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MEMS for Mechanical Engineers: An Update


n the space of just 12 short months there have already been significant

developments in how MEMS technology has come to innovate many traditional products by using them in new and unique applications. This time CMM magazine asked Tomas to re- examine some of his original ideas and thoughts to give us an up-to-the- minute insight into exactly where MEMS technology is at the moment.

MEMS has historically been characterised by high capital expenditures for manufacturing equipment and high initial process development costs, therefore making it a viable fit for mainly high volume and low cost implementations such as smartphones. A typical smartphone already contains at least 10 MEMS functions and more is to come as temperature, humidity, gas, infrared sensing and much more is being added into the phone, closing the gap of our life in the physical world with the digital world that can supply what seems to be an endless amount of computing power and data sharing.

As soon as MEMS implementation is past the relatively high initial cost of first product demonstration, MEMS brings an unparalleled power to compete on price in production, while at the same time also offering unbeatable performance in almost every imaginable aspect, from sensitivity specification to power consumption. A military grade gyroscope built with traditional electro-mechanical engineering, taking up the size of a carry-on suitcase, is now a micro mechanical chip that can fit on a fraction of a finger-nail. MEMS-based system development does have somewhat of a stigma of being quite challenging and risky. It is definitely true that developing a gyroscope is not a simple task that is completed in the course of a couple of months. There are a lot of disciplines that need to work together successfully from design of the actual MEMS part to the packaging, but maybe even more so in the complexity of integration.

I would like to emphasize that MEMS is not always about developing something as complex as a miniaturised full gyroscope solution, it is also important that the skillset, protocols and process

development methodologies of dedicated MEMS manufacturing providers have improved tremendously over the last decade. Our belief is that the MEMS market is now moving in a second wave of adoption where we see a larger crowd of engineers in various industries beyond the smartphone applications, beginning to apply the potential of this rather new engineering discipline to achieve miniaturisation in the micro scale space that were not possible before.

When I annually meet my fellow master’s degree students from mechanical engineering school in the early 90s it does strike me that there is still a very a large population of traditional mechanical engineers in our various industries that have yet to explore the basics of MEMS manufacturing technology. I am also a bit puzzled by MEMS still being so widely associated with electrical engineering where I would perhaps argue it is much more of a mechanical engineering discipline.

A very high ratio of the engineers we meet in our customer space are electrical engineers. It could be that MEMS possibly has its historical roots and origin in micro electronics departments of our educational systems and thereby earned its tight connection with semiconductors and electrical engineering. The actual MEMS design on its own, when scrutinised, is however much more of a mechanical engineering technology, and simply put, we are building mechanical structures using only the toolset of a semiconductor fab; everything else is a materials and mechanical engineering technology. Many MEMS solutions are also completely ‘non-electrical’ static micro mechanical structures built in silicon or glass (or the combination thereof) creating for example cheap disposable chips for micro fluidics used in DNA sequencing with the tightest imaginable tolerances.

We are thrilled to see an ongoing change in the way MEMS is applied in various industries. Some of Silex most interesting customers ramping production at Silex in the last year are not necessarily serving the smartphone market. There is an emergence of a need to work with a foundry like Silex to make even relatively simple standalone mechanical parts such as spacers, brackets, membranes etc. that a customer will assemble into a miniaturised version of the original system.

In the mid 90s I was doing a mechanical engineering internship at the Lawrence Berkley Laboratory and our task was to help speed up the Human Genome Mapping program, developing lab

40 | commercial micro manufacturing international Vol 7 No.3

In May of last year CMM magazine interviewed Tomas Bauer of Silex Microsystems for an article published in

the May/June 2013 issue, which examined the status of MEMS manufacturing technologies as a viable and valuable option for non-MEMS engineers. The article

explored the commercial origins of MEMS, the business advantages MEMS technologies offer non-MEMS manufacturers, the process of evaluation a business

could follow in order to exploit MEMS technology and a five-year prediction of where MEMS processes could potentially lead manufacturers.

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