HANNOVER MESSE 2009, 20 to 24 April - MicroTechnology goes global

16.02.2009: Miniature solutions that make the world go round Small, smaller, smallest - both capital goods and consumer products are becoming progressively miniaturized. Manufacturers of motors, electronics and semiconductors,

Miniature solutions that make the world go round

Small, smaller, smallest - both capital goods and consumer products are becoming progressively miniaturized. Manufacturers of motors, electronics and semiconductors, medical technology, painting technology and optics - there's hardly an industry today that does not strive to make products that are smaller and more perfect. While the trend towards the miniaturization and functionalization of surfaces continues to gather momentum, manufacturers are facing new challenges in terms of the accurate measurement of micro-surface structures and thin layers.

Until a few years ago it was sufficient to scan surfaces using high-magnification camera systems or mechanical scanning probes, but modern surface metrology requires more sophisticated and sensitive solutions. Such solutions are available from Fries Research & Technology GmbH (FRT). The company will be unveiling the latest innovations in the field of surface measurement at the upcoming trade fair MicroTechnology, which forms part of HANNOVER MESSE 2009 (20 - 24 April: Hall 6).

Fries Research & Technology GmbH (FRT) is an internationally active, medium-sized engineering company founded in 1995. Based in Bergisch Gladbach and owner-operated, it is primarily engaged in the development, manufacture and worldwide distribution of measuring technology and software for the metrological mapping of surfaces at extremely high resolutions. Operating at the micro-/nanometre level, FRT surface metrology systems are designed for the non-contact, non-destructive, and - where required - fully automated investigation of topography, profile, step height, roughness, abrasion, film thickness and many other parameters that affect the quality of the product in question.

The company is divided into three strategic business divisions: "Surface Metrology Systems", "Process Control" and "Services". Surface measuring devices are used as stand-alones in research establishments and R&D departments as well as in fully automated measuring stations for sampling or ongoing product quality control in industry. The business unit "Process Control" makes up special arrays for process-related measurements in the production chain. The "Services" division undertakes contract measurement work, organizes training courses, and provides on-site servicing, spare parts, upgrades and repairs.

The production strategy of FRT Messtechnik has developed the company's expertise in three distinct areas: standardization, modularization and customization. Standardized components such as high-precision mechanisms, control electronics and powerful proprietary software deliver useful cost synergies across a range of products as well as reducing complexity at the manufacturing stage. In particular the software - refined over many years and constantly updated by a programming team - represents one of FRT's important core areas of expertise.

The modular design of the company's measuring systems allows customers to add to their capabilities very easily. In view of the fact that innovation cycles in manufacturing technology are getting progressively shorter, this makes the systems extremely cost-effective and future-proof. And the multi-sensor technology developed by FRT permits a high degree of customization. Not only does it enable the operator to exchange sensors easily; it also means that several sensors can be incorporated into a single system to achieve a combination of different measurement ranges and procedures.

FRT was the first company to introduce this innovation back in 1998, creating a whole new market segment that has since become established throughout the industry. Today FRT offers a wide choice of non-contact, high-resolution sensors, which are capable of scanning surfaces with a beam of light or mapping them via electromagnetic effects with an accuracy measured in nanometres.

The company's customer base extends across different industry sectors and different technologies, with special emphasis on big-name international concerns in the semiconductor, automotive, optical, microsystems and nanotechnology industries in Germany, Europe, Asia and the USA (export quota: 55 per cent). Today FRT's three business divisions "Surface Metrology Systems", "Process Control" and "Services" generate a return on sales (before tax) of nearly ten per cent.

This makes FRT three times more profitable than the industry average for the German mechanical engineering sector (3.4 per cent). Sales growth was led in 2006 by the business division "Surface Metrology Systems", where stronger demand in the core sectors and target markets resulted in a year-on-year increase in sales of 18 per cent. The key drivers of growth here were applications in semiconductor and microstructure technology.

FRT maintains subsidiaries in Switzerland, the United States and China, and operates a distribution and service network in Asia and Europe as well as a branch office in Munich. In recent years the company has won four awards for innovation as well as an award for organizational development.

Five questions we put to Dr. Thomas Fries, CEO of FRT

1. Dr. Fries, are you scared by the continuing miniaturization of technology?

No, not at all. On the contrary, the growing miniaturization of surface structures for capital goods and consumer goods, such as semiconductor products, motors, lenses or paints, together with the fast growth in technology markets worldwide, is a major driver of demand for us.

