine modules and the fabrication technologies required to build the module. For example, a complementary set of dry processes will be developed by a module team. The result will be a broad range of fabrication approaches.
The matrix approach illustrated by these tables is indicative of an effort to develop parallel approaches to difficult technological and fabrication challenges. Pursuit of parallel approaches is consistent with the goals of the program, to develop the best fundamental micromachining technology possible for future applications that are not limited to power plant maintenance and repair.
In addition to the national project, the center also administers an independent R&D program using the funds provided by the companies. The center's purpose is to coordinate research in the micromachine area, specifically for the national project. The center also is looking into the area of supporting university research.
Elemental Technology Map
Fabrication Technology Map