Report from Hilton Head 2014 Solid State Sensors, Actuators and Microsystems Conference

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By Eric Levy-Meyers on behalf of MEMS Industry Group

Greetings from the Hilton Head 2014 Solid State Sensors, Actuators and Microsystems Conference. On June 8, I attended the optional Sunday Workshop: Frontiers of Characterization and Metrology for Micro- and Nano-Systems organized by Michael Gaitan of National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and sponsored by MEMS Industry Group (MIG), who gathered a great group of speakers to address this topic.

NIST organized this session for the second time at Hilton Head. This program is designed to facilitate the process of improving the standardization of testing and standards that started at MIG’s Member-to-Member (M2M) Forum in 2010 and led to the NIST/MIG report “MEMS Testing Standards: A Path to Continued Innovation.” It was apparent from the interactions that the industry has realized that cooperation in the precompetitive space of testing and characterization must increase to allow the industry to grow and innovate.

At the Micro-Nano workshop at Hilton Head there were eight fascinating talks followed by a very lively panel discussion about the challenges and issues in MEMS characterization and testing. A few of the juicy conclusions are below. For all the details, be sure to subscribe to MEMSBlog so you can access later this week to get the whole report, which should be ready later this summer (free and available for anyone to download).

Key issues discussed include: 

  • Manufactures and users always find ways to use, and sometimes damage, MEMS devices in ways no designer or tester could predict. An example was a “blow out the birthday cake candles” Smart Phone application that had users blew into the microphone. Well, it took a while to link the app to damaged microphones (whoops).
  • Testers are not the bad guys – but they can deliver results people do not like to hear. But the faster people listen, the faster the devices can be fixed. In fact, “fail fast” can be a good approach to getting the best product out the door the fastest.
  • Since testing of MEMS devices leads to discovering novel failure modes, testing, failure analysis, manufacturing and design teams should be in close and continuous contact, especially in high volume systems.
  • The fact that customers always want devices that have more features and are faster, smaller and cheaper, leads to huge pressure on testing which never seems to have enough time to get ready for production.
  • New device types often require custom testing equipment and procedures, but over time, as these devices become more common, testing can be standardized.
  • It is easy to rely too much on tools instead of engineering intuition. There is no substitute for real world experience.
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