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Invention and innovation: An introduction
Invention and innovation: An introduction

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10.9.3 New manufacturing process

One of the reasons that a new device, like an RFID tag, has a chance of becoming mainstream technology is that a new manufacturing process has been invented that allows production on an industrial scale and at a relatively low cost.

Fluidic self-assembly (FSA) is a new manufacturing process that has been patented by Alien Technology Corp in the USA. In the FSA process tiny integrated circuits – trademarked as NanoBlocks – are suspended in liquid and flow over a substrate surface that has correspondingly shaped ‘holes’ on it and into which the tiny circuits settle (Figure 38). The shape of the circuits and of the holes is arranged so that the circuits fall easily into place and are self-aligning. The NanoBlocks are then electrically connected to create the final integrated system. FSA allows tiny RFID circuits to be cost-effectively handled and packaged into electronic product code tags in huge volumes.

Figure 38(a)
Figure 38(a) NanoBlocks falling into substrate holes in the FSA process
Figure 38(b)
Figure 38(b) Fluidic self-assembly (FSA) process

In addition to RFID tags this process is being used in the manufacture of flat-screen displays for use in high-definition television and computer screens. In addition to the advantages of reliability and high-speed volume manufacture (millions of NanoBlocks can be placed to within one micrometre of accuracy in minutes), the process can be used with a range of different surface materials and contours – for example permitting the manufacture of screen displays on flexible plastic film (Figure 39).

Figure 39
Figure 39 Screen developed by Cambridge Display Technology based on its ground-breaking development of light-emitting polymers (LEPs), which allow TV or computer displays to be created on flexible plastic sheet (Source: Science Photo Library)