MIT’s maskless MEMS wafer patterning promises cheaper, higher-mix manufacturing

April 5, 2012 — While micro electro mechanical system (MEMS) devices are seen in some high-volume applications, the industry is restrained by its reliance on semiconductor manufacturing technology, which requires high capital investments to produce MEMS. MEMS structures are diverse, adding specialization to the cost of manufacture. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say new maskless patterning techniques and improved computer-aided design (CAD) tools would break through these limitations.

Henry Smith, a professor of electrical engineering at MIT, is developing a scalable MEMS manufacturing technique without photomasks. The process produces patterns using an array of 1,000 tiny lenses. A wafer moves back and forth beneath the lenses, as the light for patterning switches on and off. Smith’s technique can impart a single pattern to the entire surface of a 6" wafer. The lenses and light patterning method can switch pattern from wafer to wafer.

Smith founded a company, called LumArray, to commercialize his system. The firm has sold one machine to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and is delivering another to the Defense Microelectronic Activity.

Martin Schmidt, a professor of electrical engineering and associate provost at MIT, is making MEMS by depositing metallic nanoparticles on a substrate via ink-jet printing. The "rudimentary MEMS structures" Schmidt has created "have functionally the same behavior as MEMS formed using conventional techniques." Vladimir Bulović’s laboratory is investigating low-cost methods of manufacturing MEMS by stamping patterns into plastics.

Research at MIT is also going into shared MEMS fabs and retrofitting of older chip manufacturing facilities. Jacob White, the Cecil H. Green Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has worked on CAD systems for MEMS. White notes that IC designers have such complete CAD and simulation tools available, that their 1st attempt at fabricating a new device is likely to work. This kind of assurance in MEMS design and development could enable higher production yields on MEMS devices, and component designs that are better tailored to the processes available at particular manufacturing facilities.

Learn more about MIT’s MEMS work via these links:
Martin Schmidt:
NanoStructures Laboratory:
Luis Fernando Velásquez-García:
Computational Prototyping Group:

Courtesy of Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office.

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