Small but powerful

Micro electromechanical systems are the current big thing

By Zoë Smart

MEMS (Micro electromechanical systems), were invented in the 1980s and have been used for years by the car, computer and medical industries as well as for industrial applications. Now, thanks to falling cost and size, they are also being incorporated in consumer electronics.

rcjEnergyHarvest University Michigan http __bit.ly_NextGenLog.kjDW
MEMS are microscopic machines

Present in a multitude of industries

MEMS are effectively microscopic machines that vary in size from under one micron to several millimetres. They generally contain an electrical component that processes data and a mechanical one that acts in response to that data. 

Today, MEMS can incorporate functions such as gyroscopes, pressure and motion sensors, accelerometers and altimeters making them indispensable for consumer electronics ranging from remote controls and smartphones to pico-projectors and printers.

They are also transforming mass data storage, by providing ever tinier solutions for disk drives and servers. In the car industry MEMS accelerometers are increasing the reliability, and safety, of airbag systems. In the medical sector their preciseness and size allows them to be used as chips inserted under patients’ skin and built into scalpels for use during operations. The list of applications seems endless.

Ensuring MEMS are well-designed and safe

IEC SC (Subcommittee) 47E: Discrete semiconductor devices, and SC 47F: Micro-electromechanical systems, prepare International Standards that facilitate the design and manufacture of sensors and MEMS. The testing methods they devise allow manufacturers to build reliable and safe micro electromechanical systems that can be used worldwide.

rcjEnergyHarvest University Michigan http __bit.ly_NextGenLog.kjDW MEMS are microscopic machines
MP160C pico-camera 3M MEMS They are being used extensively in consumer electronics such as this pico projector (Photo: 3M)
MEMS_airbag The car industry is also making use of MEMS to improve vehicle safety