Project

Micro-Factories for Smart Manufacturing

SRI is developing new technology to reliably control thousands of micro-robots for smart manufacturing of macro-scale products in compact, integrated systems.

SRI's micro robots arrayed on a surface
The micro-robots can be harnessed to perform parallel tasks.

Imagine being able to harness the power of an army of ants to assemble large-scale products quickly and precisely from heterogeneous materials in today’s manufacturing environments. SRI’s patented Diamagnetic Micro Manipulation (DM3) technology uses printed circuit boards (PCBs) to drive and control micro-robots built from simple, low-cost magnets that are propelled electromagnetically. This could enable cost-effective production of large numbers of micro-robots that can reliably handle a wide variety of solid and liquid materials—including electronics.

SRI is applying its micro-factory technology to the DARPA Open Manufacturing program, which is spurring innovation in a wide range of manufacturing areas. SRI’s micro-robots will be used to build smart structures with high-performance mechanics. Our vision is to enable an assembly head containing thousands of micro-robots to manufacture high-quality macro-scale products while providing millimeter-scale structural control. For example, some micro-robots will carry components (electronic as well as mechanical, such as truss elements), some micro-robots will deposit liquids, and others will perform in situ quality analysis. Mounted to a mobile robotic base, a micro-factory will be able to build parts of practically any size.

The DM3 technology is also available as a research platform for universities and other researchers to explore new applications for micro-robots where micro automation and reliable handling of heterogeneous composite materials with micro-scale manipulation is critical. Potential applications include:

  • Pick-and-place manufacturing solutions
  • Rapid prototyping of high-quality parts
  • Electronics manufacturing, such as optoelectronics and hybrid circuits
  • Military and space, for building non-silicon-based electronics
  • Biotechnology, such as microfluidics, lab on a chip, and tissue manufacturing
  • A variety of micro-automation applications outside of manufacturing, such as compact diagnostic and inspection equipment and surface maintenance and anti-fouling devices

To learn more about DM3 and its availability for researchers, please submit a request for information using the link at above right.

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