Science / Technology
Research group’s breakthrough can enable advanced sensors for robots to be 3D printed
”The new capabilities could result in a new paradigm in MEMS and sensor manufacturing,” says KTH Royal Institute of Technology professor and researcher Frank Niklaus.
11 Oct 2022

Chip-based microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) are machines that are most often produced in larger quantities for electronic products such as smartphones and cars, where they provide positioning accuracy. However, when manufacturing a specialized sensor for, for instance, an aircraft or industrial machinery, the volumes are often smaller which requires costly customization and results in a higher price.

— The costs of manufacturing process development and device design optimizations do not scale down for lower production volumes, says Frank Niklaus.

He and his team at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm have found that a new 3D printing technique enables the manufacturing of around a dozen of custom-designed MEMS accelerometers in only a few hours. And, it only requires relatively inexpensive commercial manufacturing tools, also reducing the cost. Except for smartphones and cars, the technique can also benefit motion and vibration control units for robots, industrial tools, and wind turbines.

The technology is called two-photon polymerization which, for the first time, makes it possible to produce small objects — down to a few hundred nanometers in size — in a high resolution. 

— This is something that has not been possible until now because the start-up costs for manufacturing a MEMS product using conventional semiconductor technology are on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars and the lead times are several months or more. The new capabilities offered by 3D-printed MEMS could result in a new paradigm in MEMS and sensor manufacturing, Niklaus says, adding,

— Scalability isn’t just an advantage in MEMS production, it’s a necessity. This method would enable the fabrication of many kinds of new, customized devices.

The results have been published in Nature Microsystems & Nanoengineering.