(19)
(11)EP 3 687 192 A1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT APPLICATION

(43)Date of publication:
29.07.2020 Bulletin 2020/31

(21)Application number: 20153473.2

(22)Date of filing:  23.01.2020
(51)Int. Cl.: 
H04R 19/00  (2006.01)
(84)Designated Contracting States:
AL AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MK MT NL NO PL PT RO RS SE SI SK SM TR
Designated Extension States:
BA ME
Designated Validation States:
KH MA MD TN

(30)Priority: 23.01.2019 IT 201900001017

(71)Applicant: STMicroelectronics S.r.l.
20864 Agrate Brianza (MB) (IT)

(72)Inventors:
  • CERINI, Fabrizio
    20013 Magenta (MI) (IT)
  • DUQI, Enri
    20147 Milano (IT)
  • ADORNO, Silvia
    20026 Novate Milanese (MI) (IT)
  • BALDO, Lorenzo
    20010 Bareggio (MI) (IT)

(74)Representative: Nannucci, Lorenzo et al
Studio Torta S.p.A. Via Viotti, 9
10121 Torino
10121 Torino (IT)

  


(54)MICROELECTROMECHANICAL ELECTROACOUSTIC TRANSDUCER WITH PIEZOELECTRIC ACTUATION AND CORRESPONDING MANUFACTURING PROCESS


(57) An actuation structure (10) of a MEMS electroacoustic transducer (11) is formed in a die (12) of semiconductor material having a monolithic body (13) with a front surface (13a) and a rear surface (13b) extending in a horizontal plane (xy) and defined in which are: a frame (14); an actuator element (15) arranged in a central opening (16) defined by the frame (14); cantilever elements (18), coupled at the front surface (13a) between the actuator element (15) and the frame (14); and piezoelectric regions (19) arranged on the cantilever elements (18) and configured to be biased to cause a deformation of the cantilever elements (18) by the piezoelectric effect. A first stopper arrangement (30) is integrated in the die (12) and configured to interact with the cantilever elements (18) to limit a movement thereof in a first direction of a vertical axis (z) orthogonal to the horizontal plane (xy), towards the underlying central opening (16).




Description


[0001] The present solution relates to a microelectromechanical electroacoustic transducer with piezoelectric actuation (made with MEMS, Micro-ElectroMechanical Systems, technology) and to a corresponding manufacturing process; in particular, hereinafter reference will be made, without thereby this implying any loss of generality, to a MEMS transducer operating as actuator for the generation of sound waves, i.e., to a MEMS speaker.

[0002] In a known way, electromagnetically actuated speakers are currently the most widely used, for example for headphones, earpieces, and diffusers for portable devices (such as smartphones, tablets or the like). In particular, transducers of the so-called BA (Balanced Armature Driver) type, based on the principle of electromagnetic actuation, envisage use of an electrical signal to set in vibration a thin lamina arranged between two magnetic windings. The movement of this lamina is transferred to a diaphragm, generally made of aluminum, for the generation of acoustic signals in the audio band.

[0003] Recently, the use of acoustic transducers, in particular speakers, made with MEMS technology has been proposed, whose operation is based on the reverse piezoelectric principle (i.e., on a mechanical deformation resulting from an applied electric voltage).

[0004] In general, such piezoelectric MEMS transducers, with respect to traditional electromagnetically actuated transducers, can offer considerable advantages, which are particularly relevant for use in portable electronic devices, amongst which: an increase in the precision of mechanical actuation; a better fidelity in audio reproduction; and reduced cost, weight, and size.

[0005] In particular, it is known that transducers of the BA type do not have a flat frequency response in the audio band and suffer from relevant resonance effects; instead, piezoelectric MEMS transducers may in general have a flatter frequency response and a faster dynamic response.

[0006] Moreover, piezoelectric MEMS transducers can guarantee preservation of the acoustic integrity even after being completely immersed in a liquid or a powder medium.

[0007] However, it is known that, in general, piezoelectric MEMS transducers have a lower mechanical strength, being more subject to damages in the case of dropping or impact (an event that is, on the other hand, rather frequent in the case of use in portable devices).

[0008] It is hence important to design piezoelectric MEMS transducers so as to reduce the possibility of damages in the case of dropping or impact and so as to increase their mechanical strength.

