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Microfabrication Engineers

The Job

According to the MEMS and Nanotechnology Exchange, “microelectromechanical devices can vary from relatively simple structures having no moving elements, to extremely complex electromechanical systems with multiple moving elements under the control of integrated microelectronics. The one main criterion is that there are at least some elements having some sort of mechanical functionality whether or not these elements can move.” The main components of microelectromechanical systems include microsensors, microactuators, microelectronics, and microstructures. Engineers and technicians use microfabrication techniques such as microlithography, thin film deposition, doping, patterning, etching, bonding, and polishing to create MEMS. (To learn more about the components of MEMS and microfabrication techniques, check out Introduction to Microfabrication, by Sami Franssila.)

Microfabrication engineers work closely with technicians to design and build a variety of microelectromechanical systems that improve the quality of our lives. For example, microfabrication professionals in the renewable-energy industry recently developed a solar cell that adds four semiconductors in two layers (as compared to the traditional single wide-spectrum semiconductors used in solar cells). Each of the four semiconductors absorbs energy from different parts of the light spectrum, and together they convert sunlight to energy at a more efficient rate than do traditional technologies. Although this new technology is currently not cost effective, engineers are working to reduce production costs and eventually bring this technology into widespread use.

In the medical field, microfabrication engineers have developed biosensors, systems that convert a biological signal into an electrical one (in order to alert scientists and engineers to a medical issue in a patient). Examples of biosensors include microfabricated blood pressure biosensors and blood glucose biosensors.

In the automotive industry, microfabrication engineers have designed pressure sensors for fuel-injection systems, micro-mirrors in video projection systems, and sensors for airbags.

Microfabrication engineers and technicians work in many industries—ranging from aerospace and telecommunications to healthcare, consumer goods, and automotives. As a result, their duties vary significantly. Here are some examples of basic duties of engineers regardless of their industry:

  • Devise microelectromechanical systems production methods, such as integrated circuit fabrication, micromachining, and lithographic electroform modeling
  • Conduct experimental or virtual studies to investigate characteristics and processing principles of potential microelectromechanical systems technologies
  • Conduct harsh environmental testing, device characterization, accelerated aging, and field trials to validate devices, using inspection tools, peripheral instrumentation, testing protocols, and modeling and simulation software
  • Develop formal documentation for microelectromechanical systems devices, including quality-assurance guidance, quality-control protocols, data collection, process control checklists, or reporting
  • Develop or file intellectual property and patent disclosure or application documents related to microelectromechanical systems devices, systems, or products
  • Create schematics and physical layouts of integrated microelectromechanical systems components or packaged assemblies consistent with process, functional, or package constraints
  • Develop customer documentation, such as training manuals, performance specifications, and operating instructions
  • Oversee operation of microelectromechanical systems fabrication or assembly equipment, such as handling, singulation, assembly, soldering, wire bonding, or package sealing
  • Refine final microelectromechanical systems design to optimize for target dimensions, physical tolerances, or processing constraints
  • Supervise technicians and technologists engaged in microfabrication research or production
  • Conduct engineering studies and product evaluations to support new products
  • Troubleshoot and solve problems with microelectromechanical systems.