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Course Recommendations
(These materials are for non-commercial educational use only. If copied for that purpose, a
courtesy email to [email protected] is requested)
The tutorials presented will not, by themselves, constitute courses. That requires
additional work depending on the depth of the various topics and the background and
experiences of the instructor(s). The tutorials are intended to serve as the skeleton of a syllabus
for several courses. Depending on the expertise and background of individual instructors and
the level of laboratory facilities, the tutorials are useful for further development into courses in
scaling, lithography, micrometrology, and micromechanical machining. Aspects of the tutorials
have also been used as supplementary materials for courses in traditional machining analysis,
heat transfer and fluid flow, precision engineering, metrology, robotics and automation, and
capstone design projects.
The following course syllabi have been taught in roughly the manner shown and have
proven to be successful from student feedback and recruitment.
Introduction to the Microscale (can be a technical elective, general education science
elective, or an introductory graduate course depending on the level of materials
Learning Objectives - Students will be able to:
Estimate the performance or behavior of systems or phenomena when the
macroscale dimensions are reduced to the microscale
Predict the optimum dimensions of a component which must interact with
a phenomena; what is the optimal degree of scaling to maximize performance,
sensitivity, influence, etc?
Identify and describe the basic fabrication and measurement technologies
used at the microscale and how they can interface with the macroscopic world
Establish basic design parameters and restrictions for several classes of
microcomponents (sensors such as chemical, optical, magnetic, etc; actuators such
as piezoelectric, magnetostrictive, thermal bi-morphs, etc)
Historical development of the semiconductor industry and a similar development of
microsystems. Many materials are available on the decrease in size of integrated circuits
and how microprocessors are being integrated into consumer products.
Progression in scale of mechanical components from the early Swiss watch industry
through precision machining for defense programs. The development of
micro-mechatronics and MEMS from the early 80's. Many aspects of 1 and 2 can be
found in the popular literature and the web.
Consequences of scaling with applications which are student-driven. Typical
assignments are for students to take constitutive relationships from their own areas of
interest and produce the scaling equations. From this, they estimate the advantage of
shrinking the hardware to the microscale. Then, given the same scaling approaches, they
describe the advantages and problems associated with their suggested methods for
fabricating their proposed components or systems.
A general introduction to how things are measured at the microscale. Because this
course is intended to be a survey, topics are introduced which inspire interest and
imagination. The technique for “measuring” atoms by a scanning tunneling microscope
is quite simple, in concept. Most universities have a scanning probe microscope of some
sort, or a scanning electron/transmission electron microscope which can be demonstrated
to show how measurements are made with instruments operating with other than light
and linear scales.
A general introduction to machine tool kinematics and how difficult it can be to
accomplish micrometer-scale precision. A general discussion of thermal errors also
helps provide added insight. Simple lumped mass or finite element models can be
incorporated here to model and predict mechanical distortion due to thermal, static, and
dynamic influences. The goal here is to instill an appreciation for the headaches of
working at the microscale.
One particularly useful endeavor, and one which depends on the specific institution, is to
have faculty from engineering and the sciences give a one-period guest seminar on how
their research utilizes the microscale. If the faculty also have specific laboratories, have
them plan a one-period demonstration. There are many overlaps among the life sciences
and engineering approaches to working at the microscale.
Many engineering and science students have heard of and are surrounded by
microtechnologies, but know little of the capabilities, limitations, materials, manufacturing
processes, or integration of them. This introductory course is intended to provide an
appreciation of those factors.
Introduction to Lithography (senior technical elective or graduate course depending on
the level of materials presented).
This course requires some hardware and supplies, but they can be compromised and still
get good results. The purpose is to teach the processes and not develop a particular
micro-component or system. The course also introduces the chemicals and handling precautions
used in lithographic fabrication.
Learning Objectives - Students will be able to:
Identify and describe the basic fabrication steps and equipment used for optical
and x-ray lithography
Develop a process plan for the fabrication of microstructures by
lithography and etching
Establish basic design parameters and restrictions for several classes of
microcomponents (sensors such as chemical, optical, magnetic, etc; actuators such
as piezoelectric, magnetostrictive, thermal bi-morphs, etc) based on lithographic
Know the basic hazards of working with process chemicals, how to deal
with safety hazards, and proper disposal of spent chemicals
Introduction to lithography via a photographic darkroom. Many students are familiar
with the concept of black and white photography. The similarity helps introduce
lithography and puts many of the specialized terms into a more commonly used context.
