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Micro- and Nano-Manipulation for Manufacturing Applications


Manipulation at the micro and nano levels requires different strategies than at the macro scale and also the development of related sensing and actuation strategies to be able to control the manipulators. Standards are largely absent from this domain and measurements are typically made using cumbersome equipment not suited for manufacturing environments. The long term objective of this project is to provide the measurement science for fast, easy to use sensors, reliable manipulators, and practical production scale-up to enable widespread use of micro- and nano-scale manufacturing.



This project will develop and deploy novel measurement methods enabled by nano manipulation, including sensors, and assembly strategies for micro and nano manufacturing by 2014.

What is the new technical idea(s)?

A workshop held in FY06 on the Metrology Needs for Micro Nano Manufacturing Technologies[1] concluded that there was a pressing need for real time measurement of displacement, velocity and acceleration of the moving parts of micro/nano devices. Fast and precise positioning and manipulation require accurate mathematical models of the manipulators and real-time sensing of force, position and velocity. It may also be necessary to measure mechanical properties of materials and the shapes of surfaces and features in hard to reach places, as well as the tribological, static friction, and wear properties of the materials. Integration of micro and nano systems over multiple scales ranging over orders of magnitudes is a further challenge that must be met. Microsystems is an $8B market expected to double in 5 years[2]. Micro/nano manufacturing is an emerging new industry with a significant market potential, but existing techniques involving manipulation and assembly have low throughput and/or limited controllability[3], while measurement tools are inadequate for high quality production[4].

This project will develop innovative micro/nano manipulation, high precision embedded displacement and force sensing, and powerful mathematical modeling and analysis algorithms to address a key measurement need: measuring the shapes of moving micro-object surfaces and features in hard to reach places. This will directly benefit manufacturing of high precision micro and nano structures including manipulation and assembly of complex 3D micro mechanisms by improving uniformity and predictability for better quality, better control performance, more accurate metrology, static and dynamic surface imaging and testing, and performance analysis. Applications include micro robots, arrays of coordinated micro-robots, manipulation-enabled high precision metrology for micro- and nano-scale machining, and high precision micro robots for the optoelectronics industry.

What is the research plan?

This project will provide manufacturers and users of micro/nano manipulation robots with embedded micro sensors for measuring forces and displacements. Measurement science techniques will be developed for imaging the shapes of moving micro object surfaces and features in hard to reach places. The project will develop an innovative micro assembly technology together with a mathematical framework for micro manipulation and assembly and techniques for the evaluation of the effectiveness and efficiency of assembly control methods:

