Analogue, Mixed Signal, LSI

The top benefits of MEMS timing

29 May 2020 Analogue, Mixed Signal, LSI

MEMS (micro electromechanical systems), designed to resonate and generate clocks signals, may not dominate the world of timing applications right now, but the technology’s popularity is growing. Competing with the long-established timing technology based on quartz crystals, the emergence of MEMS comes with significant benefits.

Listed below are the top benefits provided by MEMS resonator-based timing products.


Based on silicon rather than quartz, MEMS technology offers a lower cost and more readily available path toward miniaturisation. MEMS devices take advantage of lithographic techniques, so there is not a practical limit to the size improvements. More specifically, the footprint size and frequency remain independent of one another, whereas a quartz crystal’s size is directly related to the device’s frequency.

Tiny crystals have frequency limits. For example, Abracon’s 1,2 x 1,0 mm ABM13W series has a 32 MHz to 80 MHz frequency range and the 1,6 x 1,2 mm ABM12W series ranges from 24 MHz to 52 MHz. In contrast, similarly small-sized (1,6 x 1,2 mm) MEMS devices deliver a frequency range from 1 MHz to 80 MHz. Frequencies below 24 MHz are common in power supply, wireless charging and connectivity applications.

Abracon’s 32,768 kHz ASTMKJ MEMS solution beats other state-of-the-art tuning fork crystal sizes with an even smaller 1,54 x 0,84 mm footprint. Additionally, Abracon’s latest MEMS family, including the AMPM and AMJM series, is available from 1 MHz to 100 MHz in miniature 1,6 x 1,2 mm, 2,0 x 1,6 mm, 2,5 x 2,0 mm and 3,2 x 2,5 mm package sizes.

Resistance to shock

We’re talking about high shock – like getting shot out of a cannon high shock. You might ask, “Who needs that?”

Immunity to high shock is not just necessary in projectiles. Applications such as industrial process monitoring, handheld power tools, transportation, drones and robotics experience routine exposure to shock and vibration. Any equipment at risk of falling, dropping, impacting repeatedly, crashing at high speeds and experiencing sharp turns or strong reverberations will benefit from MEMS.

The small resonator size means a MEMS device also has low mass, even when compared to a miniature quartz crystal. The small mass induces less force from acceleration and thus allows MEMS devices to keep on ticking.

Stability at wide temperature extremes

Wide temperature extremes, beyond -40°C to +85°C, must be tolerated by equipment in industrial, transportation, automotive and military applications. The stability of an uncompensated quartz crystal tends to diverge at cold and hot temperature extremes.

On the other hand, all MEMS require temperature compensation that will keep a device under control across temperature, even at the extremes. If you are looking for tight stability over a wide temperature range, MEMS timing may be a good option.

Non-standard frequencies

There are hundreds of common frequencies that almost all applications use. However, when a new frequency is required, cutting a quartz blank to the exact frequency may take many weeks of lead time.

During urgent projects, the programmability of MEMS can rescue engineers and help continue their designs. In the meantime, it is possible to pursue production using MEMS devices and then switch back to crystals for volume shipments. The strategy can be handy when accommodating new frequencies during the development and prototyping phase.

Applying technology in the right way, for the right reason, always solves challenges. In many applications, MEMS can provide a space saving option, resistant to shock, with better stability and convenience of quick-turn, non-standard frequencies.


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