[0009] In this regard, US 2017/0085994 A1 discloses a piezoelectric MEMS transducer having a stopper structure aimed at reducing the risk of breaking of a corresponding acoustic membrane.

[0010] As illustrated in Figure 1, this piezoelectric MEMS transducer, designated as a whole by 1, comprises a die 2 of semiconductor material, including a supporting substrate 3, which is frame-shaped and surrounds a coupling element 4 (formed in the same die 2). An actuation structure 5, including a layer of piezoelectric material superimposed on a layer of epitaxial polysilicon, connects the coupling element 4 to the supporting substrate 3, at a first surface 2a of the die 2.

[0011] The piezoelectric MEMS transducer 1 further comprises a housing structure 6, having: a bottom part 6a, which is coupled to the first surface 2a of the die 2, underneath the actuation structure 5, and defines a cavity, above which the same actuation structure 5 is suspended; a central part 6b, laterally coupled to the die 2; and a top part 6c, coupled above a second surface 2b of the die 2, opposite in a vertical direction to the first surface 2a.

[0012] In particular, the aforesaid top part 6c of the housing structure 6 carries an acoustic membrane 7, having a funnel-shape and centrally coupled to the coupling element 4.

[0013] The piezoelectric MEMS transducer 1 further comprises a stopper mechanism 8, constituted by: a reinforcement element 9a, coupled (in particular glued) to the acoustic membrane 7 and having the same funnel shape; and a stopper element 9b, constituted by the surface of the same supporting substrate 3 at the second surface 2b of the die 2, which is facing the aforesaid reinforcement element 9a normally at a certain separation distance, in the resting position of the acoustic membrane 7.

[0014] During operation, application of an appropriate biasing signal to the piezoelectric layer of the actuation structure 5 causes deflection (upwards or downwards with respect to a vertical axis) of the same actuation structure 5 and consequently of the coupling element 4, which causes the corresponding deflection of the acoustic membrane 7, aimed at emission of sound waves in the audio band.

[0015] In particular, the stopper mechanism 8 acts so as to limit the maximum deflection of the acoustic membrane 7 in a vertical direction, only towards the bottom part 6a of the housing structure 6, so as to reduce, in part, the possibility of breaking of the acoustic membrane 7 in the case of impact or dropping.

[0016] The present Applicant has realized that the piezoelectric MEMS transducer 1 has some limitations that do not enable complete exploitation of its advantageous characteristics.

[0017] In particular, the stopper mechanism 8 safeguards the acoustic membrane 7 from breaking as a result of movements that occur only in one direction of the aforesaid vertical axis, and the piezoelectric MEMS transducer 1 does not have any stopper arrangement for safeguarding the actuation structure 5 and the corresponding layer of piezoelectric material from failures; the same actuation structure 5, in the case of impact or dropping, may thus be damaged and jeopardise operation of the piezoelectric MEMS transducer 1.

[0018] The same stopper mechanism 8, although enabling, as discussed, limitation of damage to the acoustic membrane 7 (in just one direction of movement) causes the acoustic membrane 7 to have dimensions that have to be similar to those of the reinforcement element 9a.

[0019] In addition, since requiring coupling by gluing of the reinforcement element 9a to the acoustic membrane 7, manufacturing of the stopper mechanism 8 proves to be complex, entailing additional processing steps during coupling of the die 2 of semiconductor material, which has been previously processed, to the corresponding housing structure 6.

[0020] The aim of the present solution is to provide a microelectromechanical electroacoustic transducer with piezoelectric actuation that will enable the drawbacks of the prior art to be overcome.

[0021] According to the present solution, a transducer and a corresponding manufacturing process are provided, as defined in the annexed claims.

[0022] For a better understanding of the present invention, preferred embodiments thereof are now described, purely by way of non-limiting example, with reference to the attached drawings, wherein:
  • Figure 1 is a perspective cross-section view of a MEMS electroacoustic transducer of a known type;
  • Figure 2 is a schematic cross-section view of a piezoelectric actuation structure of a MEMS electroacoustic transducer, according to one embodiment of the present solution;
  • Figure 3 is a schematic top plan view of the piezoelectric actuation structure of Figure 2;
  • Figure 4 is a schematic cross-section view of a first embodiment of a MEMS electroacoustic transducer, comprising the piezoelectric actuation structure of Figure 2;
  • Figure 5 is a schematic cross-section view of a second embodiment of a MEMS electroacoustic transducer, comprising the piezoelectric actuation structure of Figure 2;
  • Figures 6A-6L are schematic cross-section views of the piezoelectric actuation structure of Figure 2, in subsequent steps of a corresponding manufacturing process;
  • Figures 7A-7D are schematic top plan views of possible alternative embodiments of the piezoelectric actuation structure of Figure 2; and
  • Figures 8A-8B are schematic cross-section views of the piezoelectric actuation structure of Figure 2, in initial steps of a corresponding manufacturing process according to a possible alternative embodiment.