Introduction to silicon as an engineering material. Kurt Peterson’s paper and the more
recent literature, especially on the web, allow students to get a good understanding of the
material with which they will be working, how it is made and processed, and how it is
integrated with other materials in microsystems and packages. This is not to say silicon
is the only material with which to do lithography but access to an x-ray source for DXRL
is probably not possible. “Low aspect ratio” optical lithography can be compared with
DXRL and the limitations various high and low aspect ratio resists can be compared
Lithographic simulation software is also available. A web search will turn up the
commercial vendors of such packages.
The laboratory component of the course can be as simple or sophisticated as the
equipment allows. Small quantities of resist are normally available from suppliers
(again a web search will quickly locate the suppliers). A crude resist spinner was made
from a surplus variable speed motor with a maximum speed of 2400 rpm. A wafer
chuck was a simple aluminum plate attached to the motor shaft. Relatively low
resolution masks can be made using a high resolution laser printer and overhead
transparency film. A more sophisticated approach may be found
A UV exposure lamp may be made from an old EPROM eraser and this requires some
experimentation to get the exposure time correct. Resist bakes can be performed on an
ordinary hot plate. Development of the resist can also use a hot plate and glass beakers.
Ordinary chemical fume hoods are very useful for these process steps. The labs can be
advanced to etching, dicing, packaging, etc depending on equipment availability.
Universities with more advanced capabilities typically have students design and fabricate
some sort of microsensor or actuator. These lab procedures are admittedly crude, but are
useful for students to understand the sophistication required of modern microlithography.
Introduction to Micrometrology (undergraduate elective in engineering, science, or
technology or a graduate course).
The goal of this course is not to train students in the use of micrometrology equipment
but rather a knowledge of the equipment available, its basis of operation, physical limitations,
and most importantly the analysis, presentation, and skepticism of metrology data. As with a
calculator or computer, students are too ready to accept results from any computer-driven
instrumentation without interrogating the data or instruments.
Learning Objectives - Students will be able to:
Describe the operating principles of scanning electron microscopes,
scanning probe microscopes, interferometric measurement systems, and the
inherent advantages and disadvantages of each
Estimate the performance of metrology systems given the principles of
operation and the operating environment
Perform analyses in the spatial and frequency domains to identify
processing characteristics and errors
Apply principles of statistics to sets of metrology data to determine
instrument biases, repeatability, and significance tests to variations in processes,
particularly micromechanical machining
Conventional metrology should first be introduced for students to re-acquire the
important concepts of significant digits, repeatability, statistical distributions in a series
of measurements, and the importance of calibration and standards. This introduction can
make use of ordinary scales, machinist’s calipers and micrometers, dial indicators, etc.
The important aspect here is to get the students in the habit of first questioning
measurement results, and then accepting them after careful scrutiny.
Statistical significance testing can be introduced and experiment design used to
investigate importance and interactions of variables associated with metrology. For
measurements with good micrometers or dial indicators, the variables include
temperature, operator bias such as compression of the sample by the micrometer,
cleanliness of the micrometer heads, resolution of the readings, and of course whether the
operator wears a hat or not. If a statistical approach is taken, the null variable should be
included to see if the process is biased or random.
Introduction to metrology parameters include part variables such as squareness, flatness,
orthogonality, parallelism, perpendicularity, etc. Micrometrology can go well beyond
simple surface roughness.
Introduction to roughness parameters such as average, root-mean-square, and
peak-to-valley. Students typically write a small program to accept an input data set of
horizontal and vertical data points. The program will calculate the three roughness
variables. This does not require any type of actual metrology instrumentation. If it is
available, so much the better. As a follow on, students write small programs to do a fast
Fourier transform, to calculate the spectral density, and the autocorrelation function.
This demonstrates the importance and advantages of working in the frequency domain
over the spatial domain. Because parts made by machines, lithography, etc where the
process can have a subtle periodic nature, this helps students identify the source of the
periodic errors or variations based on the frequency content and relative amplitude among
those frequencies.
After the basics are well founded, the course can then introduce the hardware and
methods for micrometrology. Most campuses have a scanning electron microscope and
this can be demonstrated after the basics of operation have been explained. A good
understanding of the theory of scanning electron microscopy will enable students to
better understand the images they acquire and the validity of the metrology the
instrument gives them. This is one instrument where students must learn to question the
Additional micrometrology instruments may be available for demonstrations.
