EDMONTON, Alberta -- Micralyne Inc., a micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) foundry, is starting a research program in plastic MEMS for biological and medical applications with a value of about one million Canadian dollars (about US$720,000). Micralyne has been awarded a contribution from the National Research Council Canada's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) worth about one quarter of total.
The program is due to last 18 months and is intended to build up expertise in the area of plastic and hybrid MEMS, to complement Micralyne's work in silicon, glass and ceramic-based devices.
"For bio-analytical and microfluidic applications we have traditionally used glass as the substrate material", commented Chris Lumb, president and chief executive officer of Micralyne. "While glass is appropriate for multiple-use, high value added devices, it is expensive and the technology is maturing."
"In general, the use of plastics can provide a lower cost solution for many MEMS applications in the bio-analysis field. It is particularly appropriate for the emerging need of consumable parts that can be used for a single analysis", Lumb added. "We recognize that our customers want to lower their material costs and using polymers instead of glass can do just that."
Last year Micralyne announced that it is acting as foundry of BioMEMS for Massachusetts Institute of Technology spin-off MicroChips Inc. of Bedford, Massachusetts (see September 3, 2002, story)
Micralyne operates a wafer fab bought out from the University of Alberta in 1998 and capable of processing 4-inch and 6-inch diameter wafers of silicon and glass. "Although we run wafers we are frequently asked to work with unusual substrate shapes," said Lumb.
"We have grown and been growing profitably throughout those five years and I think we are only fab in the world that can say that," said Lumb. "We're about a $10 million (Canadian, about US$7 million) annual sales company
The polymer/plastics development program is set to focus on manufacturing methods using polymer-based substrates, which in turn will serve as the foundation of MEMS-based components. Micralyne is also negotiating with major bio-analysis tool companies to introduce the use of polymers in their product lines.
"Plastic substrates have great appeal for microfluidics, diagnostic tools, for reducing component cost. Glass may be good for reusable, low-to-medium volumes in the 100s to 1000s but disposable plastic MEMS open up many markets
Micralyne's MEMS solutions include sensors for automotive applications lab-on-a-chip devices and optical switch systems and one of the ways it expects to work with plastics is to micro-machine molds in glass, ceramic or silicon which can then be used to make plastic parts at much finer critical dimensions than is usual from injection molding.
Lumb said that working with multiple materials and hybrid MEMS is likely to become widespread and is something that Micralyne is well positioned to adopt because of experience with MEMS packaging.
"With conventional MEMS we do the packaging ourselves, and it is often unique to the application and the product," Lumb said.
Lumb said that the research program would concentrate on Bio-MEMS partly because of a need to concentrate resources to make progress, and partly because biological and medical applications were very well suited to plastics and already make up about 30 to 35 percent of the company's sales.
"We are already working with a couple of companies right now on plastic Bio-MEMS. We're hoping to expand that in co-operation with the program. It is important to validate these research activities with real customers," Lumb said.