Microsystems Technology (MST or MEMS) utilises the processes developed for the mass fabrication of electronic "chips" to fabricate a wide range of 3-dimensional structures and devices.
The majority of MST devices are based on the use of silicon or SOI, but they can also be fabricated in materials ranging from quartz to electro-formed metals and plastics. Devices are most commonly a few square millimetres in size with a feature resolution around 2 microns.
MST is still in it's infancy. CAD design and simulation tools are gradually becoming available. There is an increasing collaboration between CAD vendors, Design Houses and, more particularly Foundries. The most intractable modelling problem is the lack of accurate information on the physical characteristics of thin-film materials. Steps are underway to produce standardised "drop-ins" to assist in characterisation of process steps and materials.
There are large numbers of organisations able to design MST devices, some of whom can also produce prototypes. The number of companies able to follow this through to full manufacture is rather limited.
The European Commission has invested over $90 million in the Europractice programme to establish a network of Competence Centres and Design Houses and to encourage major suppliers to open-up their MST foundries to external users. Major MST manufacturers are being encouraged to make their design rules more widely available and there are now several companies offering to combine designs on multi-project wafer (MPW) runs. Additionally there are several very large national programmes providing a plethora of capabilities and facilities.
The market size is very large. MST is currently being used in the manufacture of sub-miniature sensors and actuators and also fluidic and optical components. The current largest value market is for ink-jet printer and hard disk drive heads.
The predicted world-wide market for (the smallest
saleable part) of products based on MST usage is
expected to exceed $100 billion
by the year 2010. Medical and bio-chemical applications are predicted
to be the largest emerging markets, although the telecomms (optical
switching) market is expanding rapidly.