MEMS and Manufacturing:
How Tiny Microelectromechanical Systems are Sparking Innovations in a Big Way
Don’t you mean ‘memes’?
For technology that has revolutionized manufacturing as well as nearly every industry, the term ‘MEMS’ sure gets autocorrected a lot. But, no, we are not talking about those videos or images widely spread on social media. We are talking about something equally ubiquitous, something physical but generally hidden or even invisible to the naked eye.
Spelling it out
While the long form of MEMS – Microelectromechanical Systems – does not exactly roll off the tongue, it does say what it means.
Let’s break it down:
Micro – It’s very small
Electro – It has electrical components
Mechanical – It has mechanical components
Systems – The tiny components work together to make huge things happen
In Europe and Japan, MEMS are referred to as microsystems technology (MST). While less specifically descriptive, it means the same thing: technology used in manufacture of miniscule integrated (part of a larger product) devices made up of both mechanical and electrical parts.
We are now several generations into a world that is run by microelectronics. The integrated circuits of microchips have not only made computers faster and cars safer, they have also been key to miniaturization. We have them to thank for portable and handheld electronic devices, including cellphones.
Technically, MEMS falls under the same umbrella as microchips. They are even fabricated using the same method: micromachining batch production. They make things faster, smarter and more reliable. And, as we’ve mentioned, they’re very, very small.
How small is small?
Some MEMS are ‘large’ enough to be measured in millimeters. For context, a millimeter is approximately the size of a single dot you’d make with a sharpened pencil.
The smaller MEMS are measured in micrometers and the smallest is only one micron – meaning you could fit several into a single red blood cell. Once you wrap your head around that, you can imagine how much smaller their components are.
Electronics and moving parts
The mechanical aspect of MEMS gives them a major advantage over simple microchips. These are what enable devices to interact with users as well as the outside world. Mechanical parts, including levers, valves, springs, channels, gears, pumps and mirrors, receive, interpret and react to a number of physical stimuli, including:
- Light beams
- Sound waves
- Magnetic fields
The electric and mechanical bits send signals to one another. They may be connected to and communicate with other systems either within the same device or over the internet. They may have processing power or contain software, in essence making them miniscule computers.
Where are MEMS found?
Everywhere. In places as small as microsurgical equipment, as large as factories and everywhere in between. They have long been used in the automotive industry and in consumer electronics. Countless MEMS products make your smartphone smarter – from their touchscreens to microphones to fingerprint and facial identification.
They are a mainstay in Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices. They monitor the health of patients, warehouse inventories, city infrastructure and air quality and issue alerts when something is in danger of going wrong.
Who loves MEMS?
Let’s start with consumers: As of 2020, the global MEMS market was worth just under $11 billion, reflecting a hunger for ever smaller, smarter, faster and more powerful personal, home and industrial devices – all of which require a growing number of ever more sophisticated MEMS sensors and actuators.
Our voracious appetite for such technology shows no signs of abating. Even conservative estimates believe that by 2026, MEMS market value will be $18.9 billion while others place that number at $38 billion by 2028.
This is great for manufacturers as well because who doesn’t love a high-growth product market? Furthermore, MEMS fabrication is highly scalable and result in extremely low per-unit costs.
What else do manufacturers like about MEMS? They make their engineers very happy.
Freedom to innovate
Low risk, low cost and really, really, small, MEMS remove a lot of constraints from the design process. Whether they are improving new products or designing a brand-new device, Engineers count on MEMS to:
Create entire complex systems, packing a staggering number of functions into a small space
Be more reliable than if the system were assembled from individual parts.
Be more durable and resistant to external forces such as vibrations or shocks that could damage or unbalance systems built with discrete components.
But it takes a village
The combination of electronics, mechanics and potential applications of MEMS means the success of new products hinges on collaborative design. Such a team will include mechanical, electrical and production engineers, but also engineers whose specializations relate to the specific product. For example, software engineers, chemical engineers, aerospace engineers or environmental engineers.
The right combined technical expertise and the infinite possibilities that MEMS provides enables manufacturers to take innovation to brand new heights.
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About Providence Enterprise
Providence Enterprise is a Hong Kong medical device contract manufacturer of Class I and II medical devices with manufacturing in China & Vietnam. We specialize in electro-mechanical assemblies and high-volume disposables. We are FDA registered and ISO 13485, ISO 14971, ISO 14001, ISO 27001 certified. Our capabilities include fabricating tooling for silicone rubber and injection molded plastics, clean room injection molding, electronics, clean room assembly, and sterilization.