Manufacturability is a major challenge for new technologies, such as microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and nanotechnology. The MEMS industry has leveraged much of the learning and manufacturing rigor of the integrated circuit industry. The integrated circuit industry’s existing infrastructure (wafer suppliers, overlapping processing foundries, metrology services, packaging) has facilitated MEMS productization. A culture change is still needed, however, among smaller MEMS companies to implement metrology and achieve stricter process control (i.e., six-sigma). In contrast, there exists little or no infrastructure for nanotechnology to leverage. Nanotechnology start-ups may rely on government laboratories, institutes, and universities to serve as foundries until such an infrastructure is developed. Nanotechnology companies may even use MEMS foundries since they are more closely related to nanotechnology and are more flexible than larger, blue chip industries. Nanotechnology foundries or centers may provide a stopgap solution by offering unique capabilities in key process areas such as metrology.
Venture opportunities exist between national laboratories and private companies. National laboratories can, for example, be considered as an R&D nucleus. Most national laboratories have state-of-the-art metrology, analytical techniques, unique processing methods, and modeling capabilities that can be exploited by private companies with little initial investment in capital equipment. Specific venture partnership opportunities with Sandia in national-security technologies include microsystems, nanotechnology, chemical/bioterrorism prevention, water surety (plant and point of use), secure communications, and distributed microsensors.