Thursday, November 12, 2009

HP reveals highly sensitive accelerometer

Helett Packard has revealed a new accelerometer based on a novel design claiming it can sensure motions far more sensitively than competitors devices. The sensor can measure down to 100 nano-g per root Hertz and is based on a capacitive sensing principle.

In standard sensors using capacitve sensing, the distance between the electrodes of a capacitor is changed thereby changing the capacitance. In this design two arrays of small electrodes seperated by a fixed gap are used. External acceleration changes the overlap of the electrodes, hence changing the capacitance.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

6-axis MEMS-based Intertial Measurement Unit

Austria based SensorDynamics has recently presented a low-cost 6-axis IMU.
The unit measures angular rate and acceleration in all three spatial directions and contains a continuous self-diagnosis capability.
The IMU has total dimensions of 23x32x22 mm with an angular rate resolution of as low as 0.0039 Degree/s/bit and an acceleration resolution of as low as 0.002 m/s^2/bit for measurement ranges of 100 Degree/s and 2g respectively.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blood vessel energy harvester

Recently professor Zhong Lin Wang from the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech have recently demonstrated a novel energy harvester.
Blood flow or the contraction of blood vessels inside the body are used to create energy using piezoelectric harvesting.

[Link to research group]

Trees as batteries

A topic slightly off topic in this blog, but I think it is really cool.
Do you remember the experiment we probably all did in school where you stuck two metal-rods into a lemon to create electricity.
At first sight this sounds fairly similar is based on completely different principle however.

Voltree has developed a method utilizing the pH difference between the inside of the tree and the soil to create electricity. They use this to power remote sensor nodes which form a wirless mesh network in order to monitor remote forests.


Panel discussion about Energy Harvesting

I just came across a video of a panel discussion about energy harvesting including loads of remarks about MEMS harvesters. Amongst the group discussing are representatives of Perpetuum, TI, and EnOcean.
Very interesting to watch as it includes a lot of information about where the harvesting industry has come to by now, what is possible and where things are going.

[Link to Video]

Saturday, April 18, 2009

MEMS inertial measurenemt unit in new Wii-controller

Apparently Nintendo plans to unveil a new controller for the Wii-console containing a 2-axis gyroscope.
This is attached to the current sensor (containing a 3-axis accelerometer) extending its sensing capabilities.
With the help of this InvenSense IDG-600 gyroscope the controller is essentially turned into a 5-axis Inertial Measurement Unit.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

iSuppli webinar MEMS Outlook 2010

iSuppli will hold another free MEMS webinar named:
"Global Economy Fumbles, MEMS Stumble: Recovery Outlook for 2010".
I think the name says it all.

This will take place on the 22nd of April at 8:30 PDT.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New MEMS Timing device

California-based company SiTime has recently presented a MEMS-based timing device, a Voltage Controlled MEMS Oscillator (VCMO)

Combined with an ASIC containing a phase-locked loop, the device provides:
  • Frequency between 1 and 110MHz
  • Pull ranges of ±30 PPM, ±60 PPM, ±120 PPM or ±240 PPM
  • Operating voltages of 1.8V, 2.5V, 2.8V or 3.3V
  • Frequency tolerance of ±25 PPM, ±30 PPM, ±50 PPM and ±100 PPM

Monday, March 30, 2009

Newest Energy Scavenging Approach

For quite a while the idea of powering mobile device using energy harvesting has been around.
The main problem with this so far has been the small power that could be generated with these harvesting circuits.
Some researchers have now presented a new approach that might make this more feasible in the future. It is based on piezoelectric zinc-oxide nanowires aound 2-3 um in diameter.
Due to their small dimensions these nanowires promise a power generation per volume significantly higher than achieved with current techniques.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

MEMS-based fingerprint sensors

A new ultrasound-MEMS-based fingerprint sensor has recently been presented by a company called Sonavation.

They claim the "Sonic Slide 3000" is the worlds thinnest fingerprint sensor with superb accuracy and low power requirements.
The sensor is based on a piezoceramic array with an imaging zone of 9.6mmx0.4mm creating a 256 shade geryscale image of the finger.

The applicaiton maybe questionable, with more and more fingerprint-based applications all around us, but the technology is rally interesting as there could be lots of other applications for it.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Yole publishes Overview of Top 30 MEMS Manufacturers 2008

Yole has recently published a preliminary overview of the top 30 MEMS manufacturers for 2008.

One of their main conclusions is that the financial crisis effects each MEMS device and hence each manufacturer differently. The more mature and closer related to the automotive sector a MEMS device is the bigger the impact.

Even though, Bosch seems to have done pretty well moving up to 4th place.


