Microassembly is an enabling technology to build 3D microsystems consisting of microparts made of different materials and processes. Multiple microparts can be connected together to construct complicated in-plane and out-of-plane microsystems by using compliant mechanical structures such as micro hinges and snap fasteners.
This paper presents design, fabrication, and assembly of an active locking mechanism that provides mechanical and electrical interconnections between mating microparts. The active locking mechanism is composed of thermally actuated Chevron beams and sockets. Assembly by means of an active locking mechanism offers more flexibility in designing microgrippers as it reduces or minimizes mating force, which is one of the main reasons causing fractures in a microgripper during microassembly operation.
Microgrippers, microparts, and active locking mechanisms were fabricated on a silicon substrate using the deep reactive ion etching (DRIE) processes with 100-um thick silicon on insulator (SOI) wafers. A precision robotic assembly platform with a dual microscope vision system was used to automate the manipulation and assembly processes of microparts. The assembly sequence includes (1) tether breaking and picking up of a micropart by using an electrothermally actuated microgripper, (2) opening of a socket area for zero-force insertion, (3) a series of translation and rotation of a mating micropart to align it onto the socket, (4) insertion of a micropart into the socket, and (5) deactivation and releasing of locking fingers. As a result, the micropart was held vertically to the substrate and locked by the compliance of Chevron beams. Microparts were successfully assembled using the active locking mechanism and the measured normal angle was 89.2°. This active locking mechanism provides mechanical and electrical interconnections, and it can potentially be used to implement a reconfigurable microrobot that requires complex assembly of multiple links and joints.