A Quick Look into Micromachining (and It’s Growing Market)
Contributing Author: Johanna Brito, Marketing Communications Manager
Ever wondered how small 1-500 µm is? To give you a better idea, the average width of a single human hair ranges from 10-200 µm. That’s a VERY small diameter. Now imagine a laser process technology that can make tiny features that width. This process is known as micromachining, an advanced technology that makes micro features in components with dimensions of 1–500 µm using micro fabrication processes. This blog post will talk about the basics of micromachining as well as look into how this market is sparking growth.
How it Works
In laser processing, building a system that encompasses a laser and laser scanning solution fit to deliver high-precision and stability for micro-sized jobs is critical. One of the most common challenges in this application is the complexity that comes with working with systems this size. That’s why precision and ultra-fine levels of accuracy are so important to system integrators.
There are different types of processes used in micromachining like drilling, for example. This process refers to drilling a hole as small as 10 µm on any material achieving smooth edges regardless of the target material. Another process is laser machining and micro milling. Both refer to the process of removing materials to a specific depth, creating features such as grooves, slots and profiles— all done without cutting through the material.
Types of Lasers Used
The most commonly used lasers in micromachining are pulsed lasers as they deposit very small, measurable amounts of energy into a material, resulting in precise material removal capable of replicating throughout a job. It is this energy deposition that enables the laser to ablate, cut, drill, machine or scribe a material.
Typical Material Types
We talked about the different processes and type of laser used in micromachining, now let’s focus on the type of materials. Typical materials are polymers, glass, ceramics, metals, silicon, solar cell wafer, diamond, and semiconductor wafer. Depending on the application and laser, there are various fabrication processes available and they differ in throughput, accuracy and performance. Some examples are:
- Via-Hole Drilling- laser hole drilling on thin materials.
- Flex PCB drilling and trepanning- drilling holes or removing materials on circuits from panels.
- Ceramic hole drilling and shape cutting- for alumina or other ceramic materials to cut or drill any shape or non-linear cuts.
- Conductive film patterning- for flat panel and touch screen display processing, for example patterns of a variety of materials like glass, plastic, ceramics, film, etc.
- Solar cell manufacturing- PERC, SE, drilling, edge isolation and scoring
Key Application Challenges Micromachining Solves
Micromachining and –an even smaller field– nanotechnology are key players in solving specific application challenges like manufacturing micro and compact components ranging from biomedical applications to chemical microreactors and sensors. These two technologies are used in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), referring to technology that allows mechanical structures to be miniaturized and integrated in an electrical structure, forming a single system.
As the market demand for smaller and even more compact devices is on the rise, product miniaturization has become an increasing trend. Thanks to continued technology advances in this field, mass production of micro-sized components designed for micro-and-nano systems has been possible.
The mass production of silicon through micromachining can produce structures inside a substrate, while surface micromachining can make structural thin films on a sacrificial layer for the semiconducting industry.
Increasing market demands in the miniaturization of products and systems have sparked growth in this niche market, forecasting a strong wave of growth for micromachining. According to a report by Optech Consulting, the expected CAGR rate for micro processing from 2017 to 2020 and 2020 to 2025 is projected to increase by 10% and 7% respectively. In 2015 the global market revenue for low power sources for material processing reached $2.9 billion, with micro processing contributing a whopping 51% of that total. These are all strong indicators of micromachining’s progression in years to come.
Whether you are interested in miniaturization and how that effects MEMS or simply curious to learn more about micromachining, one thing is for sure, there is a clear potential for growth in this market. Thanks to micromachining’s advanced technology, manufacturing micro-small systems has helped companies adapt its emerging landscape and drive innovation as well as performance even in the smallest spaces.