COMS 2015

Highlights from COMS2015

Extracted from report in CMM International 10/2015 by David Tolfree

The 20th international COMS Conference was held in the attractive Royal City of Krakow on 14-16 September 2015. Conference delegates were welcomed by the Chair, Prof Rafal Walczak, the Co-Chair, David Tolfree, and Dr Volker Saile, the President of MANCEF.

The exceptional programme of 48 speakers from 15 countries included government policy makers, serial entrepreneurs, funding specialists, researchers and industry leaders. Nine keynote speakers led the themes for each of the three days.

The Conference was opened by two keynote speakers, Khalil Rouhana, the Director of the EC DG CONNECT (Communications Networks, Content and Technology) whose talk detailed the European programme that supported communications networks. This was followed by Jerzy Kątcki1, Deputy Director, Polish National Centre for Research and Development who described its R&D policy towards commercialisation. These talks set the theme for two following sessions on Commercialisation Issues chaired by the entrepreneur Robert Mehalso, whose invited speakers included the CEOs of many successful companies in the US and UK.

The talks covered the challenges within academia, industry, and government, and the need for coordinated roles in developing a commercialization pathway for micro/nano-based products. Building a successful company, by overcoming the barriers and moving along that pathway to launch marketable products, were included in the main topics.

Delegates were welcomed on the second day by David Tolfree who introduced two excellent keynote speakers – Thomas Laurell from Lund University in Sweden and Erol Harvey, the founder and CEO of MiniFab in Australia. Their talks covered the application of microfluidics to novel biomedical products, and devices. Harvey traced the historical evolution of microfluidics techniques and applications over the last 40 years to the current high volume of applications it serves.
Talks in the two parallel sessions that followed covered healthcare, medical diagnostics, industrial chemical sensors, nanotechnology and additive manufacturing and work force development. New biomedical devices based on microfluidic technologies are growing rapidly to satisfy the need for medical diagnostic instruments driven by the billion dollar global healthcare market.

Sue Neuen chaired the session on Work Force Development. She gave a passionate talk on the urgent need to increase STEM teaching. The shortage of trained scientists and engineers in the work place is now a serious problem for US and European employers who want to grow their companies in an increasing competitive global market. She presented figures from a survey carried out in European countries. For example, the projected 62% increase in requirements for biomedical engineers will be difficult to satisfy based on current trends unless more students are encouraged to enter the field.

One of the speakers, Deb Newberry, reviewed sustainable nanotechnology and showed why it should be included in educational programmes for students and people in the work place to overcome the earlier fears about risks since more nanotechnology-based products are now being manufactured.

The last session of the day brought delegates together for a Panel Session ‘On building a Commercially Successful Company.’ Chaired by David Tolfree, it gave delegates a chance to put questions to four entrepreneurs – Steve Walsh, Seamus Curran, Donald Arnone and Erol Harvey. All panel members had founded successful companies based on the use of small technologies in their products. The panel represented perspectives from the US, UK and Australia.

The third day was introduced by Prof Steve Walsh, a MANCEF Board member and Regents Professor at the University of New Mexico.

An inspiring keynote address was given by the visionary, Janusz Bryzek, a MANCEF Board member and CEO of TSensors Summit Inc. in the US. The talk was about the concept of Abundance and the TSensors initiative. Sensors are one of the exponential drivers of Abundance that by 2050 should provide a world without hunger, plentiful energy and medical care for all. In 2015 the shipments of sensors have grown to about 13 billion units with projected demand of 100 trillion by 2030. Two of the big data based applications will be medical diagnostics and global pollution monitoring. Microsensors will pervade every product and systems.

Steve Walsh’s talk ‘Can the Internet of Things evolve to support a multiple trillion sensor world?’ posed many questions to delegates. This talk, together with others on MEMS and NEMS sensors and smart materials, provided an insight to challenges facing future manufacturing.

The overall theme of talks at this conference was about how the emerging technologies, and in particular micro-nanotechnologies, will shape the future.

COMS conferences provide platforms for a variety of speakers to cover topical subjects but, more importantly, an opportunity for delegates to network and discuss potential business opportunities. Much of this takes place during refreshment breaks, lunches and dinners.

The beautiful city of Krakow, with its lively environment around the market square surrounded by a galaxy of restaurants, provided COMS delegates with an ideal setting where old and new acquaintances could meet and relax. Bringing people together in such places is an important factor of international COMS conferences and contributes to their success.

COMS2016 is being planned to take place in Houston, Texas in August 2016