As the name suggests, microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS, are comprised of electronic, mechanical, and wireless communication components typically housed on a single silicon chip or integrated circuit.
As an alternative, electronic and mechanical components can be housed on separate devices and connected via a “single, multi-chip package.” Using MEMS technology, various electronic, mechanical and electrical devices can be created through microfabrication.
This distinction is important, because traditional integrated circuit (IC) manufacturing only allows for the fabrication of electronic and electrical components.
Examples of each of these components can be found below.
When it comes to MEMS, microsensors and microactuators have taken center stage. These two MEMS components are housed under the category of transducers, which convert one form of energy to another. The microsensors can be designed to capture various physical or environmental characteristics, including pressure, temperature, acceleration, vibration, chemical species, radiation, inertial forces, magnetic fields, and so forth.
The development and application of microsensors have grown considerably over the past several decades with common uses across various industries, such as automotive, pharmaceutical, environmental and manufacturing, to name a few. Common applications in automotive and aeronautical industries include accelerometers, gyroscopes, and navigation systems.
Microactuators, despite their small size, have also demonstrated a variety of useful applications as well as reliable and powerful performance capabilities. Recent applications include “microvalves for control of gas and liquid flows; optical switches and mirrors to redirect or modulate light beans; independently controlled micromirror arrays for displays,” and so much more. In a number of instances, researchers and developers were surprised to find that microactuators performed well at the macroscale level, either meeting or exceeding the performance standards of much larger counterparts.
Advantages of MEMS
Their compact size, reliable and powerful performance capabilities; diversity in applications; and relatively low production costs to produce MEMs devices are the reigning advantages for this technology. For example, the batch fabrication techniques used in the integrated circuit industry can be applied to the manufacture of MEMS devices. Because they are relatively inexpensive to produce, the demand for silicon microsensors is quite high, and the market continues to grow.
While individual MEMS devices are impressive, the technology really shines when more than one component is combined, such as the pairing of microsensors, microactuators and microelectronic structures onto one silicon substrate with integrated circuits. MEMS devices can also be paired with other technologies, such as nanotechnology, which is where the lines between these two technologies really begin to blur.