PORTRAIT OF THE START-UP INVENesis
Incubated by Neode
Founded in 2017
Sébastien Brun grew up in Val-de-Ruz. His career path is a perfect example of “lifelong learning”. He completed his first training course, a CFC (Swiss federal certificate of proficiency) in car mechanics in Biel in 1998. This qualification gave him the practical insight into manufacturing issues that he would go on to apply throughout his career. Two years later, he passed his diploma in electromagnetics at Yverdon and followed this with an undergraduate degree in microtechnology at HE-Arc Neuchâtel. Employed as a research assistant after completing his degree, he specialised in materials analysis. It was while lecturing on courses for undergraduate students that he devised a way to tackle a recurring problem encountered in many manufacturing sectors: adhesive ageing. Interview
When I worked as an analyst in the engineering department at HE-Arc I carried out a series of physico-chemical tests on materials. I also taught anodic bonding technology to undergraduate students. This process is widely used in microelectronics and consists of sealing a silicon wafer to Pyrex. The two materials are connected using an electric field. This is then heated to a high temperature, enabling the mobilisation of the ions in the material, a phenomenon intensified by the electric field. The requirement to heat to a high temperature is restrictive because it modifies the heated materials. They can, for example, change from a solid to a liquid state.
At the same time, I knew that numerous manufacturing sectors – watchmaking, aerospace, microelectronics – had problems with adhesive ageing and deterioration. The quality of high precision machines deteriorated because the adhesives used to construct them naturally degrade with time and as a result of environmental factors. These adhesives also affect the quality of the materials that they come into contact with. A classic example of this is stainless steel, whose superficial chemical properties are impaired.
So, thanks to the teaching and my insight into manufacturing problems, I realised that there was a new technology to be developed, which turned out to be Impulse Current Bonding.
In terms of the innovation timeline, once I had my idea I needed to find industrial partners, and this was quite easy in our case. HE-Arc became the project’s academic partner, so we were able to submit an Innosuisse project. Innosuisse is the Swiss Innovation Agency. It finances projects undertaken between a company and a research partner. This funding enabled us to work for over two years with more than 20 researchers. Because the technology did not yet exist, the first months were labour intensive. We finally concentrated on a solution that we believe to be an enhanced form of anodic bonding. The name was changed, because the physico-chemical mechanisms are in fact quite different. Impulse Current Bonding enables work to be carried out at a temperature of 150°C, a temperature that produces less ion migration. The materials therefore remain in a solid state, so additional energy is required to move the atoms or the ions. This energy is primarily electromagnetic and not thermal, and delivered via a complex system produced in reactors developed by SY&SE.
These reactors focus energy at the interface, using precise electromagnetic pulses. The ions therefore migrate at 150°C rather than at 500°C. This technology produces covalent bonds. These bonds are the most powerful interatomic forces found in nature. It is the same type of bond found in diamonds. Their major advantage is that they are strong and do not degrade over time.
Once this new process had been set up, we filed the patents with support from regional partners who specialise in intellectual property. We then built the first reactor, becoming bond sub-contractors for watch manufacturers in the process, and therefore needed to set up SY&SE. The start-up had to buy the patents back from the industrial partner to then start trading in January 2018. The Neode site in Crêt du Locle was ideal for SY&SE because it is close to HE-Arc and to the watchmaking industry.
Even though our innovation focused on watchmaking, interest in Impulse Current Bonding comes from a broad range of sectors: from biomedical, to the laser industry and telecommunications. Each requires stable bonds between metals and ceramics.
The canton of Neuchâtel has an impressive academic and industrial base. From apprenticeships to doctorates, it offers excellent training. For example, young people who train in automation at the CPLN (Neuchâtel lakeshore vocational centre) are able to deliver a precise response to complex issues after completing their studies. The ability to provide such high-quality training from vocational college onwards is an asset unique to Switzerland. But it is difficult to achieve excellence or get projects off the ground without marketing and collaboration. And this is where the Microcity hub can help, by facilitating contacts between the different institutions.
Incubated by Neode
Founded in 2017
Professor and lecturer at HE-Arc Engineering
Born in 1973
Lives in Neuchâtel
Tenure Track Assistant Professor at the EPFL Neuchâtel Branch
Born in 1974
Lives in Bern