R.M.P. is a small Italian company of 19 employees that designs and manufactures optical, electrical and mechanical equipment for research institutes and laboratories. The company did not have at the project beginning any experience in microelectronics
The purpose of the experiment, was to realise a single low cost electronic control unit performing all the necessary functions needed to operate a Scanning Probe Microscope [Scanning Tunnelling Microscope (STM) + Atomic Force Microscope (AFM)]. The main technical objective of the experiment was to integrate all the control unit sections in a single board. To achieve this goal the digital section (realised in discrete logic in the old version) has been integrated in a FPGA component and the PCB has been realised using SMD technology.
The introduction of the new electronics achieved the following goals:
- significant reduction of product cost and sales price;
- increased accuracy of scanning ;
- independence from availability (and delivery time) of commercial products;
- significant size reduction.
The Scanning Probe Microscope (SPM) in the near future, is expected to be the most commonly used microscope for semiconductor and biological research applications.
The electronics have been completely re-designed. The feedback control section digitally performs a proportional / integral feedback and so it has been named D.P.I. The DPI has been realised by mean of an FPGA. Surface mounting technology has been adopted to obtain a important dimension reduction.
The program timescale was 12 months with an effective cost of 67.5 KECU.
The results are encouraging. There is an actual cost reduction of 55%, the electronics are all contained in one enclosure and the test time has been reduced by 60%. The company now has in house knowledge of electronic services (cost and technical performance) available in the zone of the First User.
The main lessons learnt through the AE is that electronics design and manufacturing are not as high cost programmes as we had first thought. Non-electronic firms can directly purchase electronics design and simulation tools for electronic design activities increase. Personnel training does not require as long as we had imagined because the friendly interfaces of today's software design systems. The expected results have been achieved in terms of product improvement and gained knowledge in the FPGA technology. In the worst analysis the payback period of the investment is anticipated in less than 2 years. The ROI expected is 1 MECU (improved cumulative profits) for the seven years product life. In the first year 75% of the investment will be returned. In the first one year and half we expect to totally recover the investment.