STMicroelectronics and partners have established a lab-in-fab for work on Piezoelectric MEMS inside an existing ST factory in Singapore.
The lab is designed to help speed up the development of volume production of Piezo MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) for use in medical, 3D printing and augmented and virtual reality. Piezo MEMS are currently in the proof of concept stage.
The first wafers on the new process are due in mid-2021 with volume production forecast for the end of 2022, according to ST.
The lab will be a new clean room within ST’s Ang Mo Kio campus in Singapore where process scientists and engineers will work. ST’s partners include A*STAR Institute of Microelectronics, a research institute in Singapore, and ULVAC, a Japanese manufacturing-tool vendor.
Their work is to set up and operate an 8-inch wafer R&D production line focused on Piezo MEMS. IME experts that are knowledgeable in Piezo-MEMS device design and system integration will contribute tools for a smooth product flow.
ST said the lab-in-fab approach will help customers more easily go from a feasibility study to product development and high-volume manufacturing.
Piezo MEMS actuators may be used in new technologies such as MEMS mirrors for smart glasses, AR headsets and LiDAR systems, as well as Piezo micromachined ultrasonic transducers for new medical applications and Piezo heads for commercial and industrial 3D printing.
Piezo-based components have been used for decades to build actuators or sensors out of bulk piezo materials. More recently, innovations in process manufacturing have allowed the MEMS industry to design and make products at the much smaller wafer level, using thin piezo films. This has led to work on more miniaturization, with subsequent improvements in performance and lower cost.
Piezoelectricity is an electric charge that accumulates in certain materials such as crystals, some ceramics and biological materials such as bone and DNA, according to Wikipedia.
The term literally refers to electricity that results from pressure and latent heat. Piezo comes from the Greek word for “to squeeze or press.” French physicists Jacques and Pierre Curie discovered piezoelectricity in 1880. Piezoelectricity is currently used as an ignition source in cigarette lighters and push-start propane barbecues, and as an amplification pickup in some guitars and triggers in modern electric drums.
Lead zirconate titanate crystals will generate measurable piezoelectricity when their structure is deformed under pressure by just 0.1%.
ST, headquartered in Geneva, celebrated its 50th anniversary of working in Singapore in 2019. Also in 2019, ST opened a new 8-inch wafer fab facility there. ST employs 46,000 workers and is the largest European-based semiconductor maker. It ranked 8th in the world in 2019 with revenues of $9.5 billion.