[0023] With reference to Figure 2, an actuation structure 10 of a MEMS electroacoustic transducer 11 (which will be illustrated in greater detail hereinafter), according to a first embodiment of the present solution, is now disclosed.

[0024] The actuation structure 10 is made in a die 12, comprising a monolithic body 13 of semiconductor material, in particular monocrystalline silicon, having a front surface 13a and a rear surface 13b.

[0025] The actuation structure 10 comprises, in the same monolithic body 13, a frame 14 and an actuator element 15. The frame 14 surrounds the actuator element 15 and is separated from the actuator element 15 by a central opening 16; the actuator element 15 is arranged in a central position with respect to the central opening 16 and is pillar-shaped.

[0026] The actuation structure 10 further comprises, also provided in the same monolithic body 13, in a surface portion (at the front surface 13a), cantilever elements 18, which are suspended above the central opening 16 and extend between the frame 14 and the actuator element 15. Each cantilever element 18 has a first end coupled to the frame 14 and a second end coupled to the actuator element 15, at a coupling portion 15' thereof.

[0027] In one embodiment, as will also be discussed hereinafter, advantageously, the coupling between the cantilever elements 18 and the actuator element 15 is through elastic coupling elements 17 (illustrated schematically in Figure 3).

[0028] The actuation structure 10 further comprises: piezoelectric regions 19, arranged on the cantilever elements 18, formed by one or more overlying layers including piezoelectric material (in a known way, here not described in detail); and a passivation layer 20, made of dielectric material, arranged on the piezoelectric regions 19. In the embodiment illustrated, the layers of piezoelectric material extend also over the actuator element 15.

[0029] Electrical-connection paths 22 are arranged over the passivation layer 20 and cross the same passivation layer 20 inside contact openings 23, to achieve the electrical connection with the piezoelectric regions 19 and enable biasing thereof by means of appropriate electrical signals.

[0030] The central opening 16 extends vertically (along a vertical axis z orthogonal to a horizontal plane xy in which the aforesaid front and rear surfaces 13a, 13b of the monolithic body 13 lie) starting from the rear surface 13b of the monolithic body 13 up to the cantilever elements 18, which are arranged at the front surface 13a of the same monolithic body 13.

[0031] As shown in the aforesaid Figure 2, the central opening 16 has: a first width L1 (in the direction of longitudinal extension of the cantilever elements 18 in the horizontal plane xy, along a first horizontal axis x) at the front surface 13a of the monolithic body 13, directly underneath the cantilever elements 18; a second width L2 through the thickness of the monolithic body 13; and a third width L3 at the rear surface 13b of the monolithic body 13. In particular, the first width L1 is greater than the second width L2, and the third width L3 is greater than the second width L2 (possibly, the third width L3 being equal to the first width L1) .

[0032] Consequently, first recesses 25a are defined along a vertical wall of the frame 14, facing the central opening 16, in a position vertically corresponding to the coupling portions with the cantilever elements 18 and in the proximity of the front surface 13a of the monolithic body 13; likewise, second recesses 25b are defined along the same vertical wall of the frame 14, at the rear surface 13b of the monolithic body 13.

[0033] In a corresponding manner, defined along the vertical walls of the actuator element 15 facing the central opening 16 are: respective first recesses 26a (obtained in the corresponding coupling portion 15') at the front surface 13a of the monolithic body 13; and respective second recesses 26b at the rear surface 13b of the monolithic body 13.

[0034] According to an aspect of the present solution, the actuation structure 10 comprises a first stopper arrangement 30, made integrally to the die 12 and the monolithic body 13, configured to stop movement along a first direction of the vertical axis z, in particular to stop movement of the cantilever elements 18 towards the underlying central opening 16.

