The Washington Microfabrication Laboratory Provides Researchers with an Affordable Way to Create Custom Process Work for Cutting Edge Technology Solutions
Ten years ago, the potential of MEMS to revolutionize semiconductor and advanced materials manufacturing created a buzz among technology researchers. Finding ways to integrate new micro-technologies into commercial operations was at the forefront of R&D efforts worldwide. Access to facilities to conduct novel research and technology development and produce small-runs of prototypes topped the list of entrepreneurs’ needs at the earliest stage of their growth.
Washington Technology Center (WTC), the organization responsible for driving technology-based economic development in Washington State, saw MEMS’ potential and what it could mean for the Pacific Northwest. In 1995, WTC opened a 15,000 square foot Microfabrication Laboratory in Seattle to provide a unique R&D environment for MEMS research.
A new standard of research
WTC’s Microfabrication Laboratory is the largest public Microfabrication facility in the northwestern region of the United States. The lab offers processes and tools for depositing, removing, patterning and characterizing materials at the micron level and serves both academic and industry clients.
In its first year of operation, WTC’s Microfabrication Laboratory client base was about 50 users. As of Spring 2005, the Lab has more than 260 registered users representing 55 university research groups and 44 private industry firms,
from 13 U.S. states and Canadian provinces, and Washington is one of the top regions in the U.S. in MEMS technology. WTC attributes this success to three key selling points:
Affordable Access: The Microfab Lab caters to smaller, innovative companies, providing them with a resource they otherwise could not afford in the earliest stages of their growth. Clients pay a monthly fee for unlimited access to the facility. Part-time and contract rates are also available. Cost savings can be substantial. One client was quoted $600,000 from a commercial foundry fora project. The same process using WTC’s Microfab Lab was $150,000.
Process Control: One of the top selling features of the Microfab Lab is that clients maintain full control of their intellectual property and processes. For companies with emerging technologies, it’s crucial that they have the abilityto do the process development hands-on. Many fabrication facilities can’t or won’t accommodate this type of specialization. WTC’s Microfabrication Laboratory does.
One-Stop Shopping: The Microfab Lab allows users to do multiple, custom processes under one roof. The facility features equipment and processes in the areas of MEMS, Nanotechnology, Photonics and Microfluidics with process capabilities in photolithography, metrology, etching, thin film processing, high temperature processing and back end processing. These comprehensive services prevent researchers from having to contract with multiple labs or foundries which can be costly, time consuming and affect process consistency and control. Professional full-time staff are available to train clients on the equipment and perform contract work.
One client summed it up perfectly when he referred to the Microfab Lab as a functional arm to their company’s research division without the burdens of maintaining their own facility.
The first ten years of the Microfabrication Laboratory’s operations proved a monumental decade in opening doors for new MEMS technologies to enter the market. The Microfab Lab is marking this milestone with a 10th Anniversary Symposium on May 19, 2005 in Seattle. This event will feature presentations on topics related to academic and industry research, an overview of the Lab’s capabilities and tours of the facility, and showcase of lab clients that have successfully launched products out of MEMS research.
The symposium will also look at new opportunities in technology research, including nanotechnology, touted as the next revolution in miniaturization, and how the Microfab Lab will be preparing to be a center of innovation for this new enabling technology.
What Clients are Saying about the Microfab Lab
“Having access to fully-functioning fabrication resources through WTC is enormously valuable to us. The MicroFab Lab offers a controlled environment, which is critical, and we aren’t burdened with building these facilities ourselves or dividing our time among labs that only provide a portion of the functionality. As a result, we were able to move to market faster with a more stable, reliable product.”
– Matt Nichols, Microvision
“It makes economic sense for our company to take advantage of the equipment and resources at the Microfab Lab. The lab provides us with all the tools we need in one location and we can concentrate our capital resources on our company’s growth.”
– Gregg Makuch, Neah Power Systems
“When we go to a commercial foundry, they don’t want to tell us details of the process they are doing. When we’re at WTC, we can know every detail of the process. It’s our process, we own it.”
– Andrea Tombros, PCB Piezotronics
Related WTC links:
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