Noteworthy in MEMS and Nano

Integrated Sensing Systems, Inc. (ISSYS, www.mems-issys.com), has won a Small Business Innovation Research contract from the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Armaments Command. The six-month project, titled "Microlubricity Test System for Fuel Evaluation," aims to develop a new sensing system capable of quickly and accurately measuring fluid lubricity using MEMS technology patented by ISSYS. Similar MEMS technology from ISSYS has already been used to produce density, specific gravity, and chemical concentration meters.

Lubricity testing is used extensively to evaluate motor oils and low-sulfur diesel fuels. Variations in lubricity lead to premature engine wear and failure. Conventional methods of testing can take several weeks and cost more than $25,000 for full analysis. According to Dr. Douglas Sparks, executive VP, ISSYS can measure lubricity in minutes for much lower cost, and uses thousands of times less liquid than previous techniques.

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SolidWorks Corp. (www.solidworks.com), supplier of 3D mechanical design software, has joined forces with Microfabrica Inc. (www.microfabrica.com), an innovator in microdevice fabrication, and MOSIS (www.mosis.org), a leader in low-cost integrated circuit prototyping via multi-project runs. The partners now offer a new service, called EFAB Access (www.efabaccess.com), which promises to facilitate quick and economical design and prototype of 3D MEMS and microdevices.

EFAB Access is based on Microfabrica's technology for manufacturing complex 3D microdevices by depositing many metal layers. The service allows the use of 3D CAD software to design and manufacture MEMS and microdevices as part of a single solution.

It promises to enable creation of "true 3D" devices (using materials such as nickel and copper in addition to silicon) in at least four times as many layers as traditional MEMS processes allow. EFAB Access leverages MOSIS's multiproject run fabrication process, which aggregates multiple, typically unrelated projects from multiple designers on the same wafer for economy.

Accelrys (www.accelrys.com), provider of modeling and simulation software for nanotechnology, has formed a nanotechnology consortium scientific advisory board, including academic experts in the areas of nanotechnology, chemistry, computational physics, and engineering. The goal of the consortium is to accelerate the development of software tools that enable the design of nanomaterials and nanodevices, as well as close the gap between scientists and engineers.

European manufacturer of MEMS-based custom components, TRONIC'S Microsystems (www.tronics-mst.com), has opened an office in San Francisco headed by its new North American director of business development, MEMS industry veteran Ariel Cao. Establishing a U.S. presence is part of the TRONIC'S strategy to work alongside its customers from the design stage onward.

The North American MEMS market saw steady growth in 2004, with products moving toward production across a broader number of applications, from industrial instrumentation to biomedical equipment. "In 2004 we witnessed more announcements than ever before by end-use customers about the integration of MEMS into their products," says Marlene Bourne, formerly senior analyst with market research firm In-Stat/MDR. "Gyroscopes and bioMEMS applications are poised for growth, [and] are part of [the] TRONIC'S target market of custom components."

One reason MEMS are not yet considered mainstream or fully commercialized is packaging. Packaging issues continue to plague the industry, and many people believe that answers can be found in the realm of wafer level packaging (WLP). Bance Hom, symposium chair for the MEPTEC conference (www.meptec.org) is one of them. "There are so many common skill sets and cross-linking packaging technologies that are easily translated into both arenas," she says. "It seems obvious that tying the common links together will enhance the progression and agendas for both technologies.

As an example, she points to plating, traditionally a back-end operation in IC packaging that is now fully integrated into the MEMS front end, fulfilling purposes as functional device designs, sacrificial layers, etch resist, and more.

MEPTEC's goal is to address issues that will enable MEMS and WLP to help each other.

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