[0035] The first stopper arrangement 30 is defined by the first recesses 25a of the frame 14, which determine a first stopper surface 30' facing the cantilever elements 18, arranged at a certain distance d1 (in the vertical direction) from the cantilever elements 18, in the resting condition, i.e., in the absence of any deformation, of the cantilever elements 18 (the distance d1 moreover corresponding to the distance between the stopper surface 30' and the front surface 13a of the monolithic body 13).

[0036] It should be noted that the extension of the facing surface, as well as the facing distance, are univocally defined by the conformation of the aforesaid first recesses 25a of the frame 14.

[0037] Also the respective first recesses 26a of the actuator element 15 can contribute to defining a further stopper arrangement 30, thus contributing to stopping movement of the cantilever elements 18 along the vertical direction, at the same actuator element 15.

[0038] The actuation structure 10 further comprises a second stopper arrangement 32, which is also made integrally to the die 12 and the monolithic body 13, configured to limit movement of the cantilever elements 18 along a second direction of the vertical axis z (opposite to the first direction), and, as will be highlighted hereinafter, movement in the second direction of an acoustic membrane that is designed to be coupled to the actuator element 15 at the rear surface 13b of the monolithic body 13.

[0039] The aforesaid second stopper arrangement 30 is defined by the second recesses 25b of the frame 14, which define a second stopper surface 32', which is designed to face a stopper element coupled to the aforesaid acoustic membrane, arranged at a certain distance d2 (in the vertical direction) with respect to the stopper element, in the resting condition, i.e., in the absence of deformations (the distance d2 moreover corresponding to the distance between the second stopper surface 32' and the rear surface 13b of the monolithic body 13).

[0040] It should be noted that the extension of the facing surface, as well as the facing distance, are univocally defined also in this case by the conformation of the aforesaid second recesses 25b of the frame 14.

[0041] The respective second recesses 26b of the actuator element 15 contribute, as on the other hand will be clear hereinafter, to limit adhesion of the actuator element 15 to an adhesive tape during the manufacturing steps, with the aim of reducing possible mechanical failures of the cantilever elements 18 during detachment of the frame 14 from the tape in the assembly steps.

[0042] The first and the second stopper arrangements 30, 32 thus jointly define a bi-directional stopper mechanism along the vertical axis z, for limiting and stopping the movements of the actuation structure 10, thus effectively reducing the possibility of breaking in case of impact or dropping.

[0043] As illustrated schematically in Figure 3, in a possible embodiment (represented by way of example, and not to be considered limitative), the aforesaid central opening 16 has a generically circular shape in plan view and the cantilever elements 18, four in number in the example represented, have a generically triangular shape in plan view and are arranged, in pairs, on opposite sides of the actuator element 15, along diametral directions. In a way not illustrated in detail, the elastic coupling elements 17 that couple each cantilever element 18 to the coupling portion 15' of the actuator element 15 may have a configuration of a folded type.

[0044] Figure 4 shows, in an assembled condition, a first embodiment of the MEMS electroacoustic transducer 11, which comprises the actuation structure 10 and moreover a rigid lamina 34, coupled to the actuator element 15, on the rear surface 13b of the monolithic body 13.

[0045] The rigid lamina 34 has a side extension (parallel to the extension of the cantilever elements 18 along the axis x) greater than the extension of the central opening 16, so as to have end portions facing the second stopper surface 32' of the second stopper arrangement 32, at the distance d2 from the second stopper surface 32' in the resting condition.

[0046] The MEMS electroacoustic transducer 11 further comprises a thin acoustic membrane 35, centrally coupled (for example, glued) to the rigid lamina 34 only at a corresponding central portion and supported at respective ends by supporting elements 36, coupled (for example, glued) on the rear surface 13b of the monolithic body 13 around the frame 14.

[0047] The acoustic membrane 35 has a concave funnel shape and undergoes deformation, during operation, following movement of the actuator element 15 due to deformation by the reverse piezoelectric effect of the piezoelectric regions 19, thus generating sound waves in the audio band (the actuator element 15 hence acting as a piston actuator along the vertical axis z).

[0048] In particular, the first stopper arrangement 30 enables stopping movement of the cantilever elements 18 and of the acoustic membrane 35 in a first direction of the vertical axis z (in the representation of Figure 4, upwards). In particular, the end portions of the stopper elements 18 abut against the facing surface (first stopper surface 30') of the first stopper arrangement 30, thus stopping their movement.

