08. March 2021

PROFACTOR: Full Speed Ahead

As part of the EU project TINKER, PROFACTOR is in charge of developing an innovative pilot line for the production of sensors for self-driving vehicles that should be miniature, require little energy and be inexpensive to produce. 

Sensors are the watchful eyes of (partially) self-driving vehicles. They must be able to recognize what is happening around the vehicle accurately and quickly. To ensure the requisite all-round vision, a self-driving vehicle is fitted with an average of 45 sensors (primarily radar or lidar sensors). These sensors must be able to detect and understand other road users, the environment, the road surface, obstacles and hazards, both in the vicinity and in the distance. “When you have this many sensors, their size, weight, cost and energy consumption play a vital role,” explains Dr Leo Schranzhofer, project coordinator at PROFACTOR. “Currently they are still too heavy, too big, too expensive and require too much power for widespread use. There is a great need to optimize the lidar (light detection and ranging) sensors in particular that are necessary for three-dimensional perception.”

To solve this, an innovative pilot line is being developed on a project headed by PROFACTOR. The sensors should be miniature, require little energy and be inexpensive to produce. Methods of additive manufacturing are being used to achieve these objectives. At the same time, real-time inspection during the production process is planned so that errors can be all but ruled out. On this project, which has a total budget of EUR 10.2 million, PROFACTOR is coordinating 15 industrial and research partners from eight countries. The industrial partners include global players such as Bosch and Infineon as well as hidden champions from Austria such as Tiger Coatings (Wels, Upper Austria), the EV Group (St. Florian am Inn, Upper Austria) and Besi Austria (Radfeld, Tyrol).  

In the pilot line, the latest digital technologies are to be combined for the production of sensor packages. Core competencies of PROFACTOR come into play in three areas: 

  1. Inkjet printing: strip conductors and connections are printed

The aim is to replace analogue processes with functional inkjet printing. With this technology, microelectronic components can be connected in a way that saves space.

  1. Nanoimprint lithography: 3D technology miniaturizes components

This additive technology aims to achieve further miniaturization of connections between microelectronic and optical components. Combined with functional inkjet printing, NIL is therefore extremely important for minimizing the weight of sensors and the space and power they require.

  1. Inline inspection: machinery corrects itself

Artificial intelligence is to be used for an inline inspection in the pilot line to nip defects in the bud. If a quality defect is detected, a message is immediately sent to the machinery and the defect is automatically remedied during the process.