Imported: 13 Feb '17 | Published: 10 Feb '15
USPTO - Utility Patents
A silicon mass flow sensor manufacture process that enables the backside contacts and eliminates the conventional front side wire binding process, and the assembly of such a mass flow sensor is disclosed in the present invention. The achieved assembly enhances the reliability by eliminating the binding wire exposure to the flow medium that may lead to detrimental failure due to the wire shortage or breakage while the miniature footprint could be maintained. The assembly further reduces flow instability from the flow sensor package including the bump of wire sealing. The invented mass flow sensor assembly can be a flow sensor module if the supporting sensor carrier is pre-designed with the control electronics. Without the control electronics, the said mass flow sensor assembly is easy to install into desired flow channels and connect to the external control electronics.
We claim the priority to U.S. provisional application Ser. No. 61/585,908, filed on Jan. 12, 2012.
1. Field of the Invention
This invention relates to micromachined silicon sensors or Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) mass flow sensing technology that minimizes the disturbance around the sensor chip due to the connection of wires. This invention also provides the enhanced reliability that eliminates the sensor malfunction or damage due to the short or destruction of the exposed connection wires between the sensor chip and its carrier. The present invention further facilitates the automation process of the sensor module manufacture. This invention additionally reduces the cost of the sensor module manufacture with the reduction of wire binding of the sensor chip to its carrier and sealing process.
2. Description of the Related Art
MEMS mass flow sensors for gases have been limited to clean and dry gases, partly due to the design limitation of the most available products on market. Previously disclosure by Higashi et al. (Higashi, R. E. et al., Flow sensor, U.S. Pat. No. 4,501,144) teaches us a miniature flow speed device that could be used for measuring gas flow using the calorimetric, thermal mass flow measurement principle. The device is constructed with the MEMS process technology with a footprint of approximately 2×2 mm. The connection pads to the external control electronics are distributed along the edge of the chip front surface. Consequently, the wire connection between the device and the interface has to be exposed to the gas medium resulting in a volatile and fragile nature against fluids that may contain moisture, other conductive dilute mist, and particle, since these materials can lead to a shortage of the wire or even a destruction of the whole device. Further high speed flow pulsed flow may also create unpredictable damages to the connection wires or the devices as a whole. Alternatively, Mayer et al. (Mayer. F. and Lechner, M., Method and sensor for measuring a mass flow, U.S. Pat. No. 6,550,324) teach an integrated MEMS mass flow sensor chip using thermal pile sensing elements and CMOS integrated signal processing circuitry that effectively solve the problem for interface wire exposure and is cost effective. The device has a footprint about 3×6 mm. But the configuration also requires that the electronic control circuitry be effective sealed from the contact of the flow medium otherwise it would at least add large noises and other unexpected instabilities. Hence package of such a design requires the flow medium only passes through the sensing element but not the electronic portion of the MEMS chip that in return places a limit of a fluid channel size within about 2 mm in diameter. Therefore for most of the measurement concerned the flow channel packaged with the sensor chip could be only used for a bypass configuration of the complete measurement unit. This again limited the applications for fluid in a larger pipeline while adding possible pressure loss in the main flow channel in order to drive the gas medium into the bypass sensing configurations. Later improvement using a complicated segregated bypass structure by Ueda et al. (Ueda, N. and Nozoe, S., Flow rate measuring device, US Patent Application 2008/0314140) and Fujiwara et al., (Fujiwara, T.; Nozoe, S. and Ueda, N., Flow velocity measuring device, U.S. Pat. No. 7,062,963) to avoid the clogging of particles in the small bypass channels however did not change the basic package landscape of the bypass configuration, and the complicated channel design might only improves the failure rate of particle impact but the damages due to the presence of the liquid is still an unsolved issue.
In a later disclosure by Hecht et al, (Hecht. H. et al., Method for correcting the output signal of an air mass meter, U.S. Pat. No. 5,668,313) and Wang et al., (Wang, G. et al., Micromachined mass flow sensor and insertion type flow meters and manufacture methods. U.S. Pat. No. 7,536,908), the MEMS mass flow sensor is arranged on an elongated foot print of approximate 3×6 mm and 2×4 mm respectively, such that the binding pads on the MEMS chip front surface that connect with the electronic interface through wires are placed away from the sensing element and the wired interface can be sealed with package sealing materials such as silicone and epoxy. The configuration could then prevent the wire interface from damages due to presence of moisture and impact from conductive substances. Nonetheless, such a configuration shall create an unavoidable scaling hump on the MEMS chip front surface for which the bump shape is usually difficult to control, which would also be undesirable for maintaining the stability for the flow medium passing through the front MEMS chip surface. Further, the package processes of the said prior arts all require the wire binding and/or wire interface sealing process. These processes are both time consuming and might also incur additional reliability uncertainties due to the sealing materials stress release, false soldering during wire binding, as well as leakage of the sealing.
