Startup develops MEMS process for regular chips

A Barcelona-based startup claims to have developed a way of building micromachined sensors and switches using conventional fab processes rather than the specialised and expensive methods used by conventional MEMS devices.

Baolab’s NanoEMS uses the metal wiring that is normally applied to chips in CMOS fabs to form its MEMS elements instead of building the switches and other moving elements using dedicated processes. The technology uses a novel sensor design and developed etch chemistry to release the moving element after a chip has been constructed in a conventional CMOS fab.

The intermetal dielectric holding the sensor elements is etched away after openings are made in the passivation layer deposited by the foundry using hydrochloric acid vapour. This can be done using standard fab tools. After etching, the holes are sealed and the chip packaged. Doyle said a key advantage of the technology is that the technology does not demand specialised packaging in the way many conventional MEMS parts do.

“We have solved the challenge of building MEMS in a completely different way,” said Dave Doyle, Baolab’s CEO.

The company aims to start off by selling RF switches and motion sensors into the cellular handset business but is considering a later move to license aspects of the technology for use as part of a foundry process.

Baolab said it has successfully created MEMS devices using standard 0.18µm processes on volume 8in-wafer lines. Doyle said the company plans to have engineering samples of the first commercial devices by the end of the year.

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