The world’s first “Lab-in-Fab” initiative is now welcoming applications for customers, thus opening its doors to a new way of creating piezoelectric MEMS. Announced in October 2020, “Lab-in-Fab” is an 8-inch (200 mm) ST manufacturing facility in Singapore with a twist. Indeed, it also houses the A*STAR research institute and the Japanese manufacturing-tool vendor ULVAC. Together, we combined R&D and high-volume manufacturing capabilities so engineers could bring concepts to life faster. Companies can benefit from theoretical and practical expertise by having the lab and the fab in one place. The initiative also aims to transform the piezoelectric MEMS market.
Table of Contents
- Understanding Piezoelectric MEMS and the Innovation Challenge
- Discovering Lab-in-Fab as the Driver of Piezoelectric MEMS Innovation
Understanding Piezoelectric MEMS and the Innovation Challenge
Where Are Piezoelectric MEMS?
The world of piezoelectric MEMS is increasingly vast. While most experts think of MEMS speakers and microphones, there are many more applications. Some devices serve as gyroscopes or accelerometers, while others act as micromirrors or particle detectors. There are also piezoelectric MEMS used for infrared detection. Indeed, exposing lanthanum-doped lead zirconate titanate (PLZT) to infrared, for example, leads to a change in temperature that then generates an electrical charge. Consequently, there are a lot of fields of research that still need considerable work, and Lab-in-Fab offers a unique opportunity to break new ground.
What Are Piezoelectric MEMS?
To understand the challenges behind piezoelectric MEMS, managers, and decision-makers must grasp what they are. At their core, they are micro-electro-mechanical systems that take advantage of the piezoelectric effect. The latter describes the generation of an electrical charge when applying mechanical stress on certain materials and vice versa. According to the Bhugra and Piazza textbook1, the first thin-film piezoelectric resistor dates back to 1981 and used zinc oxide. Today, most piezoelectric MEMS use lead zirconate titanate (PZT) chemical deposition. The material enabled the creation of smaller devices compatible with micromachining. Today, the most common applications are in audio markets with piezoelectric transducers in MEMS microphones, for instance.
What Are the Challenges Inherent to Piezoelectric MEMS?
If piezoelectric MEMS aren’t new, they remain particularly challenging to make, which slows their adoption. As devices get smaller, designers sometimes struggle with the signal-to-noise ratio. Engineers must also ensure that their system works flawlessly regardless of temperature or other environmental fluctuations. Similarly, coming up with MEMS that can stand the test of time is just as tricky. In a nutshell, piezoelectric MEMS still face some steep challenges if they are to become even smaller and more cost-effective. To find the correct answers, the industry will need material research and important manufacturing optimizations. Hence, Lab-in-Fab is a unique solution because it brings all the actors working on these problems under one roof.
Discovering Lab-in-Fab as the Driver of Piezoelectric MEMS Innovation
A Direct Path to High Volume Manufacturing
Having ST, A*STAR, and ULVAC together means that clients can work with a broader range of experts. Moving from R&D to production will be easier. Similarly, optimizing high-volume manufacturing, which is a vital issue in this field, will also be more straightforward. Too often, industry actors work with educational institutions at a very theoretical level. As a result, too few papers ever get a chance at high-volume production and real-world applications. Lab-in-fab tackles this issue by offering a direct path to high-volume production.
The Need for Greater Flexibility
Additionally, Researchers devise new tools or ideas all the time. Unfortunately, too often, they don’t have the equipment or facilities for testing them. Lab-in-Fab brings a unique way to experiment. Similarly, the project offers significant flexibility by enabling some clients to use Lab-in-Fab only to solve specific challenges. We are, therefore, committing to be as flexible as possible to help engineers overcome new issues rather than be tied to infrastructure.
The Desire for Better Opportunities
We are already in talks with several companies to take advantage of Lab-in-Fab. We do not have any dates for high-volume production yet, but we will keep updating this blog post. We are also thrilled to work with a partner looking to use piezoelectric MEMS in AR and VR applications. Indeed, Lab-in-Fab is already trying to make glasses and headsets more comfortable for very long periods, thus opening the door to a viable metaverse experience. It is currently possible to apply to join Lab-in-Fab. At this point, ST, A*STAR, and ULVAC are looking for companies with the expertise to take advantage of this initiative.