Monday, March 23, 2009

MEMS Clusters in Germany

I have been looking at a couple of MEMS clusters, especially in Germany lately and realized that they exist pretty much all over the country.
Many of the clusters have a kind of "one-stop-shop" approach to attract more customers.
  • MST-Cluster, in Bavaria, southern Germany, with around 50 members
  • MST-BW, with a total of 5 member companies in southwestern Germany
  • MSTBW, in southwestern Germany with around 45 members
  • Fanimat, with around 20 members near Jena in eastern Germany
More to follow

Saturday, March 21, 2009

MEMS company listing by the MIG (MEMS Marketplace)

MIG (The MEMS Industry Group) has started a new web-portal called "MEMS Marketplace",
an online portal that will serve as a matchmaker for companies in the entire MEMS supply chain, from material suppliers to OEMs.

This certainly sounds interesting as it could make life for people in the MEMS and related businesses much easier to identify suppliers, potential collaborators etc.
At the moment the directory however is rather US-centric with only a couple of non-US companies in the directory and it only lists companies which are members of the MIG.
This will likely put potential users of the portal off as in fact it does not cover the entire MEMS supply chain, but only a small part of it, namely only companies willing to pay to be included in this directory.

In conclusion: Great idea, but opening the portal to non-MIG member-companies would in my opinion greatly benefit the directory.


MEMS sensor for explosives

A new method to detect explosives below their explosive limit has been developed by the University of Tennessee, ORNL, and the Technical University of Denmark.
It uses a thin silicon cantilever with integrated trackes used to both heat the cantilever and measure it's heating profile.
As the temperature profile depends on the nature of the materials condensed onto the cantilevers and is significantly different for explosives and non-explosives, it can be used to identify explosives.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

iSuppli webinar for automotive MEMS sensors

On the 2nd of April iSuppli will hold one of their monthly webinars, this one looking at the automotive MEMS sensor market.
These webinars tend to give a short but good overview of the respective areas.

The Perfect Automotive Storm: How Will Sensor Makers Ride it Out?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

MEMS sensors for Food Inudstry

It's interesting to see that MEMS sensors are now also being picked up by the food industry for
  • Vibration monitoring
  • Pipeline integrity sensing
  • Electronic nose
  • Magnetic sensors
  • and many more
MEMS are entering more and more markets and in the not too distant future we are likely to see them in every aspect of our life.

Link to article

Monday, February 16, 2009


LIGA is an acronym for the German ‘Lithografie Galvanoformung Abformung’, meaning lithography, electroplating and injection-moulding, as these are the three steps usually involved in the process [2][3].

In the 1980s, a demand for non-silicon structures with high aspect ratio started to arise. In this context a technique called LIGA was invented at the German Kernforschungs Zentrum Karlsruhe (KZK) [1], allowing for the manufacture out of polymers, metals and ceramics of micro components in almost any lateral geometry and structural height. Originally used for the mass production of micro-nozzles for uranium enrichment the technique was quickly adopted by many users for numerous applications.

For the LIGA technique a polymer (photo-resist) sensitive to X-radiation is patterned by the shadow thrown by a special photo mask placed in the beam path. An exact image of the absorber structures on the mask is thereby transferred on to the photo-resist. The areas hit by the radiation change their molecular structure becoming either more or less resistant against certain liquids than the unexposed areas. The area with the lower chemical resistance can then be dissolved selectively by wet chemical methods. If the exposed areas are dissolved, the photoresist is called a positive resist, if the unexposed areas are dissolved, a negative resist. Due to the high energy and parallelism of X-rays, structures with aspect ratios of up to 500 can be produced. Structures with structural details in the area of 0.2 μm have also been reported, owing to the high accuracy with which X-ray masks can be produced and the wavelength of the radiation of 3 – 4 Å [5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13].

To produce the necessary X-radiation very expensive set-ups called synchrotrons are used. These consist of a several meter long ring structure in which electrons are accelerated. When reaching a certain velocity the rotating electrons emit X-rays perpendicular to their circular flight path. The emitted radiation is highly collimated and by placing an X-ray mask and substrate into the beam path, the mask structures can be transferred onto the substrate.

As a synchrotron is rather expensive equipment, the production of polymer or metal structures with this technique is not economical for mass production. Therefore a modified method utilizing UV-radiation instead of X-ray radiation, called UV-LIGA has been invented and was first reported by Lawes and Zheng. UV-LIGA has since found a wide range of users throughout the world [4]. The only difference to X-ray- LIGA is the use of a UV light-source instead of a synchrotron, which makes the technique much cheaper and allows for research by a broader group of researchers.

Standard LIGA process. a) Thick photoresist is used to create a positive image of the intended parts. b)A moulding master is produced using electroplating, c) Multiples negatice of the master are produced using a moulding process.


