A team at KTH Royal Institute of Technology has developed a new 3D printing technique that could be used to produce customized chip-based microelectromechanical systems (MEMS).
MEMS are mass-produced in large volumes for hundreds of electronic products but for more specialized manufacturing of sensors in smaller volumes, such as accelerometers for aircraft and vibration sensors for industrial machinery, MEMS technologies demand costly customization. This 3D printing technique provides a way to get around the limitations of conventional MEMS manufacturing. The researchers built on a process called two-photon polymerization, which can produce high resolution objects as small as few hundreds of nanometers in size, but not capable of sensing functionality. To form the transducing elements, the method uses a technique called shadow-masking, which works something like a stencil. On the 3D-printed structure they fabricate features with a T-shaped cross-section, which work like umbrellas. They then deposit metal from above, and as a result, the sides of the T-shaped features are not coated with the metal. The method can be used for prototyping MEMS devices and manufacturing small- and medium-sized batches of tens of thousands to a few thousand MEMS sensors per year in an economically viable way.
KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm
With this method, it takes only few hours to manufacture a dozen or so custom-designed MEMS accelerometers using relatively inexpensive commercial manufacturing tools.
The new capabilities offered by 3D-printed MEMS could result in a new paradigm in MEMS and sensor manufacturing in the coming years.