I first wrote about MEMS – microelectromechanical systems – some time in the early 1990s. There was a promise at the time of scalable, modular reaction units that would eventually preclude the need for chemical plants to have multi-gallon reaction vessels and enormous distillation towers. Last time I looked, most chemical plants still had those vessels and towers but MEMS technology has nevertheless moved on apace. It has made enormous, or should I say tiny, inroads into the analytical arena in chemistry and life sciences.

One obstacle that stands in the way of the widespread adoption and further rapid development of MEMS technology is the fact that these devices are becoming increasingly sophisticated and so harder and more expensive to prototype.

Some MEMS designs are as complex as microelectronics circuits. But, whereas conventional chip designers can simulate their systems with software relatively easily, MEMS designers need something more solid to carry out simulations of the microscopic movements of fluids and energy in a MEMS device.

Now, Liao Ningbo and Yang Ping of the Laboratory of Advanced Design and Manufacturing at Jiang Su University, in Zhenjiang, and Yi Huijun of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, at Nanjing Institute of Chemical Technology, China, think they have the answer. They have turned to the collaborative and interactive design framework made possible by the concept of web-manufacturing.

In their approach, technologies used in dynamic web Java Server Pages (JSP) and computer graphics Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML) are integrated to allow them to model a MEMS device. “VRML, is a scene description language that can be used to describe 3D models of objects and scenes with the capabilities of interactive operations on them,” the researchers explain, “These models can be viewed using a web browser with a free plug-in for VRML2.0.” they add that several tools exist to convert almost any computer-aid design (CAD) format to VRML, which enables geometric models to be easily imported from pre-existing formats without having to redraw them. “VRML can be used to simulate fluid flow, of cause, with the description of fluid equations,” Nigbo told Chemspy.

SOURCE: International Journal of Materials and Product Technology, 2008, 31, 259