  1. J. Mohr, P. Bley, M. Strohrmann, and U. Wallrabe, "Microactuators fabricated by the LIGA process," Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering, vol. 2, pp. 234-241, 1992.
  2. E. W. Becker, W. Ehrfeld, G. Krieg, and W. Bier, "Method for producing seperating nozzle elements," US 4351653/1 ed. USA, 1982.
  3. J. V. Collins, A. S. Pabla, and C. W. Ford, "Preliminary results on the use of LIGA in an optoelectronics application," Lasers and Electro-Optics Society Annual Meeting, pp. 42, 1998.
  4. Z. Cui and R. A. Lawes, "Low cost fabrication of micromechanical systems," Microelectronic Engineering, vol. 35, pp. 389-392, 1997.
  5. J. V. Collins, A. S. Pabla, and C. W. Ford, "Preliminary results on the use of LIGA in an optoelectronics application," Lasers and Electro-Optics Society Annual Meeting, pp. 42, 1998.
  6. E. W. Becker, "Development of the seperation nozzle process for the enrichment of uranium," German Chemical Engineering, vol. 9, pp. 204, 1986.
  7. E. W. Becker, "Entwicklung des Trennduesenverfahrens zur Uran- Anreicherung, Development of Nozzle Separation Process for Enrichment of Uranium," vol. 58, pp. 284, 1986.
  8. W. Ehrfeld, P. Bley, F. Gotz, P. Hagmann, A. Maner, J. Mohr, H. O. Moser, D. Munchmeyer, W. Schelb, D. Schmidt, and E. W. Becker, "Fabrication of Microstructures using the LIGA Process," Hyannis, MA, USA, pp. 11, 1987.
  9. E. W. Becker, W. Ehrfeld, P. Hagmann, A. Maner, and D. Muenchmeyer, "Fabrication of Microstructures with high aspect ratios and great structural heights by Synchrotron Radiation Lithography, Galvanoforming, and Plastic Moulding ( LIGA Process)," Microelectronic Engineering, vol. 4, pp. 35, 1986.
  10. W. Ehrfeld, F. Gotz, D. Munchmeyer, W. Schelb, and D. Schmidt, "LIGA process: sensor construction techniques via X-ray lithography," Solid-State Sensor and Actuator Workshop, 1988. Technical Digest., IEEE, pp. 1, 1988.
  11. W. Menz, "Microactuators in LIGA technique," vol. 2, pp. 281, 1992.
  12. W. Menz, W. Bacher, M. Harmening, and A. Michel, "The LIGA technique-A novel concept for microstructures and the combination with Si-technologies by injection molding," Micro Electro Mechanical Systems, 1991, MEMS '91, Proceedings. 'An Investigation of Micro Structures, Sensors, Actuators, Machines and Robots'. IEEE, pp. 69, 1991.
  13. A. Rogner, J. Eicher, D. Munchmeyer, R. P. Peters, and J. Mohr, "LIGA technique - what are the new opportunities," Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering, vol. 2, pp. 133-140, 1992.

Introduction to MEMS

MEMS is the acronym for Micro Electro Mechanical Systems, an engineering discipline concerned with devices whose critical device dimension is in the micrometer range. The word "MEMS" is used to refer to both the discipline as well as the actual devices, wich are also commonly known as MOEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems), emphasising an additional optical component, MST (Micro Systems Technology) and micromachines.

MEMS Design

Designing MEMS devices requires multi-disciplinary knowledge including mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering, and physics representing the different aspects of the devices.

Spider mite on mirror assembly.
Courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories, SUMMiT™ Technologies,

Differences between the micro- and the macro-world

Imagine you have a box filled with several glass marbles. Now you give the box a good shake and place it on a table. When opening the box now, where would you expect to find the marbles? Well, our everyday experience tells us, they will be on the bottom of the box.
Now imagine we use the same box but replace the glass marbles by tiny ones with a diameter of several micrometer (the thousandth part of a millimetre). Now we close the box again and give it a good shake. When opening the box now, where would you expect to find the marbles?
On the bottom again?
This is where our macro-world experience mislead us. The marbles would be equally distributed on each surface of the inside of the box, sticking to bottom, side-walls and the lid. This is due to the fact that when reducing the size of a body to micro-dimensions the gravitational force becomes more and more unimportant compared to other forces acting on the body.
More specific, the gravitational force being a volumetric force scales with L3, whereas surface forces like the electrostatic force scale with L2. This means when reducing the dimensions of a body by a factor of 1000, the gravitational force is reduced by a factor of 1000-3 = 10-9 whereas the electrostatic force is reduced by 10-6.
Therefore, the weight of a body can be neglected in almost all instances when dealing with MEMS devices, except in special devices such as accelerometers.
The other major differences when dealing with the world of MEMS are
  • Surface tensions, which causes surfaces to stick together and is a common critical failure for MEMS devices.
  • Mixing of fluids is very difficult on a micro-scale as most fluid flows are laminar rather than turbulent. Special designs are required to mix two substances.
  • The stability of manufactured structures. When looking at MEMS devices often they look as if they can impossibly survive, such as bridges which are just 0.5 um thick, 40 um wide and 1000um long. (In the macro world this would equal an unsupported bridge 0.5 m thick, 40 m wide and 1 kilometer long, which would collapse at once due to its weight).
When designing a MEMS device one needs to be well aware of these differences and the underlying physics for the devices to perform as intended.

Courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories, SUMMiT™ Technologies,

MEMS Manufacture

Manufacture Processes

Most of the MEMS manufacturing technologies where originally developed from existing semiconductor manufacturing processes. Over the last 20 years, these have been adopted to meet the specific needs of MEMS devices.
In general MEMS manufacturing technologies can be divided into these categories:
  • Bulk micromachining, the first MEMS manufacture technology, in which the Silicon wafer is etched to create structures such as groves , bridges and apertures with near 90 degree sidewall angles.
  • Surface micromachining, which uses predominantly additive processes using the Silicon wafer as substrate. Devices formed using surface micromachining tend to be considerably thinner than bulk or HAR devices.
  • High aspect ratio micromachining (HAR) combines some of the aspects of both surface and bulk micromachining . A process which is commonly associated with this technology is the DRIE-process (Deep Reactive Ion Etching), w hich allows for silicon structures with extremely high aspect ratios through thick layers of Silicon (hundreds of nanometers up to hundreds of micrometers). This is achieved through a cycled etch process in which the deposition of a passivation material on the sidewalls of the etched material and the actual etching process alternate.
  • LIGA process, in which a thick photoresist (up to several mm thick) is used to create a shape over a seed-layer. (Examples of commonly used photoresists are SU-8 and PMMA.) This shape is then filled using an electroplating process. After removing the photoresist, the remaining metal-shape is used as a master for a moulding process to create large amounts of negatives. Several versions of the LIGA process exist: X-Ray LIGA, UV-LIGA and Laser-LIGA which use X-radation created in synchrotrons, ultraviolet radiation and laser radiaton, respectively.
  • Specialised processes for niche applications.
More detailed information on MEMS manufacture processes can be found under: MEMS Manufacture


Compared to a CMOS circuit in which only electrical signals are fed into and out of the system, the packaging of MEMS devices is far more complex. Depending on the type of MEMS various types of inputs and outputs to the system are required (electrical, mechanical, acceleration, fluids, gases, radiation etc.) which are usually custom to that particular device. Therefore standardisation of packaging solutions is considerably more difficult than for ASIC devices. For this reason a considerable amount of the costs of a MEMS device is spent on the packaging of the device rather than the manufacture of the actual device.


In general MEMS can be divided into two major groups, sensors and actuators:


A large number of sensors based on MEMS technology is already commercially available, and new and improved sensors being in development.
The major MEMS based sensors currently on the market are:
  • Accelerometers
    Used to measure acceleration, originally mostly used in airbags and recently integrated into gaming interfaces to allow improved motion control and into mobile phones for screen-rotation, improved GPS functionality etc. The use of acceleromters in consumer electronic devices is expected to maintain the status of accelerometers as the most important MEMS device.
  • Pressure sensors
    Used for example for tyre pressure monitoring.
  • Gyroscopes
    Used for picture stabilization in digital cameras.
  • Gas flow sensors
  • Remote temperature sensors
  • and many more


A large number of possible actuation principles are being used in MEMS devices some of them inverse effects used in sensors, some used solely for actuators. Amonst the commonly actuation principles are: electrostatic, thermal, piezoelectric and magnetic.

Suggested further reading

Due to the fast-changing nature of the field of MEMS, up-to-date information and the latest developments on any particular fabrication process or type of MEMS device usually needs to be gathered through extensive literature reviews including research publications, press releases etc. However, the following books give a foundation on the undelying principles, fabrication techniques and device classes.

  1. Fundamentals of Microfabrication: The Science of Miniaturization,
    By Marc J. Madou, Published by CRC Press, 2002, ISBN 0849308267
  2. The Mems Handbook,
    By Mohamed Gad-el-Hak, Published by CRC Press, 2002, ISBN 0849300770
  3. Microsystem Technology,
    By Wolfgang Menz, J. Mohr, Oliver Paul, Published by Wiley-VCH, 2001, ISBN 3527296344
  4. Microsystem design
    By Stephen D. Senturia, Published by Springer, 2000, ISBN 0792372468
  5. Wikipedia article on MEMS