[0049] The second stopper arrangement 32 enables stopping movement of the acoustic membrane 35 and of the cantilever elements 18 in the second direction of the vertical axis z (in the representation of Figure 4, downwards). In particular, the rigid lamina 34 constitutes a stopper element that abuts against the facing surface (second stopper surface 32') of the second stopper arrangement 32, thus stopping the movement.

[0050] Figure 5 shows a different embodiment of the MEMS electroacoustic transducer, once again designated by 11, which comprises in this case a housing structure 40 external to the actuation structure 10, having a frame shape surrounding the actuation structure 10.

[0051] In particular, the housing structure 40 comprises: a base 41 to which the actuation structure 10 is coupled, above the front surface 13a of the monolithic body 13; and a supporting portion 42, which surrounds the actuation structure 10 and has a first surface coupled to the base 41 and a second surface, vertically opposite to the first surface, to which end portions of the acoustic membrane 35 are coupled.

[0052] Also in this embodiment, as previously discussed, application of appropriate electrical biasing signals to the piezoelectric regions 19 causes displacement of the actuator element 15 and consequent deformation of the acoustic membrane 35, for generation of sound waves in the audio band.

[0053] Also in this case, the first stopper arrangement 30 enables stopping the movement of the cantilever elements 18 and of the acoustic membrane 35 in the first direction of the vertical axis z (in the representation of Figure 5, upwards), and the second stopper arrangement 32 enables stopping the movement of the acoustic membrane 35 and of the cantilever elements 18 in the second direction of the vertical axis z (in the representation of Figure 5, downwards).

[0054] This embodiment has the advantage, at the expense of a greater encumbrance, of enabling a greater extension of the acoustic membrane 35 and, consequently, of reaching higher sound-pressure-level values, given the same displacement of the actuator element 15.

[0055] With initial reference to Figure 6A, a possible process for manufacturing the actuation structure 10 of the MEMS electroacoustic transducer 11 is now discussed.

[0056] In an initial step of the manufacturing process, a wafer 45 of semiconductor material, in particular monocrystalline silicon, is provided, having a front surface 45a and a rear surface 45b.

[0057] The manufacturing process then envisages formation of a buried cavity completely contained inside the wafer 45, overlaid by a membrane, with techniques described in detail, for example, in EP 1 324 382 B1 filed in the name of the present Applicant.

[0058] Centrally with respect to the buried cavity an element of semiconductor material, in particular of monocrystalline silicon is concurrently defined, which is configured to form, as will be clarified hereinafter, the coupling portion 15' (see Figure 6D) of the actuator element 15 of the actuation structure 10.

[0059] As illustrated also in Figure 6B (not in scale), on the front surface 45a of the wafer 45 an etching mask 46 is firstly obtained, for example made of photosensitive material, the so-called photoresist. The etching mask defines an etching area, which in the example is approximately rectangular (but it may likewise be circular or generically polygonal), and comprises a plurality of first mask portions 46a, for example hexagonal, which define a lattice of openings, for example a honeycomb lattice. The etching area of the etching mask 46 corresponds to the area that will be occupied by the buried cavity and has an extension corresponding to the extension of the membrane that will be formed above the same buried cavity. At the centre, the etching mask 46 has a second mask portion 46b, solid and without openings, where the aforesaid coupling portion 15' will be defined.

[0060] Then (see Figure 6C, which, like Figure 6B, shows only an enlarged portion of the wafer 45, for reasons of clarity of illustration), using the etching mask 45 an anisotropic chemical etch of the wafer 45 is carried out starting from the front surface 45a, following upon which trenches 47 are formed, which communicate with one another and delimit a plurality of silicon columns 48.

[0061] The trenches 47 form an open region having a complex shape (corresponding to the lattice of the etching mask 46) where the columns 48 (having a section corresponding to the first mask portions 46a) are arranged. At the centre of the aforesaid open region a central portion of semiconductor material remains, corresponding to the aforesaid second mask portion 46b.

[0062] Next, the etching mask 46 is removed, and an epitaxial growth is carried out in a deoxidising environment (typically, in an atmosphere with a high hydrogen concentration, preferably with trichlorosilane - SiHCl3). Consequently, an epitaxial layer grows above the columns 48 and closes the aforesaid open region formed by the trenches 47 at the top.