It is therefore desired to have a new MEMS mass flow sensor design such that the final MEMS chip package or assembly of the sensor shall result in a smooth surface for keeping the flow stability as well as for purpose of reducing the process steps such that to enhance the reliability and performance of MEMS flow sensor package or assembly.
It is the objective of this invention to design a process as well as the package assembly for the MEMS mass flow sensors utilizing the thermal calorimetric principle and the sensing elements are placed on the front side of the silicon wafer surface with the supportive membrane made of silicon nitride or polymers. The preferred MEMS mass flow sensor shall be free of the front side wire binding configuration such that the major reliability due to wire failure could be eliminated while the flow instability shall be minimized by eliminating the bumps created by the sealing of the wires interface between the MEMS chip and the control electronics. The invented design shall also maintain a minimal footprint required for the said MEMS mass flow sensors for cost considerations. The process of the said sensor assembly shall further provide the fully automation approaches in order to meet the objectives of manufacturability and flexibility.
In one preferred embodiment, the invented MEMS mass flow sensor and the sensor assembly shall be free of the conventional wire binding process and the complete assembly including the MEMS chip die attachment, connection to the electronic interface and further attachment interface to the flow sensor module could be easily opted for automation in flow module manufacture. The said mass flow sensor shall further be in a miniature footprint for the advantage of cost for massive deployment.
In another preferred embodiment, the invented MEMS flow sensor assembly shall have the mass flow sensing elements on the surface of the silicon wafer substrate, but shall be free from front side wire binding. The sensing elements shall be made of stable metals with large temperature coefficients such as platinum or nickel or permalloy or heavily doped polysilicon materials. The connection from the sensor chip to its control electronics shall instead be preferred to be through the chip backside connection by forming through chip conduction pathways with nominal electrical resistances. The conduction pathways connect the chip front sensing elements to the chip backside connection pads. This configuration or design shall then make it possible to have the connection from the MEMS mass flow sensor chip to the control electronics via the direct soldering of the backside contacts to the pads on the printed circuitry board of the control electronics. Therefore the sensor chip front side wire binding connection is eliminated.
In another preferred embodiment that the MEMS mass flow sensor chip is made on a non-conductive silicon substrate, the formation of the through chip conduction pathways could be done by deep reactive ion etch of the through holes on the pre-arranged or pre-defined area on the sensor chip following by filling the holes with highly conductive materials. Such conductive materials can be formed by filling the holes with metal plating that gradually fills up the pre-defined holes with conductive metals such as nickel or nickel iron alloy. The conductive materials could alternatively be conductive polymers such as polypyrenes or polycarbazoles. In the preferred embodiment that the MEMS mass flow sensor chip is made on a heavily doped or conductive silicon substrate, the formation of the through chip conduction pathways could be done by deep reactive ion etch of the deep trench rings on the pre-arranged or pre-defined area on the chip following by filling the rings with isolation materials such as silicon oxides or non-conductive polymers such as polyimide. The depth of the trench rings shall be dependent on the process capability as the non-trench portion shall be removed thereafter to form the completed isolation. The remaining conductive silicon materials shall serve as the conduction pathway for the connection of the MEMS sensor sensing, elements with the printed circuitry of the control electronics.
In another preferred embodiment, the fabricated MEMS mass flow sensor chip shall have its backside contact pads preferably made of gold, or for cost reduction of aluminum. The pads connect the front side sensing elements via the conduction pathways through the wafer that are formed as described above while connection to the control electronics could be through direct soldering by die-attachment to the carrier holder's connection pads for the control electronics.
