What is Surface Micromachining and What is it Used For?

If you’re familiar with science, microbiology and micro-science applications there are many complicated words, surface micromachining, and procedures you’ve heard in relation to the smallest items in the world that are changing the face of science and the face of how we go about our daily lives. But a far cry away from those words are the ones that explain the process of creating those applications and items that are changing the world.

Micromachinery, and MEMS, also known as Microelectromechanical Systems, are both created for scientific purposes through a process called surface micromachining. The simplest method of describing exactly what this process does, however, is to say that the process creates thin and incredibly tiny micromechanical objects and devices on an even thinner layer of silicon substrate or substrate made of other material.

As a part of the field of nanotechnology, this process is important in creating many small MEMS and micromachinery that otherwise would not be able to be created in a fashion befitting practical or even scientific application—this inability to use the technology would be due to cost, but mass production and mass testing with glass and plastic substrates has allowed scientists to test micromachining without wasting resources or funds.

Creating micromachinery and MEMS through the process of surface micromachining is no easy task and requires several layers of substrate and whether those layers are made of silicon or other materials, many layers are still required. In bulk micromachining the substrate may be replaced with glass or even plastic to bring down the costs of production, but in smaller amounts and especially for testing phases, it becomes increasingly important for the substrate using in this process to be made of the high end, more expensive silicon.

Surface micromachining requires between five and six layers of substrate in order to create the micromachinery it so effectively produces. Only the initial layer is truly used in production, while the other four to five layers, including any additional layers, known as sacrificial layers, are in place to help steady the substrate and produce the micromachinery and MEMS but will not actually become a part of the final product.

Surface micromachining is used in a variety of fashions today and in ways you might never imagine. It is present in your daily life more than you might realize. For instance, if you have a flat panel television at home, the screen on your television is made through this process—it is this particular process that gives your flat panel television its ability to produce high quality images as well as last for a long period of time without declining in quality.

In addition to being used in the production of flat panel televisions, surface micromachining is also used in the production of thin film solar cells—these types of cells are often attached to glass to create solar panels. These changes are making solar panels and other items run on the same power and same structure more efficient, longer lasting and especially more reliable.

The most important background on surface micromachining is its ability to make the production of solar cells and flat panels—along with many other items associated with electricity and light—a much less expensive process. This means that not only are the products cheaper to produce but they are also cheaper for the end user, which in the end, has an effect on many industries and the economy as a whole.

Due to the process in which they are created, as well as the general size of the MEMS and the micromachinery that comes from this process, surface machining is generally considered to be a process for the creation of nanotechnology and it is an important method for creating nanotechnologies that can be used not only for scientific application but also for practical application.

While the topic of micromachining especially as it relates to surfaces and its implications for electricity and future changes in that industry and for that resource may be varied, complicated and difficult to fully understand, it is clear that micromachining is changing the everyday face of science and life as we know it.

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