Standards efforts shift into high gear


New specs to provide foundation for global manufacturing

By Jay Lyman

This year marks the emergence of a crop of nanotechnology standards and the unveiling of tools built to work with those specifications. Experts say it’s the start of a trend to codify the technical underpinnings of a nanotech manufacturing infrastructure.

Keithley Instruments, for example, was instrumental in the creation of IEEE Standard 1650, Standard Methods for Measurement of Electrical Properties of Carbon Nanotubes. The first electrical measurement standard for carbon nanotubes, it was approved by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in February. Keithley now proclaims its Model 4200 Semiconductor Characterization System conforms to and supports the new standard.

Another key player in the development of the 1650 standard has been Motorola. Its need for parts that are measurable, verifiable and repeatedly manufacturable highlights the need for nanotechnology standards, according to Ed Rashba, IEEE’s manager of new technical programs.

“They are looking to include this in products, and they need to be sure they have a reliable source,” he said.

“We’re not talking about specific devices and interoperability,” said Ed Rashba, IEEE’s manager of new technical programs. “It’s more the core issues that will provide a platform.” Photo courtesy of IEEE
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While companies are already adhering to the recently adopted standards, much of the micro and nano field lacks such standards despite the sector’s rapid growth, according to John Kramar, leader of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Molecular Measuring Machine Project, which is developing a two-dimensional coordinate measuring machine with sub-nanometer probe and metric resolution.

“Nanotechnology standards are a special focus now since nanotechnology is an exploding growth area and few standards are available,” Kramar said. Stressing the need for standards for accurate measurement, process and quality control in manufacturing, Kramar said that NIST is working on dimensional length and force standards for nanotechnology. By the end of the year, NIST plans to release carbon nanotube reference material, which Kramar says should not be considered a calibration standard per se, but rather a sample that has some accurately-characterized properties.

Developing standards that ensure uniform dimensions or materials properties so that a statistical sampling will suffice for an entire batch is difficult in any industry but, Kramar said, the challenge is even greater at the nanoscale, where manufacturing is in its infancy.

Other efforts to discover what standards are needed and to avoid the redundancy or fragmentation that could tangle industry development include an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) survey and a recent workshop on the IEEE Nanoelectronics Standards Roadmap (NESR).

The goal of the survey - undertaken by ANSI and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as part of a multi-year, international initiative - was to gather information so that the ANSI-accredited U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) could recommend standards. The standards would be designed to aid commerce, improve communication in the R&D community and address health and safety issues, said survey developer Joseph Clark and TAG Chair Clayton Teague.

The key questions of the survey covered the negative impact on organizations because of lack of nanotech standards and the prioritization of the types of standards needed. The survey ended in May, and results will be posted on the ANSI Web site,, this summer.

At the NESR roadmap workshop there was consensus that metrology standards are needed across many areas, including materials, functional blocks, devices and other areas, Rashba said. But the focus now is on the early, basic standards and measurements.

“We’re not talking about specific devices and interoperability,” Rashba said. “It’s more the core issues that will provide a platform.”

Next up for the IEEE is 1690, a proposed standard that covers the characterization of carbon nanotubes when assembled as bulk materials. The standard should be finalized by the end of the year, and the IEEE foresees moving it to the international standards community through the ISO, Rashba said.