Micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) are an emerging technology which uses the tools and techniques that were developed for the Integrated Circuit industry to build microscopic machines. These machines are built on standard silicon wafers.
Many different types of professionals, such as biologists, chemists, physicists, and engineers, are involved in the research and development of these complex devices. Micromachines can be a wide variety of different mechanisms, such as fluid channels, gears, engines, tweezers, and mirrors – all smaller than the width of a human hair. So, what are these micro-devices used for? Well, many of them are creeping into our everyday lives, in places where you may not expect them.
Although micromachines look incredibly complex and difficult to build, the manufacturing process is simple. They are built similarly to everyday machines, that is, one piece at a time. For example, to build a micro-engine or a micro-transmission, each gear, arm or bracket can be fabricated separately, and then put together to form the device.
These micromachines do have their disadvantages. Since they are so small, they are very difficult to fix, and they can sometimes be hard to work with. Also, a micromachine fabrication facility is very costly to set up. Millions of dollars of equipment is needed to build a state of the art fabrication facility, and since many companies cannot afford this, usually facilities are created as a joint venture between industry and government. Overall, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, and this is reflected in the burgeoning micromachine industry.