PORTLAND, Ore. Bringing microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) into mainstream manufacturing has been the goal over the last two years for Surface Technology Systems, which created a family of plasma etch and deposition tools to speed the process.
STS (Newport, England) said its "Pro" tools lower the cost-per-wafer of MEMS designs for volume production, by streamlining the use of anisotropic deep etched structures in silicon. "We have 70 percent of the market now, but we didn't want to rest on our laurels," said Andrew McQuarrie, STS's business development director and general manager of its U.S. Operations.
"That's why we've spent the last 20 months creating a plasma system that will enable MEMS devices to be fabricated in a volume production setting. Even in this down market, demand for our MEMS fabrication equipment has remained steady."
Market researchers In-Stat recently backed STS's optimism with estimates that worldwide revenues for MEMS devices would grow at a 17 percent rate between 2003 and 2007, counting all micromachined devices including accelerometers, gyroscopes, optical gratings, spectro-photometer slits, microactuator-, microfluidic-, micromotor- and microturbine-components.
If inkjet printer heads and nanoscale thin-film hard disk heads are added, STS said, MEMS could generate a 45 percent compound annual growth rate in unit volumes over the next two years.
Though primarily aimed at MEMS deviceswhich STS expects to move from "technology driven" applications to mainstream automotive, aerospace and consumer devicesSTS's tools can also fabricate compound semiconductors and optoelectronic devices for fiber-optic networks and wireless communication devices.
STS said old-fashioned engineering and two key patents for deep-trench etching account for its success. One patent covers
"notching" and the other "parameter ramping." As a result, its 20-month engineering effort succeeded in simultaneously optimizing etch-rate, -throughput, -quality and -reproducibility along with costs, STS said.
The company claims that in a volume production setting its plasma etch and deposition systems can manufacture complex MEMS devices that simultaneously optimize trench profiles, surface smoothness, uniformity and selectivity.