In yet another preferred embodiment, the invented MEMS mass flow sensor assemblies shall have their carrier for the MEMS silicon chip with the said backside connection pads in the form of printed circuitry hoard. The printed circuitry board is preferably made of ceramics such as silicon nitride or cubic boron nitride for high temperature applications. For alternative applications at ambient or at other environments where applications are specified, the printed circuitry board could also be made of conventional laminates or Resin impregnated B-stage cloth or other copper based materials. Dependent of the applications, the printed circuitry hoard could be a simple connection wire interface for control electronic components. The MEMS chip could then attached to the printed circuitry hoard through automated die attachment equipment for final formation of the assembly.
In yet another preferred embodiment, for applications in some harsh environments where water vapors or other conductive substances are presented, the said assembly requires a special sealing process that seals the MEMS mass flow sensor chip lower surface edges where they are in contact with the printed circuitry hoard. The sealing is preferably done with epoxy or other materials where the applications specify, such as high temperature sealing epoxy. The seal shall be effectively preventive for the shortage in the circuitry below the MEMS sensor chips.
For the invented MEMS mass flow sensor assembly, it is desirable that the assembly shall be free of exposed standing wires on the sensor chip front surfaces, while an automated process could be easily applied for manufacture of such an assembly. The invented assembly process shall have the flexibility as the different applications specify and where applicable the assembly shall be free from any reliability damage due to the shortage causing from the flow medium. The assembly is further desirable that the miniature footprints can be maintained such that mass manufacture could be feasible.
The preferred MEMS mass flow sensor assembly starts with sensor manufacture on a silicon substrate (100) or silicon water as shown in FIG. 1. The preferred silicon substrate is of high electrical conductivity either heavily doped with phosphorus or boron but preferred to be heavily doped with boron. The silicon substrate is further preferred to be non-electrical conductive without any doping. The silicon substrate is passivated using silicon nitride (110 and 111) at its both surfaces using low pressure chemical vapor deposition. The thickness of the silicon nitride should be from 100 to 300 nm but preferably 200 nm.
The preferred MEMS mass flow sensor is then proceed to open the through wafer conductive pathways and the pre-designed locations (401). For several viable processes, the pathways could be through the silicon substrate as shown in FIG. 2. Or alternatively it can be made half way through while the remaining on through-hole portions could be later removed using chemical-mechanical planarization. The through-hole dimensions are preferably from 50 nm to 2000 nm but most favorably 1000 nm.
FIG. 3(a) shows the addition of the highly conductive materials (200) to the through holes on condition that the silicon substrate (100) is non-conductive. The conductive materials can be metal such as nickel or permalloy or highly doped conductive polysilicon or conductive polymers such as polypyrenes or polycarbazoles. In the event that the silicon substrate (100) is highly conductive, the conductive materials could be alternatively using the substrate itself while the through holes shall be rings (205) formed with isolation materials instead as shown in FIG. 3(b). The isolation materials to fill the rings can be silicon oxide or non-conductive polymers such as polyimide. The isolation ring widths are preferably 100 to 500 nm but most preferably 300 nm.
The mass flow sensor is then continued to the next manufacture step of the formation of thermal isolation supporting membranes (120) on the isolated silicon substrate. The materials of the membrane must be mechanically strong enough while with low stress such that the additional processes will not destroy the membrane. The preferably membrane materials shall be silicon nitride or polyimide, and in most favorably configuration the materials shall be polyimide with a thickness of 1000 nm to 10000 nm and most preferably the thickness shall be 3000 nm. The most favorable tooling for making the silicon nitride is low pressure chemical vapor deposition, while the polyimide can be done via the spin-coating.
After the supporting membrane is patterned using dry etching or other available techniques such as wet etch, in order to ensure there shall be no deformation of the membrane after the sensor assembly is completed and being placed in the flow channel for measurement, the pressure balance configuration (140 and 141) shown in FIG. 5 is made by dry etching of the membrane to the silicon substrate as the materials underneath shall be removed for thermal isolation in later process steps. The pressure balance mechanism is by making through membrane holes that can be in any shape but preferably in the shape of rectangles or circles, and preferably with the size of 5000 nm to 50000 nm but most preferably with the size of 10000 nm. These through holes let the flow medium fills the underneath thermal isolation cavity quickly in the presence of the flow medium, forming an equal pressure above and below the membranes. This is particularly important as the calibration of the mass flow sensor is under in most cases ambient conditions, the deformation of the membrane shall bring large errors of the measurement. The configuration is also preferably made around the micro-heater to be deposited in the next process step such that the temperature field created by the micro-heater shall be isolated for better measurement resolution and/or sensitivity.
