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Custom IC Design The Missing Piece to the Medical MEMS Development Puzzle
Keywords: Custom, Design, MEMS
Since the development of the first ink jet nozzles in the 1980s, micro- electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) technologies have steadily expanded from a handful of niche products, to a multi-billion-dollar market with a wide range of applications. Devices such as accelerometers, pressure sensors, temperature sensors, and microphones are now routinely found in the cars and phones that we use every day. MEMS devices are also finding applications within our bodies. Modern implantable medical devices now include pressure sensors to monitor blood pressure, accelerometers to monitor position and activity, and fluid pumps and flow sensors to manage drug delivery. Over the next several years, MEMS products promise to play a pivotal role in the exploding internet of things (IoT) market, where they will monitor our environment and health, and control many of our daily tasks. Due to the unique technologies used to produce MEMS devices, and the diversity of their functions and applications, the electronics required to interface to these devices has thus far defied standardization. Voltage requirements for various sensors and actuators range from less than 1 volt to greater than 20 volts. Microcontroller processing power and memory requirements vary widely across the application spectrum, as do the mechanical and packaging requirements. With such a wide range of requirements, there is no one size fits all approach for the design of MEMS interface electronics. As particular applications grow in popularity, MEMS providers typically offer fully integrated products that include MEMS devices and the necessary interface electronics, with well- optimized features and performance. Automotive pressure sensors and smart phone accelerometers are good examples of that trend. New and unique MEMS- based products, like many in the portable and implantable medical device market, cannot typically benefit from those integrated products. As such, medical product designers are left with the task of developing custom interface electronics to match their new MEMS device. The design of the interface electronics for MEMS-based products is often a complicated puzzle with many diverging requirements. Systems often include a variety of unique MEMS sensors and actuators, microcontrollers, memory, wireless communications, and rechargeable batteries with wireless charging interfaces. Without standardized supply voltages and interface protocols, custom electronics circuits are typically required to make all the pieces of the system puzzle to work together. When designed with standard-product integrated circuits (ICs), the electronics are often excessively large and inefficient. This limitation severely diminishes the remarkable performance and miniaturization offered by the MEMS technology, and thus limits their proliferation. This limitation is particularly evident in medical devices, which in addition to complex integration challenges, present significant quality and reliability challenges. Custom IC design is often the missing piece to the Medical MEMS development puzzle. Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) are custom-designed solely and specifically for the requirements of individual applications. This approach eliminates unwanted features and excessive performance that come at the cost of complexity, power, and size. ASICs allow for various circuits with diverging requirements to be integrated on a single chip, so the overhead space required for multiple packages and interconnects is eliminated. ASICs enable further miniaturization by focusing the design on the unique requirements of advanced packaging technologies, such as system in package (SIP) integration, wafer level chip scale packaging (WLCSP), and stacked chip scale packaging (SCSP). With these advantages, custom IC design enables designers of MEMS- based medical devices to truly optimize the size, power, and performance of a wide variety of novel MEMS-based products. This presentation includes an overview of MEMS devices, and markets, introduces common features and benefits of ASIC technology, demonstrates how ASICs can solve common MEMS development challenges, and summarizes the challenges and results of several real-world projects.
Andrew Kelly, IC/Systems Architect
Cactus Semiconductor
Chandler, AZ
United States

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