Interview with Dr. Yi Qin
Project Co-ordinator of the EU FP6 IP MASMICRO
(36 partners from 13 EU countries, 21.4 MEuros budget).
The exchange of information with research projects funded by the European Commission is a key – factor to improve dissemination actions and to understand how Hydromel is seen from the outside world. This month the Hydromel Dissemination team interviews Dr. Yi Qin from the University of Strachclyde, coordinator of the FP6 IP MASMICRO which was concluded last year. Dr Yi Qin is an expert in micro/nano-manufacturing, with specific skills in the design and development of micro-forming technologies and systems. Moreover he is Deputy Director of Research, leader of a group in the research in Precision Engineering and Micro-manufacturing. Yi has managed a series of the EU, national and industry funded projects, He is a member of several professional bodies and made keynote speeches and invited lectures in many conferences/workshops. He has published over 120 technical papers/books/book chapters and acted as a reviewer for 13 leading journals and 30 conferences, including a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Machine Tools and Manufacture.
Hydromel Dissemination Team: Hydromel is a consortium with 24 partners and five demonstrators on the way. It’s not so big as MASMICRO, but in any case quite large. Which are the main problems you encountered in managing such a huge consortium and which are your hints to solve them?
Dr. Yi Qin: No straightforward answer on this issue. I think you have already done well in this aspect, e.g. a successful consortium has been established. For all large scale projects, I think one of the most important managerial issues is probably to have strong management team in place, e.g. really good workpackage leaders who have enthusiasm, experience and skills in managing the teams. Maintaining constant communications between the Project Co-ordinator and those WP leaders is key to success of the project. Another key issue is probably management of "delays". Since a delay from one partner may affect many other partners, how to manage this problem in a large scale project in which many tasks are associated with each other is one needing to be addressed timely. If everybody performs as planned, there won't be a significant problem in terms of delivering the results on time. Unfortunately most projects would not always progress like this.
Hydromel Dissemination Team: Which is in your opinion the best way to market the results of a project on micro – nanomanufacturing?
Dr. Yi Qin: This is always a difficult issue for all RTD projects, like EU FP projects. The problem is probably due to two main reasons - complicated IPR issues and different attitudes towards commercialisation/exploitation, and limited project-life. On one side development of a mature result takes some time. At the same time, marketing it also takes time, which, according to my experience, mostly takes place after project life, which will be more difficult to handle after the consortium is disassembled. In my opinion, a smaller follow-up project which is focused on commercialisation/exploitation will help greatly, after a big project ended. Of course, if the project is focused on the applications, having clear business case and mature technologies/prototypes already in place before the project starts will be ideal for marketing the results during the project life. This equally applies to a project on micro- and nano-manufacturing. A significant difference is probably due to lack of standards in micro- and nono-manufacturing and technology reliability/maturity which would affect the marketing significantly. Identification of economical gains on making "small" things is also crucial to the success of marketing the results. Another issue concerns the business chain (whether or not completed). Therefore, I think, the "best" way to market the results is to address these issues appropriately before marketing starts.
Hydromel Dissemination Team: You have been visiting professor in China, can you describe your experience there? Do they have a different approach to the research in the nanotechnology field? Which is your feeling about link between industry, university and government?
Dr. Yi Qin: Although I have been a visiting professor to one of the universities in China, I have been unable to be really engaged in the research with them in micro-/nano-technology fields due to the lack of sufficient funds to support such joint research. As I know, there is no significantly different approach to ours. I think, in Europe, we probably have given more emphasis on the industrial involvements in the RTD projects in micro-/nano-manufacturing than that in China. I also believe some industry in China is more keen to commercialise the nano-technology products than the industry in Europe, probably due to the boom of the manufacturing activities and fast growth of economy there. Overall, I feel that governmental investment in fundamental studies and lab. development has been increased significantly, the industrial involvement is not much significant in the initial stages, but action on the commericialisation of matured technologies and products is probably much quicker. This not only happens in China but also in some of other Asian countries.
Hydromel Dissemination Team: Which is your feeling about link between industry, university and government in China?
Dr. Yi Qin: I think I have answered this question in the last answer to the question 3.
Hydromel Dissemination Team: Which strategy should follow for Europe to compete with Asia?
Dr. Yi Qin: I think EC investment in nanotechnology has been largest as a whole, compared to the USA, Japan, China and other countries/regions, but industry's reaction in identification of mature technologies and products and market them has to be much sharper and quicker. Micro-/nano-manufacturing is an expensive business, hence, risk is always there. The government will have to take encouraging measures to encourage such business by providing funding and proper protection to, especially new business in micro-/nano-manufacturing. How to merge with traditional industry is also an important issue to be addressed.
Hydromel Dissemination Team: In your experience, which are the most promising technologies in micro-/nano-manufcaturing for the future? In which technology would you recommend a SME to invest?
Dr. Yi Qin: It is very difficult to say since there are so many different technologies/processes, none of them can claim to be dominant. It really depends on applications, e.g. material type, length scale, assembly requirement, etc. Machining, Forming, Additive/layer manufacturing, Replication, as well as Hybrid processes, etc. all have produced promised results, but all have their own limitations to applications. What a SME should invest is probably best processes and process chains which best fit in their own business cases, i.e. product, quality, cost and supply chain. Optimally selecting mostly suitable technologies and combining them, integrated them into their own production and business, is probably more important, rather than looking at individual processes and capabilities alone.
Hydromel Dissemination Team: Hydromel goal is to develop hybrid manufacturing techniques for the production of micro – devices through self assembly techniques and robot – positioning: what do you think about this approach?
Dr. Yi Qin: It is really good and timely needed since assembly has been a bottleneck problem in micro-/nano-manufacturing for many years. The approach is innovative and of challenges. It could be of more significant impact if it is integrated with material conversion processes.
Hydromel Dissemination Team: Which is the Hydromel demonstrator that you prefer and why?
Dr. Yi Qin: I would like to pick demonstrator one ("Advanced Micromechanics: Hybrid assembly of fragile MEMS parts") and demonstrator four ("Future Technologies: Self-assembly for emerging nanophotonics and - electronics"), because: (i). more relevant to "manufacturing", (ii). typically representative - one in micro, another in nano, (iii) could test both approaches related to robotics and self-assembly.
Hydromel Dissemination Team: Your last recommendation to Hydromel partner?
Dr. Yi Qin: Good luck, wish you have fruitful results and generate significant impact to both ERA and EU industry.