Many/most campuses have a scanning probe microscope for demonstrations. Many
campuses have a laser or white-light interferometric microscope, confocal microscope,
stylus instrument, or other specialized metrology tools. These can also include
coordinate measuring machines. Here there flexibility in the course is based on the local
Introduction to Micromechanical Machining (senior technical elective or graduate
course, the students should already have had a course in conventional manufacturing
processes and/or machining analysis).
The purpose here is to compare and contrast true machining at the microscale with that at
the macroscale, and to introduce the advantages and limitations of the processes.
Learning Objectives - Students will be able to:
Describe the advantages and disadvantages of micromechanical machining
compared to other microfabrication techniques and when each is the most
appropriate fabrication technique
Estimate the resulting feature sizes, surface finish, tolerances, and time to
machine based on micromechanical machining
Predict the machining forces, stresses induced in the cutting tools and
work piece, and life of the cutting tool
Establish basic design parameters and restrictions for several classes of
microcomponents (actuators such as piezoelectric, magnetostrictive, thermal
bi-morphs, etc)
Most undergraduate mechanical engineering students take a course in conventional
manufacturing where metal cutting processes are introduced and analyzed. Depending
on the level of analysis performed on the forces encountered in metal cutting, students
may need some introductory material on modeling the metal cutting processes (turning,
milling, drilling). There are several excellent references including Boothroyd and
Knight’s Fundamentals of Machining and Machine Tools, and DeVries’ Analysis of
Material Removal Processes, for example. It is important for the students to have a
general understanding how the various machining parameters (speed, depth of cut, rake
angle, etc) affect the machining forces because at the microscale the parameters are more
difficult to identify, visualize, and quantify.
Because machining takes place with machine tools, the factors which influence the
machining precision and the ability to machine small features are introduced. Machine
tool kinematics share most of the basic characteristics of orthogonal robots so
homogeneous transformation equations between coordinate systems is a valuable tool to
help quantify machine tool work envelopes, coupled errors, and vibration. Associated
with this are the many sources of machining errors which are given in the “Overhead
Text” section following the syllabi. This portion of the course is probably the most
important because it is applicable at all scales.
Each micromachining process is introduced and the machining parameters are identified
and compared with the macroscale. Diamond machining is introduced first since its
geometry is the least complex. The primary differences between diamond machining
and conventional turning is the depth of cut, sharpness of the cutting edge, and relatively
low material removal rate. Also, at this point the machinability of various materials by
diamond is covered.
The next more complex geometry is micromilling, but it is still relatively simple because
of the use of straight cutting edges. Forces are modeled, stress in the tool is analyzed,
and forces on the work piece are also calculated. Methods to fixture the work piece in
the presence of the cutting forces are also covered.
The final metal cutting process covered is microdrilling. While not as complex as twist
drills, micro-spade drills have sufficient geometric complexity to introduce oblique
machining. While not covered in depth, oblique machining is compared to orthogonal
machining in terms of the additional force component and its affect on the machining
Given time, other micromechanical processes can be introduced such as microEDM and
laser micromachining.
This course must have a laboratory component and can be as extensive as facilities allow.
Commercial drills and milling tools can be obtained down to a size of 50 micrometers
however use of the tools requires a video microscope system to view the process and also
requires machine tools with smooth and slow motions.
Integration Into Existing Courses
It has been found that integrating miniaturization technologies into traditional courses can
make traditional engineering subjects more exciting and applicable. It provides students with
further examples how the basic principles can be applied and also the limitations of the basic
principles because of certain assumptions made in their development. Each of the following
examples was tried and found to be beneficial and interesting to the students.
Machining Analysis and Introduction to Manufacturing Processes
These courses are normally part of the mainstream mechanical engineering curriculum as
either required or elective courses. In machining analysis, the integration of micromilling and
microdrilling is very beneficial because it shows the strong dependence of local rake angle (at
the cutting edge rather than the gross rake angle of the tool rake face) on the machining forces.
Using a large negative rake angle as is present in micromachining, the traditional equations for
calculating the shear plane angle break down and give a shear plane angle near zero, or even a
negative value. At large negative rake angles, the relative velocity between the cutting tool and
the chip in the feed direction may change sign one or more times reversing the direction of the
friction force on the tool. Investigation of the specific cutting energy approaches show that the
machining forces become very large as the tool strength becomes very small.