The trend towards miniaturization is unstoppable now - just compare the size of the first computers with today's notebooks and mobile phones. Companies everywhere - and consumers too, at the end of the day - are looking for products that are both smaller and better. We see progress as the driver of innovation and a challenge. We're not afraid of the future at all.

2. So where do you see the real challenges for surface metrology?

The surface structures of products are becoming more and more sophisticated and complex, because they are undergoing a process of functionalization as well as miniaturization. I am thinking, for example, of the lotus effect in paint coatings. One challenge is to find ways of measuring these micro/nano surface structures with sufficient precision.

Another challenge lies in the fact that manufacturing processes are getting more and more complex - and with them the associated inspection processes. Until a few years ago it was sufficient to scan surfaces using high-magnification camera systems or mechanical scanning probes, but modern surface metrology requires more sophisticated and sensitive solutions.

Take silicon wafers, for example, which are used to make computer chips: during the production process it is necessary to carry out repeated measurements with a high degree of precision - in the nanometre range. In many cases the requisite systems will need to be integrated into the continuous production process, and they must be able to operate non-destructively - so without any physical contact - and to be automatable if required. FRT can supply the right products along with the necessary empirical reference values, because every measuring task is different, depending on the material and area of application.

3. What makes your company different?

What makes us different is our multi-sensor technology. Multi-sensor technology combines a number of different measuring techniques - which would otherwise require a series of separate solutions - into one universal, compact device. Flexible, expandable and future-proof, this device makes it possible to carry out a variety of different measuring tasks at resolutions ranging from a metre down to a nanometre.

Multi-sensor technology not only enables the operator to exchange sensors easily; it also means that several sensors can be incorporated into a single system to achieve a combination of different measurement ranges and procedures. In addition, we offer a unique modular technology for the automation of metrology. Depending on the industry in question and the type of task, we can offer varying degrees of automation ranging from one-button solutions, where the operator positions the sample by hand, to fully automated test stands incorporating robotics and an interface to the main production control system.

4. How are you coping with the growing globalization of markets?

FRT has been well positioned in the international marketplace for a long time. We maintain subsidiaries in Switzerland, the United States and China, as well as a distribution and service network in Asia and Europe. And we are working constantly to expand and optimize our international structures. Only recently we reached agreement on a joint distribution arrangement for Europe with a company called Euris Corporation.

Euris specializes in the distribution and after-sales support of high-tech industrial equipment and installations within Europe, and offers comprehensive geographical coverage by highly qualified field service engineers. Our Asian distributor network has also continued to expand, and is being coordinated by a sales director assigned by FRT. Permanent staff numbers at our Shanghai facility have also been increased.

As well as an additional administrative assistant we have also hired a service engineer to provide technical support for our local distributors and on-site servicing for customers across the Asian region. In the USA we have moved into spacious new premises in the heart of Silicon Valley, which have given us the additional space we needed.

5. Why are you exhibiting at this year's MicroTechnology?

Deutsche Messe has made MicroTechnology into a real focal gathering for the industry at HANNOVER MESSE. As in previous years, the show presents the complete spectrum of applications-oriented micro- and nanotechnology. Many firms from Germany and other countries worldwide will be giving an overview of the latest advances, developments and trends. We cannot afford not to be there. Trade fair presentations, and the direct link to the customer that they provide, are important for us and form part of the core repertoire of our marketing strategy.

About MicroTechnology

MicroTechnology is ideally placed at the heart of HANNOVER MESSE 2009, where it is located alongside the displays of surface treatments and finishes (in Hall 6), the subcontracting industry (Halls 3 to 5) and industrial process engineering (Halls 6 to 9 and 11). From engineering and materials to production processes and interface management: all the latest commercially viable developments and practical applications in micro- and nanotechnology will be on display at MicroTechnology, along with laser cutting and machining technology.

At the forum "Innovations for Industry" technology suppliers and end users will get together to talk about the latest innovations in microtechnology products, while guest speakers from the scientific community and industry will discuss current and future trends in micro- and nanotechnology.

-Tanja Gerhardt-

Permanent-URL: http://www.automobilsport.com/hannover-messe-april-microtechnology-global-capital-goods-manufacturers-fries-research---55834.html

16.02.2009 / MaP

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