Electronic Design

Expanding Partnership Moves MEMS Toward Commericalization

The commercialization of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) is increasing. Just take a look at Microcosm Technologies Inc. of Cary, N.C. Three more companies have joined its MEMS Manufacturing Partnership Program—Applied Microengineering Ltd. of Oxfordshire, U.K., Exponents Inc. of Natick, Mass., and Teledyne Electronic Technologies Inc. of Los Angeles, Calif. Along with the other charter members, these outfits will contribute specific MEMS capabilities and proficiencies to the program.

This expansion is an important development. MEMS designers who want to bring a product to market now can tap into the complete expertise of companies that specialize in wafer design and fabrication, reliability analysis, modeling and simulation, packaging and testing, and production. With a growing number of emerging markets for MEMS devices, MEMS designers need all the help they can get to reliably and cost-effectively bring their products to market on time.

Under the agreements, Microcosm will create design and development kits that will incorporate its software capabilities with process, reliability, and packaging information provided by the relevant partners in the program. MEMS designers, then, will be able to use the resulting bundled development solution.

Engineering design kits will include Microcosm's MEMS-optimized Catapult design environment, which is fully integrated with the company's latest MEMCAD software release. After that, Microcosm will offer prototyping kits that will bundle the design kits with a guarantee of prototyping or preproduction manufacturing services for a designated number of devices, wafers, or tests from the manufacturing partner (see the figure).

Applied Microengineering will provide design process information. Exponent will supply reliability data, and Teledyne will provide assembly, packaging, and testing expertise. Two original members—the Defence and Evaluation and Research Agency of the U.K., and Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, N.M.—were chosen for their prototype-fabrication experience. Standard MEMS Inc., Hauppauge, N.Y., another charter member, will offer its knowledge of higher-volume fabrication.

"We're enabling the access to the back-end manufacturing part of our partners," explains Jeff Hilbert, Microcosm's vice president of Professional Services.

This program has been driven in part by a lack of more-market-focused standardization efforts in MEMS designs. Many MEMS manufacturers produce specialized devices for automotive, medical, and computer-peripheral markets, like optical MEMS products, automotive sensors, and ink-jet-printer structures. Today's emerging and "hot" applications include telecommunications systems, photonics, biotechnology, inertial systems, and defense applications (see the table). The end-to-end processes involved in designing all of these products do not lend themselves to standardization of the process flow, unlike conventional ICs like logic and memory devices.

The company has already worked with several customers within the program, helping them reduce their overall development time and costs. "We're trying to at least take one prototyping cycle out of the average design, from the wafer and mask stages through packaging and testing," Hilbert notes.

One of the biggest problems facing MEMS designers is the lack of a commercially available database of failure analysis information. "The problem that the MEMS community has is that failure modes in MEMS devices aren't those associated with larger devices," explains Stuart Brown, principal and director at Exponent. "The physics don't change, but the failure modes do. There's plenty of data for large-scale failure modes but not for smaller-scale devices like MEMS."

Exponent hopes to build a database of failure modes for MEMS devices. This database then will be used in the partnership program. "One can do a better job of failure analysis by carefully studying and understanding the failure modes of the materials used in MEMS devices being designed. Such failure modes are largely unknown," Brown comments.

Packaging is another vital issue. "About a year ago, we obtained a license from the Georgia Institute of Technology on MEMS packaging," explains Dick David, director of Teledyne's Microtechnology Center. "This has allowed us to offer a broad range of packaging services for relatively small as well as larger volumes. We've been in the custom-packaging business for a long time, for relatively demanding applications like aerospace and biomedical uses. Through this partnership program, we can offer any MEMS package for small and large volumes, with a two-week turnaround time, if the package outline fits one of the 13 outlines found in our catalog."

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