Partial release and detachment of microfabricated metal and polymer structures by anodic metal dissolution
The large majority of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) are fabricated on silicon, glass or Pyrex substrates by manufacturing techniques, which originated from the semiconductors industry. However, their final application often requires removal of the fabrication substrate or at least a partial release of some section of the device. This paper describes a technique based on anodic dissolution of sacrificial metal layers for the complete or partial detachment of microstructures. As an example, a thin-film of sacrificial aluminum is selectively removed in a neutral sodium chloride solution by applying a small positive potential to the aluminum. The method is evaluated theoretically and experimentally in a defined geometry and compared to diffusion-limited, chemical etching. It is shown experimentally that the process is significantly faster than conventional wet chemical etching and the method has been used to release planar and nonplanar thin-film devices made from polymers and metals. The method is applicable for a wide range of metals as sacrificial materials and is very versatile with respect to electrolyte composition and applied voltages. Ease of sacrificial material deposition (sputtering or evaporation) and structuring and the possibility of high process temperature and the nondestructive chemical environment (also environmentally friendly) during detachment make the process technology an interesting alternative to conventional chemical etching.