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What are the applications of MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems)?


Frequently Asked Questions

Perhaps the most mature micromachined component manufactured commercially is the pressure sensor. Such products have been available for many years, and involve the machining of thin (<25µm) diaphragms of silicon, which flex under changes in pressure. The flexure of these membranes is detected either by piezo-resistive or capacitative effects.

Another commercially available application is the micro-accelerometer, of which there are three different types. They make use of piezoelectric, piezo-resistive or capacitative effects, together with a seismic mass, which moves under acceleration or deceleration to produce a measurable response. Such sensors have already found applications, particularly in the automotive sector (e.g. airbag accelerometers).

Ink jet print heads are another example of a mature MEMS technology. Such devices are becoming increasingly complex with the drive for reduced pitch/increased resolution. Other microfluidic applications are currently in the development stages, such as the Lab-on-a-Chip, for which there is significant interest in the medical field.

Biomedical devices in general offer great scope for MEMS, where there is a drive towards decreasing size and increasing complexity; pump components for insertion into the heart to aid blood flow, for example.

There is also expected to be expansion in the optics sector, including optical switches and displays. Optical displays incorporate an array of micromirrors, which can be moved to project an image as required.

The potential areas on which MEMS are likely to impinge are many, but where microsystems have to be assembled by hand they are only likely to find specialist applications where cost is not the major issue. Another issue is that the packaging requirements for these systems are diverse, with systems having to incorporate such features as moving parts, or access to the environment. This means that many of the packaging ideas developed for the microelectronics industry are unsuitable.

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