Assembly Automation

ISSN: 0144-5154

Article publication date: 25 September 2009



Loughlin, C. (2009), "Editorial", Assembly Automation, Vol. 29 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/aa.2009.03329daa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Article Type: Editorial From: Assembly Automation, Volume 29, Issue 4

What is faster than a Formula 1 racing car, a fighter jet with afterburners on, and the Space Shuttle on re-entry? If you are thinking “high technology” you can think again. The answer is the North American Anna's hummingbird.

I have used “faster” as a relative term which in this case refers to its time to travel its own body length, but even allowing for this journalistic distortion, the hummingbird remains pretty amazing as it hits 23 m/s during courtship mating rituals.

What has all this to do with this issue's theme of “MEMS and the assembly of MEMS”? The answer is that it serves very well to highlight the benefit of being small. As mass is reduced so speed can increase, the required energy input plummets and improved efficiency can result.

MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) are the silicon equivalent of our Anna's hummingbird and they have an important role to play.

Science fiction movies are often pretty good at anticipating future developments but if you look back to the early movies like Lost in Space and War of the Worlds everything was big. Presumably because the thought processes of the directors went something along the lines of “Things will be better in the future – better means more and bigger is better”. Computers were the size of large buildings and ovens were big enough for a moose, let alone a Christmas turkey.

These days we know better and it takes very little imagination to consider that in the future everything will be smaller. I, recently, upgraded my hi-fi system and my collection of CDs that used to take up several metres of shelf space are now languishing in a few cardboard boxes in my attic, while my shiny new iPod now manages to store them all in less than 10 per cent of its available solid-state memory capacity. And if I want to buy a new “CD” or even a single track, I can download it over the internet.

The iPod sits in its sound dock below my LCD TV. What then is the biggest single difference between my media systems now and what they were even just five years ago? Then I could watch TV and listen to music and now I can still watch TV and listen to music. The big difference is that the quantity of materials in terms of plastic and glass and copper and fibreglass has plummeted along with its power consumption.

The biggest impact, therefore, is environmental and in these days of global warming, that has to be good news. MEMS will enable us to reduce the size and increase the efficiency of more things than we can currently imagine and with luck they could help us save the planet.

Clive Loughlin

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