In FIG. 6, sensing elements 311 and 313 are deposited on the supporting membrane. The micro-heater 312 is also deposited on the membrane sitting at the middle of the sensing elements 311 and 313, as primarily the calorimetric thermal principle shall be utilized. A separate thermistor 310 that measures the environmental temperature to provide the feedback for the micro-heater control such that a stable temperature field shall be generated is deposited on the substrate above the isolation later 110 such that the environmental temperature can be accurately measured. These thermistors are preferably made of stable high temperature coefficient materials such as platinum, gold, nickel, permalloy, and doped conductive polysilicon through electronic beam evaporation or physical vapor deposition. The thickness of each of the thermistors is preferably in the range of 100 nm to 300 nm but most preferably 200 nm for stability and performance.
The interconnections 210 shown in FIG. 7 connect the sensing elements, micro-heater and the environmental thermistor to the through conductive pathways. Before the process of the interconnections, the two ends of the through substrate conductive materials shall be processed for metallization such that good connection can be ensured. The interconnection is preferably made of gold or doped conductive polysilicon by electronic beam evaporation or physical vapor deposition. The thickness of the interconnection is preferably in the range of 100 nm to 300 nm but most preferably 200 nm for stability and performance.
In order to prevent damages of the mass flow sensor from the surface shortages between the sensing elements, micro-heater, environmental thermistor and among the interconnections, surface passivation is the direct solution. As shown in FIG. 8, the passivation 130 shall conformably cover all areas on the front surface of the mass flow sensor. The passivation materials are preferably thermally conductive while maintaining mechanical strength. The preferably materials is silicon nitride or silicon carbide deposited using plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition in a thickness range of 100 nm to 500 nm, but preferably 300 nm for the best surface coverage, mechanical strength and stability.
Making the thermal isolation cavity 150 as shown in FIG. 9 is one of the key steps for manufacture of the mass flow sensor. The cavity right below the sensing elements 311 and 313 and the micro-heater 312 provides the thermal isolation by the now medium (gas or gases) and will ensure the sensitivity as well as the resolution. The cavity is preferably made with deep reactive ion etching of the bulk silicon or the wet chemical etching using such as potassium hydroxide or tetramethyl ammonium hydroxide. This process also requires the membrane of the film stack with the isolation 110, supporting membrane 120, all thermistors (311, 313 and 312), and the passivation layer to be mechanically strong with minimal materials stress build-in. Otherwise the film stack might be collapsed after the making of the cavity. After the cavity is made, the mass flow sensor process is concluded and is ready for the making of the assembly.
The first step to make the said complete MEMS mass flow sensor assembly is to prepare the mass flow sensor carrier after the mass flow sensor is prepared, as shown in FIG. 10. The substrate of the printed circuitry board 400 materials can be ceramics such as silicon nitride or conventional printed circuitry board materials of laminates or Resin impregnated B-stage cloth or other copper based materials. The thickness of the substrate shall be application specific. The printed circuitry 410 is copper-based materials with gold surface plating for best electrical contact. The printed circuitry can be simple connection lines with through substrate connection or with pre-designed control electronic components depending, on the requirements of applications. The surface isolation 420 is preventive for any possible contact shortages and enhancement of reliability. The solder bump 430 is prepared for the connection to the mass flow sensor backside contact that shall be treated or metallization with gold or aluminum but preferably with gold.
The said final sensor assembly is shown in FIG. 11. The mass flow sensor is fixed on the carrier substrate via the direct soldering process. This process can be done automatically by the programmable die-attachment equipment. The complete assembly can be served as an extension of the mass flow sensor for easy installation or even as a standard alone module if the control electronics is included on the carrier printed circuitry board. The said complete mass flow sensor assembly provides enhanced reliability, easy manufacturability and flexibility for additional requirements in package or application specific installations. In order to ensure the said mass flow sensor assembly could also work at different environments such as the presence of water vapors or conductive flow medium, a sealing of the contact between the mass flow sensor chip and the carrier printed circuitry board is also necessary as shown in FIG. 12. The sealing (500) can be done with epoxy or similar materials depending on the applications. This sealing shall be able to prevent failures or damages due to the leakage (for example in the presence of the water vapors) induced contact shortage or breakdown.