[0063] A step of thermal annealing is then carried out, for example for 30 minutes at 1190°C, preferably in a reducing atmosphere, typically a hydrogen atmosphere. The annealing step causes migration of silicon atoms, which tend to move into a position of lower energy. Consequently, and also thanks to the short distance between the columns 48, the silicon atoms completely migrate from the portions of the columns 48 inside the aforesaid open region formed by the trenches 47, and, starting from said region, a buried cavity 50 (as illustrated in Figure 6D, which represents a more extensive portion of the wafer 45) is formed.

[0064] It should be noted that, inside the aforesaid buried cavity 50 the aforesaid central portion of semiconductor material remains, which defines the coupling portion 15' of the actuator element 15.

[0065] As illustrated once again in Figure 6D, a thin layer of monocrystalline silicon remains above the buried cavity 50, constituted partly by silicon atoms grown epitaxially and partly by migrated silicon atoms and which forms the membrane, designated by 49. At the centre, the membrane 49 is coupled to the coupling portion 15', arranged centrally with respect to the buried cavity 50.

[0066] As illustrated in Figure 6E, the manufacturing process then proceeds with oxidation (which may be complete, as in the example illustrated, or even only partial, with formation of an internal coating layer) of the buried cavity 50 so as to form a buried-oxide region 52 underneath the membrane 49 and surrounding the aforesaid coupling portion 15'.

[0067] In a way not illustrated in detail, the above oxidation step envisages carrying out an etch starting from the top surface 45a of the wafer 45 through appropriate masking so as to form access trenches, which extend through the membrane 49 and reach the buried cavity 50. Next, a step of thermal oxidation of the internal walls of the buried cavity 50 is carried out, supplying oxygen through the access trenches; the oxide grows progressively starting from the walls up to complete closing of the access trenches and possibly of the buried cavity 50 (or, alternatively, with formation of the coating layer inside the buried cavity 50).

[0068] As illustrated in Figure 6F, the manufacturing process then proceeds with formation, on the front surface 45a of the wafer 45, at the top of the membrane 49, of a piezoelectric actuation structure 54, including piezoelectric material.

[0069] In a way not shown in detail, the piezoelectric actuation structure 54 may be formed by a stack of layers superimposed on one another, for example made by the superposition of a bottom dielectric layer, of a first electrode layer, of a piezoelectric layer, of a second electrode layer, and of a top dielectric layer.

[0070] Next (Figure 6G), a passivation layer is formed on the piezoelectric actuation structure 54 (once again designated by 20, as in the case discussed previously with regard to Figure 2).

[0071] The passivation layer 20 and the underlying piezoelectric actuation structure 54 are then etched by means of an appropriate masking so as to form the contact openings 23 towards the piezoelectric actuation structure 54. Next, these contact openings are filled by conductive material in a step of formation of electrical-connection paths 22 on the passivation layer 20, as illustrated in Figure 6H.

[0072] Next, as illustrated schematically in Figure 6I, the piezoelectric actuation structure 54 and the underlying membrane 49 are subjected to etching by means of an appropriate masking, for definition of the geometry of the cantilever elements 18 and of the overlying piezoelectric regions 19 of the actuation structure 10. In the same etching step, the elastic coupling elements 17 may be formed (which are illustrated schematically only in the aforesaid Figure 6L), which connect the cantilever elements 18 to the coupling portion 15' of the actuator element 15 of the actuation structure 10.

[0073] Then, as illustrated in Figure 6J, the wafer 45 is flipped and, on the rear surface 45b of the wafer 45, oxide regions 58 are formed in a position vertically corresponding to the coupling portion 15' (inner oxide region 58a) and externally with respect to the position assumed by the cantilever elements 18 on the front surface 45a (outer oxide region 58b); in particular, the outer and inner oxide regions 58b, 58a are separated along the direction of longitudinal extension of the cantilever elements 18 by the third width L3.

[0074] Mask regions 59 are then formed on the oxide regions 58, and in particular an inner mask region 59a that covers the inner oxide region 58a and an outer mask region 59b that covers the outer oxide region 58b; the outer and inner mask regions 59b, 59a are separated along the aforesaid direction of longitudinal extension of the cantilever elements 18 by the second width L2.

[0075] Then a first etch of the wafer 45 is carried out, starting from the rear surface 45b, through the mask regions 59, to form deep cavities 60 (having the aforesaid second width L2), which extend vertically in the wafer 45, starting from the aforesaid rear surface 45b until they reach the buried-oxide region 52.