Many introductory manufacturing courses deal with forming and removal processes and
may not have time to cover additive processes such as lithography and plating. However, the
time required is minimal for the students to understand the basic advantages and limitations of
the lithographic approaches. Certainly, engine blocks are not made by this process but many
small components such as fuel injector nozzles are routinely made by lithography and plating.
Non-traditional processes such as electrical discharge machining and laser machining are finding
wider acceptance in conventional manufacturing and can be integrated with microscale
applications. Challenges in the design of injection molding dies and cycle parameters abound at
the microscale and can be compared with the process at the conventional scales.
Many curricula offer a course in metrology as a technical elective. Normally the course
deals with the basic quantifiers of surface roughness and this can be extended to the microscale
very easily. If coordinate measuring machines are included in the discussions, measurement
errors due to static deflection and joint feedback resolution can be covered using the
homogeneous transformations used to describe errors in precision machine tools. If time or
resources permits, demonstrations of micrometrology on a scanning electron microscope or
probe microscope give added value to students’ awareness of the spectrum of metrology tools
Heat Transfer and Fluid Flow
All undergraduate mechanical engineering students take a course(s) in heat transfer and
fluid flow. Size is addressed in terms of fins for convection, wall resistance, friction factor,
pressure drop, pumping power, heat exchanger design and performance, etc. These provide
many opportunities for discussion and illustration of how the basic equations apply as the size
scale shrinks. There is still considerable research being conducted to better understand and
predict these microscale phenomena which shows that some of the underlying assumptions used
in the derivation of the macroscale correlations may not be applicable at very small scales.
Surface effects tend to dominate at the microscale and many interesting scaling analyses can help
illustrate this importance.
Capstone Design
Opportunities abound for design projects based around miniaturization. If infrastructure
is in place, realization of the designs may be possible. Where the design is based on
micromechanical machining, larger-scale prototypes can be fabricated and perhaps tested. The
list below is not intended to be comprehensive but illustrates several of the design projects which
have been conducted with success.
Design and realization of a custom 5-way high vacuum cross for an x-ray
micromachining beamline; design was conducted to predict cost of commercial
production, method of actuating internal x-ray mirrors and location of electrical
feedthroughs, determine any physical interferences among moving parts and
structure, physical and electrical integration into existing x-ray beamline.
Design of fixtures to hold parts for micromechanical machining; design was for
generic families of fixtures to hold small wires, gears, shafts, tools, etc which will
be micromachined, fixtures had to induce minimal strain in the work piece yet
provide sufficiently rigid constraint to maintain precision in the presence of
machining forces, fabrication methods were investigated and proposed for making
and testing the fixtures, costs for special fabrication processes were also
Cross-flow micro heat exchanger design; prediction of thermal performance and
pressure drops for a two-fluid heat exchanger with passages on the order of 100
micrometers hydraulic diameter, methods for fabricating and hermetically
bonding the heat exchanger plates together, designs for fluid manifolds, and
design of a testing apparatus.
Counter-flow micro heat exchanger design; prediction of thermal performance
and pressure drops for a two-fluid heat exchanger with passages on the order of
100 micrometers hydraulic diameter, methods for fabricating and hermetically
bonding the heat exchanger plates together, designs for fluid manifolds, and
design of a testing apparatus.
Three-fluid micro heat exchanger design; prediction of thermal performance and
pressure drops for a heat exchanger with passages on the order of 100
micrometers hydraulic diameter and the fluid passages oriented orthogonal to
each other, methods for fabricating and hermetically bonding the heat exchanger
plates together, designs for fluid manifolds, and design of a testing apparatus.
Inspection and quality control at the microscale; vision systems are used for
inspection and part acceptance/rejection in conventional manufacturing and these
methods have been adapted for microscale inspection, part and tolerance
resolution requirements for a video microscope system, system resolution
required for a range of part tolerances, tests to measure geometries such as
perpendicularity, parallelism, radius of curvature, etc.
Other generic projects include; design of reconfigurable injection molding dies
based on computer-controlled micro/milli-actuators, milliscale turbochargers,
milliscale superchargers, milliscale cryocoolers, lubrication oil heaters and
circulators for cold engine starting, engine waste heat recovery systems, etc.