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Nanoelectromechanical Systems Built Using Standard CMOS Might Displace MEMS Sensors

HFSS model of a radio frequency (RF) capacitive switch

As engineers design more products that conform to internet of things (IOT) and radio frequency (RF) trends, they will need reliable and affordable sensors that can fit into their designs.

Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) are the current standard for electronic sensors. However, their size, economy of scale and long development cycles can delay or hinder an engineer’s progress.

To that end, Nanusens, an ANSYS Startup Program member, has shrunk electromechanical systems to the nanoscale.

These nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) are made using the standard complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) production process. Therefore, the facilities that are currently mass-producing circuits will be able to quickly and affordably add a few NEMS sensors into their chips.

As a result, Nanusens is aiming to position its NEMS technology as a disruptive force that will displace MEMS sensors and expedite the expansion of IoT and RF trends.

Nanusens Designed a NEMS RF Switch Actuator that Can Be Built Using CMOS

Scanning electron microscope image of a radio frequency (RF) capacitive switch built using NEMS technology

CMOS is a layer-by-layer production process. As each layer of the semiconductor is etched away, the mechanical structure of the NEMS is revealed.

This metal structure will want to distort under the stresses from the production process. However, Nanusens, developed structures that will not distort under these stresses.

“We are a fabless company, and we have only a few months to turn a design into a product,” says Marc Llamas, vice president of RF-engineering at Nanusens. “So, it’s important to have good tools to model our NEMS before a fabrication run. That’s the reason we use ANSYS simulation software to predict our device’s performance.”

Simulations Help Nanusens Optimize the Performance of Its NEMS Sensors

Nanusens uses ANSYS HFSS simulations to predict RF performance of its RF switches. Key parameters (such as quality factor and capacitance ratio) can be extracted from these simulations results.

Parasitics also play an important role to ensure the RF switches’ required performance. In this case, Nanusens uses ANSYS Q3D Extractor as a reference tool for parasitic analysis.

“As the electromagnetic fields interact with our low-resistivity substrate, we will have signal loss,” adds Llamas. “ANSYS’ electromagnetic models help us to modify designs to reduce this interaction.”

HFSS simulations (red) correlate well with experimental measurements (green) of a RF capacitive switch’s scattering (S) parameter. The S parameter compares the input and output signal of a port on an electrical component.

These simulations enable Nanusens to discover issues with a design early in the development process. This way, they can make changes, run the simulation again and iterate the design until it’s optimized. Simulations expedite Nanusens’ development cycle, which can give them another edge over MEMS sensors in the IoT and RF markets.

If you are a startup, learn how to gain access to ANSYS simulation software by checking out the ANSYS Startup Program.