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University of Manitoba Engineering gives manufacturers access to new micro-electromechanical systems, sensor technology

Published by CME Manitoba on September 08, 2017

By Cyrus Shafai , Ph.D., P.Eng., Associate Dean (Research/Graduate Programs), Faculty of Engineering, University of Manitoba


The prevalence of low cost microfabricated systems has opened the door to new innovative opportunities in applied electronics. A diverse array of MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) components are now available. The three major categories are inertial measurement sensors (accelerometers, gyroscopes, etc.), pressure sensors, RF MEMS (amplifiers, filters, switches, etc.), and these are followed by ink jet technologies, microphones, and optical systems. Chemical (liquid, gas) sensors and medical devices are also now seeing rapid development. MEMS components are now finding their way into many products, enabling companies to add new capabilities to existing products, as well as develop new products and new product categories.

Two of the major end product categories using MEMS are vehicles and smart phones. Both now use many MEMS components to provide capabilities that are essential or demanded by consumers. We now expect our smart phones to come with a wide range of sensor and camera technologies. To many of us, highly capable smart phones are essential to our daily routine. The wide application of MEMS in these and other products is due to advances in manufacturing technologies, which now make possible the low cost micro-manufacturing of integrated electrical-mechanical systems. For example, the small camera in the iPhone 7 has over 200 parts, yet costs only about $30. Its optical image stabilization system, that compensates for hand shaking, uses an autofocus system suspended by four wires that are only 40 micrometers wide.

MEMS manufacturing technologies came out of the semiconductor manufacturing industry. Newer technologies, such as inkjet printing, are also making easier their fabrication. While the name MEMS implies “micro”, not all MEMS have microscopic elements. Many sensor systems are now made using the materials processing technologies that were developed to deposit and pattern the thin material layers of MEMS. Many new companies are joining established ones developing new innovative MEMS and sensor systems. Not all make the components themselves. Rather many focus on design, and access fabrication services provided by others.

The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Manitoba has well established MEMS and sensors fabrication capability in the Nano-Systems Fabrication Laboratory (NSFL) cleanroom facility. The NSFL has been used by many research groups and industrial partners to develop new applied MEMS and sensor systems for many applications. Equipment provides a wide array of material deposition and patterning capability, including thin film deposition and etching technologies, laser micromachining, plating, and soon inkjet deposition for rapid prototyping. The facility is open access to outside users and training is provided to help new users access the available equipment. Workshop-style training can be made available for those interested in learning and exploring MEMS and micro-manufacturing technologies.



About the author

Dr. Cyrus Shafai, P. Eng. is the Director of the Nano-Systems Fabrication Laboratory (NSFL), and Associate Dean (Research/Graduate Programs), Faculty of Engineering, University of Manitoba. The NSFL provides sensor and micro-fabrication facilities, and makes available training and expertise to university researchers and industry users.

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