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MEMS, Smaller and Lighter

MEMS, Smaller and Lighter

LEE Chi-Ho

May 19, 2011


Welcome to our video program. I'm Chi-Ho Lee from the Industry and Strategy Department I.

Have you ever heard of MEMS?

MEMS stands for “Micro Electro- Mechanical Systems” and refers to electronic and mechanical devices that are so small that the largest of them may be a millimeter in size, while the smallest of them can be measured in micrometers. MEMS enables production of ultra-small circuits and machines.

MEMS technology has been finding its way into a number of exciting applications, including ultra-light robots modeled on insects, and Digital Micromirror Devices (DMD) chips, the key component of projection displays. MEMS makers are constantly pursuing a mission of “smaller and lighter.”

MEMS are made by using most of the same techniques used in larger integrated circuits. Thin films of material are deposited on a substrate in a process called deposition, and laser lithography is then used to cut patterns in the surface of the film. Excess film is then removed using liquid or gas etching.

Although the process is largely similar to that used in manufacturing more familiar semiconductors, there are important differences. Instead of squeezing integrated microcircuits onto a two-dimensional surface, MEMS devices have three-dimensional structures. In addition, MEMS uses other materials in addition to silicon, including polymers and metals.

Today the most common use of MEMS technology is in the heads of inkjet printers. Microactuators made with MEMS technology play the primary role in spraying fine droplets of ink onto paper.

As can be seen in the picture, inkjet printheads are no bigger than fingernails but each has 300 nozzles arranged in two rows. An ink chamber and heater are deposited on a silicon substrate under each nozzle. When a pulse of current is passed through the heating element of a full ink chamber, the temperature of the element rapidly climbs to 300 degrees Celsius. The ink then boils, spraying droplets of ink onto the paper. The size of the nozzle is only 30 micrometers, less than half the thickness of a human hair.

MEMS are also used in mobile phones. Phones require a properly functioning oscillator to produce the correct frequencies. Otherwise, frequencies may overlap with those of other users and cause noise on the phone. Such oscillators involve difficulties in production of the circuits, as oscillation is produced mechanically. MEMS technology can decrease the size of the oscillator to only tens of micrometers, making them small enough to be embedded in a chip.

MEMS are also finding new applications in the biotech industry. Point-of-care (POC) diagnostic devices are small devices designed to conduct medical testing at the site of patient care or in the daily lives of patients, instead of at a clinical laboratory. Small portable POC devices can replace expensive, large testing systems thanks mainly to MEMS.

The importance of MEMS is also growing in several medical sectors, including nanorobots which actually move inside the human body to treat disease, as well as “Jewel Pumps” which provide continuous insulin, and “smart contact lenses” that provide early diagnosis of glaucoma.

The key to MEMS technology is finding the right area to launch applications, as well as to produce ever smaller systems. Vice President Mark Martin of US semiconductor manufacturer Analog Devices noted that after the first wave of MEMS applications in car safety systems in the 1990s, and the second wave in portable electronic devices and game consoles in the 2000s, we are now coming to a third wave of MEMS adoption. According to him, MEMS will see widespread new uses in the medical, industrial and defense industries.

Market research firm iSuppli has forecast that the MEMS market will grow from US$

6.5 billion in 2010 to US$9.8 billion in 2015. If MEMS technology converges through various industries, it can trigger more products with new and exciting functions.

Thank you for watching. I'm Chi-Ho Lee.

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