HexFlex - Enabling nanofabrication with a six-axis nanomanipulator

Martin Culpepper

Positioning and alignment are core components of manufacturing processes and research activities, and nanomanipulators carry out these functions with nanometer-level precision. Unfortunately, state-of-the-art nanomanipulators rely on decades-old technologies that can’t practically meet the requirements of emerging applications in nano-scale research and nanomanufacturing: namely, six-axis manipulation with better than 5nm/1 µradian resolution. Consequently, the path from lab to manufacturing has been expensive, constrained to simple products, and plagued by low-yields.

The HexFlex Nanomanipulator, a six-axis, flexure-based device, may solve this problem. Whereas prior art achieves positioning via assembly of precision mechanisms, HexFlex consists of a monolithic, compliant mechanism. Its single-piece construction can flex and move in six axes with nanometer-level resolution. The invention received a 2003 R&D 100 award. The HexFlex project aims to resolve the issues of reconfigurability and machine dynamics in order to demonstrate feasibility in important applications such as micro/nanophotonics, x-ray crystallography, nano-lithography, and life science research. These fields fuel annual equipment markets in excess of $10 billion.