Highlights from Industry Projects

This EURAMET EMRP theme has enabled the European metrology community to work collectively towards an improved measurement infrastructure for industrial innovation that has the potential to underpin future economic growth. The projects have brought together metrology expertise in physics, chemistry, and biology to develop new analytical methods and statistical approaches which support increased uptake of innovative materials and processes.

The European Commission together with national governments have invested 100 million euro in collaborative research projects, involving research groups in 35 European NMIs and Designated Institutes (DIs), 83 academic groups, and 117 businesses.

Accurate analytical measurements for innovative materials

Advanced analytical instrumentation based on a range of atomic and spectroscopic effects offers the ability to understand and assess the characteristics and performance of a wide range of innovative materials. These instruments are used in a wide range of sectors – such as electronics, optoelectronics, aerospace and medical devices – where the chemical and physical structure of surfaces and thin films is critical to the functionality and performance of devices and components. Establishing traceability for these instruments increases their value to product and process innovation as it provides reliable quantitative assessments of material structure and performance. EMRP projects Metrology for the manufacturing of thin films and Traceable quantitative surface chemical analysis for industrial applications developed reference materials and transfer standards for a range of analytical instrumentation that are being used by instrumentation manufacturers to validate their products, provide traceability to their customers and support instrument R&D.

For example, Bruker Nano Analytics has used certified reference materials to improve its energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) instruments that support innovation in catalysts for car exhaust systems and coatings for faster and more durable microelectronics. Kratos Analytical, a manufacturer of high-value X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) instrumentation, has used reference materials to improve the performance of its XPS instruments for innovation in biomaterials, polymers and catalysts.

Innovation in the ICT sector

The ongoing demand for faster, smaller electronics and communications technologies places challenging demands on the metrology infrastructure.

Next-generation communication systems are dependent on signal processing electronics and testing equipment that can operate at ever-faster speeds. EMRP project Electromagnetic characterisation of materials for industrial applications up to microwave frequencies has developed the metrology capabilities to enable the validation of ultrafast electronics in the GHz range and ensure appropriate test equipment will be available to support future communications systems. EMRP research is also ensuring that the functionality and performance of electromagnetic materials can be accurately assessed across the wide range of processing and communications frequencies, from radio frequencies (kHz) through to microwave frequencies (GHz). 

Instrumentation innovation

Improved metrology supports innovation in the instrumentation sector. Improved metrology capabilities at NMIs directly support the development of commercial measurement and test instrumentation, both by enabling the performance of innovative products to be assessed and by acting as a demanding customer of instrumentation and component suppliers. EMRP research teams collaborated and shared research results with a large number of companies in the instrumentation sector.

For example under EMRP project Vacuum metrology for production environments, INFICON, a manufacturer of instruments for gas analysis, used a new NMI vacuum metrology system to demonstrate that its innovative gauge for dynamic pressure responded twenty times faster than the previous model. This offers opportunities to INFICON’s customers in the semiconductor sector to reduce the processing time for manufacturing steps conducted in vacuums.

TETRA, under EMRP project Metrology to assess the durability and function of engineered surfaces, a manufacturer of automation and robotic equipment, developed a novel optical sensor for a high-performance friction test system at a metrology institute. This sensor has since been used to improve TETRA’s own high-end positioning system, making it one of the best on the market and supporting new sales.

Bartington Instruments, under EMRP project Metrology for advanced industrial magnetics, a manufacturer of high-performance fluxgate sensors, used new metrology facilities for magnetic measurements to validate the performance of its sensors across a wide temperature range. These sensors have been used as part of the preparation of navigational instruments for future gravitational astronomy missions like LISA.

Quantum cryptography

Quantum cryptography offers the potential for completely secure communications as quantum key distribution (QKD) processes provide assurance that the encryption key has not been intercepted. However, practical implementation of QKD requires that the critical physical parameters of a QKD system can be assessed. EMRP project Metrology for industrial quantum communication technologies developed methods to characterise the three key components of QKD systems: single-photon sources with unknown quantum states that carry information about the encryption key, the quantum channel used to transfer the key and single-photon detectors. The project team provided important metrological expertise to support a real-world demonstration of QKD, led by industry, over a single field-installed fibre. This work makes QKD a more attractive commercial proposition and will accelerate its commercial deployment. 

Light based technologies for production automation

Extending light-based technologies to control the factory of the future requires precise methods for determining component positioning during assembly and confirming the quality of finished products. As a result of EMRP project Metrology for movement and positioning in six degrees of freedom, systems have been developed that will make exact lab based interferometry measurements more accessible to industrial users. These systems will enable greater positioning accuracy across the entire range of product assembly, from the very largest of components such as aircraft wings or wind turbine blades to the smallest electronics used on silicon wafers.

Proof-of-concept prototypes based on laser tracking and other optical technologies, capable of measuring distances of tens of metres with micrometre precision, have been developed, fully characterised, and trialled in an industrial environment provided by Airbus as a result of EMRP project Large volume metrology in industry. The IP developed has been protected by five patents, with two of the prototypes being adopted by companies for commercialisation.

Accurate positioning on the nanoscale is essential in the semiconductor industry. A new laser light source, which has sufficient power to provide the multiple interferometry light beams required for size constrained silicon wafer production environments, is now available as a result of EMRP research. This is being incorporated into a prototype wafer production system that will help facilitate EU independence in electronics manufacturing.

Ensuring the EU is at the forefront of industrial innovation

Modern commerce relies heavily on silicon-based technologies, supported by reliable timekeeping, to ensure smooth data communication via satellite systems. Future proofing operations, as transmission speeds increase and components shrink, will depend on cutting-edge innovation.

Understanding the properties of silicon replacement materials requires new atomic scale measurement techniques. EMRP project Novel electronic devices based on control of strain at the nanoscale has supported the creation of world leading capabilities in this area by upgrading existing facilities at the XMaS beamline in Grenoble and also at the synchrotron radiation source at PTB’s Berlin Institute. These are enabling fundamental material property research for quantum communications and, in collaboration with the US government, next generation radar. Recent advances also contributed to IBM’s decision to create an IBM Watson for a cyber security unit in Switzerland.

Europe is world leading in atomic clock technologies, but maintaining self-sufficiency will be important for the reliable operation of the Galileo satellite system. EMRP project Compact and high-performing microwave clocks for industrial applications has supported upgrades to atomic clock prototypes, with improvements in performance being confirmed by comparison to NMI time standards. Optical atomic clocks have potential to further increase industrial timekeeping precision, but the technology still needs some development. As a result of EMRP research, the feasibility of constructing an optical clock from commercially available components, with lower power requirements than current assemblies, has been demonstrated – an important step in this technology’s development.