Packaging means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Webster’s dictionary defines package as a “group or a number of things, boxed and offered as a unit.”
For my school-age daughters, packaging means figuring out how to maximize the components of their lunch into these bento-box-like containers I bought at Target in hopes that it would simplify their packaging and assembling process (at low cost and decent performance, mind you). Two months into the school year the packaging appears to be weathering extreme temperatures (cold fridge to hot dishwasher), drop-tests (I am sure you need no explanation here) and what I can only describe as a “cram test” (how many Oreos can you fit inside without the box breaking or my parents noticing).
But if you are in the microelectronics/MEMS industry, when you hear the word packaging your mind goes to the various MEMS packages that can contain a multitude of electrical and mechanical components that are inter-connected to the outside world for devices such as MEMS microphones, airbag accelerometers, gyros, RF MEMS and the list just goes on and on.
I had the pleasure to learn more about the challenges and opportunities affecting MEMS packaging at a recent International Microelectronics Assembly and Packaging Society (IMAPS) workshop held in my hometown of Pittsburgh and at my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Presenters included our host, Gary Fedder, CMU’s Director of the Institute for Complex Engineered Systems (ICES); Maarten de Boer, CMU Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering; Brett Diamond, MEMS Development Manager, Akustica; Erdinc Tatar, CMU Graduate Student; and yours truly.
To say that my presentation was different from the others is a gross understatement – I talked about the potential for MEMS and sensors in the expanding world of Internet of Things (IoT) as well as an overview of MEMS/sensors standardization and the proactive role that MEMS Industry Group (MIG) and my partners/members/colleagues are playing in addressing the remaining challenges to commercialization. You can access my presentation on the MIG resource library webpage (no password required).
As the others’ presentations are not posted (at least to my knowledge) I figure I’d give you a quick synopsis of what I learned and heard. Gary basically gave an overview about how amazing and fantastic CMU’s engineering, robotics and computer science departments are and that CMU is now partnering and working with universities and centers around the globe. Literally. They even have two programs going on in China.
Maarten’s presentation on the “Effect of Gas Environment and Materials on Electrical Contact Reliability in Micro- and Nanoswitches” was illuminating as I am somewhat familiar with the work that GE Global Research is doing on RF MEMS switches and am aware of the incredible market potential for this area (I wrote a featured blog on this topic for GE’s “Edison’s Desk” earlier this year). Maarten and his colleagues at CMU are taking this a bit further, by looking into different materials and applications at the nano scale.
Brett’s presentation on “Challenges in the Design, Manufacturing, and Usage of MEMS Microphones” was really impressive as it gave a very in-depth view of the true challenges of packaging a device that by design needs to be open to the environment. No small task and it was equally exciting to hear Brett hint at the future applications and integrations with their MEMS mic’s (I will not repeat them here at the risk of disclosing something I shouldn’t). But let’s just say that the market applications for MEMS microphones are just at the beginning – the potential is really big.
Erdinc’s presentation on “Environmental and Packaging Effects on High-Performance Gyroscopes” revealed why so many engineers love their work in the lab – as they are able to tinker and explore with new materials and processes. It’s another reason why I love my work in MEMS/sensors – because there is still an opportunity for “new science.”
MIG helped sponsor the event by providing snacks (including some great chocolate cookie/pie things that melted in my mouth) for the attendees to enjoy while attending the workshop and to facilitate networking. What I learned at the workshop confirmed what I suspected before – packaging is in the eye of the beholder – and at the end of the day what really matters is that the package is at a cost that is reflective of its application and performance expectations. Therefore, it’s important to communicate those expectations from both the user and supplier’s perspectives.
Packaging means a lot of different things and if done well it can mean the difference between success and failure. Or in my daughters’ case, deciding on how many Oreos to fit into the package before it fails and Mom finds out.