  1. Develop a system that can image the shapes of moving micro object surfaces and features in hard to reach places.The measurement device will be of micro scale and be able to operate in a microscope chamber. Perform proof of concept and validation testing of this system.
  2. Develop the mathematical framework for gripping, manipulation and assembly of complex micro scale devices. Demonstrate novel manipulation and assembly techniques. Use planar micro manufacturing technology to fabricate the building blocks of complex three dimensional structures, which can be used as assembly performance measurement artifacts.Develop supporting metrology and calibration science.
  3. Engage industry and users in the planning, execution and delivery phase of the project. Transfer acquired knowhow, intellectual property, devices and/or sensors to industrial partners for testing and feedback information.
Recent Results (Outputs):
  1. Established a collaboration (CRADA) with EM Optomechanical, of Gilbert, AZ and their collaborator, an Auburn University faculty member.  EM Optomechanical has licensed our micro hexapod technology, which included the transfer of modeling and controller technology.  (Application focus: Nano Microscopy)
  2. Established a collaboration (CRADA) with a research group from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) on the mathematical modeling and control of MEMS micro mechanisms.
  3. Established a collaboration with a group of researchers from NASA/GSFC on "Low Gravity Spacecraft Micro sensors."
  4. Signed a collaboration (CRADA) agreement with UMBC on the Kinematic Modeling and Calibration of the NIST Hexapod Nanopositioner.
  5. Demonstrated various designs for embedding out of plane micro force sensors into our MEMS devices using doping diffusion methods.
  6. Optimized and tested the design of our planar nanopositioners in order to improve performance.  This reduced cross talk error, increased range of motion, etc..
  7. Investigated the contribution of numerical errors to the performance of the embedded optical interferometer sensor.  The result was to reduce the accuracy error from 9 nm to 5.58 nm.
  8. In collaboration with EEEL researchers and Naval Academy researchers built and tested a micro capacitance array nano displacement sensor.
  9. In collaboration with MSEL staff invented and tested a MEMS dynamic nL rheology sensor.
Recent Results (Outcomes):
  1. Acta Technology Inc., Boulder, Co, has licensed our planar nanopositioner patent. Signed an official agreement of collaboration (CRADA) with ACTA Tech. on the exchange of information for the commercial application of the NIST planar nanopositioning devices. (Application focus: Micro Sensors)
  2. A patent disclosure application was submitted jointly by Dagalakis and his RPI collaborators and has been approved by NIST.  RPI will lead the patent development effort and pay for all the relevant expenses.  (Application focus: Micro Assembly Technology)
  3. A patent application for our embedded optical nano displacement sensor was completed, approved and submitted to the US patent office on Dec. 2, 2010.
  4. Delivery of the prototype of a NASA zero gravity sensor to a group of researchers from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. NASA funded the development of this experimental sensor called "Cryogenic Fuel Gauge for zero gravity environments using capacitance tomography," for the purpose of creating better fuel tank imaging sensors under low gravity operating conditions.  NIST contribution to this project was the design, fabrication and dynamic testing of the sensor for NASA.
  5. CRADA application for the establishment of collaboration with Precision Stereotaxic Devices LLC.  (Application focus: Micro Manipulation, Calibration, Performance and Micro Sensor Technology)
  6. During the last three years published 5 conference papers and 4 journal papers.
Standards and Codes:

This project targets a new market of advanced technology products, that has not yet matured and does not yet have specific standardization objectives. This is similar to the state of the macro scale industrial robot manipulators market in the seventies and eighties. That market was growing very slowly partly because of lack of clear communications between vendors and users and uncertainty about the performance capabilities and safety of those products. A vigorous standardization effort was established in the nineties, with strong NIST participation. Standards were produced first on classification, coordinate systems, motion nomenclature, presentation characteristics and vocabulary[5]. Eventually an industrial robot safety standard was established to address an increasing number of accidents on the plant floor. This project will build on this experience and will set up a group of industrial and university partners to provide advice and facilitate the transfer of technology.  This group will prepare best practices publications on one or more of the following subjects; calibration, manipulation, assembly, and sensors for precision micro/nano manipulators.  The project will also join relevant committees from one or more national or international standards writing organizations such as IEC, IEEE, ASME, ASTM, etc. Through these committees work will be done to facilitate the preparation of relevant activities, like measurement of micro- and nano-manipulation systems performance, design for manipulability, interfaces, coordinate systems and motions, safety, vocabulary, etc.


[2] Yole Développement, Emerging MEMS Technologies and Markets – 2010 Report,.

[3] National Nanotechnology Initiative, Nanotechnology-Enabled Sensing, 2010., pp. 15.

[4] 2011 iNEMI Roadmap,

[5]Dagalakis, N., "Handbook of Industrial Robotics, 2nd Edition, Shimon Y. Nof, Editor;  Chapter 24 on Industrial Robotics Standards, pp. 449-459"  1998, John Wiley & Sons., Inc. Publishers.

An array of XY and Z (3D) planar nano-manipulators with embedded probes. The sphere is manipulated within the chamber of an SEM microscope.
An array of XY and Z (3D) planar MEMS nano-manipulators and a 6 degree of freedom hexapod MEMS nano-manipulator, with embedded probes. The micro-sphere is manipulated within the chamber of a SEM microscope.

Start Date:

October 1, 2011

Lead Organizational Unit:


General Information:

Nicholas Dagalakis, Project Leader

301 975 5845 Telephone
301 990 9688 Fax

100 Bureau Drive, M/S 8230
Gaithersburg, MD 20899