By Anna Lynn Spitzer
Irvine, CA, December 10th, 2012 -- Through cutting-edge research in electrochemistry, a Japanese industry-university consortium has made huge strides in advanced electroplating technology – the process of chemically applying thin layers of metal to materials. This layering process adds specific properties: wear resistance, corrosion protection, decorative finish or lubrication for example.
Known as the Material Surface Engineering Center and based at Kanto Gakuin University in Japan, the consortium was brought together by electroplating pioneer Hideo Honma, professor emeritus at KGU.
Now, the group is collaborating with UC Irvine’s Integrated Nanoscale Research Facility to develop new manufacturing technologies. Combining advances in plating and micro/nanomachining, the new technologies could lead to advances in biomedical, electronic and sensor devices
“By riding on INRF’s success in micro/nano fabrication technologies and joining forces with our Japanese colleagues, the partnership will further advance nano/micro science and its manufacturing technologies,” said Mark Bachman, associate director of INRF, a Calit2-affiliated lab where much of the work is occurring.
Electroplating previously was limited to flat, rigid materials but the group’s efforts have resulted in an electrochemical process that allows metals to be applied to almost any surface, regardless of shape, contour or rigidity. Japanese manufacturers have used it to plate products including automobile bumpers and advanced semiconductor packages. Now the collaboration is poised to leverage this technology for innovative products in emerging markets.
The two-year collaboration kicked off July 1. Electroplating and surface-modification equipment from Japan was installed in the INRF, accompanied by two technical engineers from the Japanese group who arrived to work alongside INRF staff.
The alliance allows INRF and its sister Calit2 lab, BiON, to implement the high-quality metallization process on polymers and other difficult-to-plate materials, like glass and ceramics.
The specialized plating technique is expected to have an especially significant impact on the biomedical device market, where it can be used to construct sensors on devices like catheters, implants, bandages and even apparel that can monitor users’ health and bodily systems.
This partnership ultimately will benefit local industry, which often comes to INRF and BiON for help creating proof-of-concept products and prototypes. “Now we can build prototypes like flexible electrodes on plastic and new types of MEMS devices. We can show them to our industry partners and say, ‘Look what you can build,’” Bachman said.
“It’s an extremely valuable collaboration,” said G.P. Li, director of Calit2 Irvine and INRF, who, along with Bachman, was integral in developing the partnership. “As soon as we saw Professor Honma’s presentation 2 ½ years ago, we knew there was great potential for this new manufacturing technology in the research and development of next-generation high-value products and for educating the next-generation workforce. We’re really pleased that we are able to work together to advance it even further here in California.”