[0076] The mask regions 59 are then removed, and a further etch of the wafer 45 is carried out, Figure 6K, once again starting from the rear surface 45b, this time through the oxide regions 58 to form surface cavities 61 (having the aforesaid third width L3), which extend in a surface portion of the wafer 45 at the aforesaid rear surface 45b.

[0077] It should be noted that the aforesaid etching steps carried out in succession hence lead (concurrently, i.e., without any need for further and distinct processing steps) to formation of the second stopper arrangement 32, and in particular of the second stopper surface 32'. It may be noted, in particular, that the geometrical characteristics of the mask regions 59 and of the oxide regions 58 and the characteristics of the etching determine the dimensional characteristics of the aforesaid second stopper arrangement 32 and in particular the extension of the second stopper surface 32' and the distance of the second stopper surface 32' from the rear surface 45b (i.e., the distance d2).

[0078] It should be noted that, advantageously, the recess that is defined in the actuator element 15 at the rear surface 45b of the wafer 45 (underneath the inner oxide region 58a of Figure 6K) limits adhesion of the actuator element 15 to adhesive tape during the subsequent processing steps (any possible mechanical failure of the cantilever elements 18 during detachment of the wafer 45 from the tape during the assembly steps is thus reduced).

[0079] Next, Figure 6L, after the wafer 45 has once again been flipped, removal of the silicon oxide is carried out by means of wet chemical etching, and in particular removal of the aforesaid oxide regions 58 on the rear surface 45b and also of the buried-oxide region 52 previously obtained inside the buried cavity 50.

[0080] In particular, removal of the aforesaid buried-oxide region 52 leads to complete formation of the central opening 16 (which is formed jointly by the aforesaid buried cavity 50, having a width L1, and by the deep and surface cavities 60, 61) and also to release the cantilever elements 18, which are suspended above the same central opening 16.

[0081] The removal of the buried oxide also leads (concurrently, i.e., without any need for further and distinct processing steps) to definition of the first stopper arrangement 30, and in particular of the first stopper surface 30' facing the cantilever elements 18.

[0082] It should be noted that the geometrical characteristics of the mask regions 59 (illustrated in the aforesaid Figure 6J) and the geometrical characteristics of the buried cavity 50 determine in this case the dimensional characteristics of the aforesaid first stopper arrangement 30 and in particular the extension of the first stopper surface 30' and the distance d1 of the first stopper surface 30' from the cantilever elements 18.

[0083] The process then end (in a way not illustrated) with dicing of the wafer 45 for definition of a plurality of dies 12, each comprising, in the same monolithic body 13, the frame 14, the actuator element 15, and the aforesaid cantilever elements 18, interposed between the frame 14 and the actuator element 15.

[0084] The advantages of the present solution are clear from the foregoing description.

[0085] In any case, it is underlined that the actuation structure 10 of the MEMS electroacoustic transducer 11 includes bi-directional stopper elements, i.e., acting in both directions of the vertical axis z, enabling, in the case of impact or dropping, effective limitation of damage both to the acoustic membrane 35 and to the cantilever elements 18 and the overlying piezoelectric regions 19.

[0086] Advantageously, the first and the second stopper arrangements 30, 32 are integrated and defined in the die 12, in which the actuation structure 10 is obtained, without couplings with external structures being required; simple manufacturing and reduced dimensions are thus achieved. In particular, the dimensional characteristics of the stopper arrangements 30, 32 are a direct consequence of the manufacturing process for producing the actuation structure 10, being thus easy to vary the extension of the facing surface and the facing distance, in particular between the first stopper surface 30' and the facing cantilever elements 18, and between the second stopper surface 32' and the facing rigid lamina 34 (as highlighted schematically by the dashed rectangles and by the arrows in Figure 2).

[0087] The same manufacturing process is simple and economically advantageous and additional and dedicated steps are substantially not required for providing the stopper arrangements 30, 32.

[0088] Moreover, the cantilever elements 18, being made of monocrystalline silicon, are stress-free.

[0089] The structure and the process described guarantee a considerable freedom of design in the manufacturing of the cantilever elements 18, in particular with the aim of obtaining a structure that, by maximising displacement of the actuator element 15 connected to the acoustic membrane 35, maximises the sound power level thereof (dB SPL) as compared to known solutions.

[0090] The MEMS electroacoustic transducer 11 is advantageously protected from contamination, in effect being resistant to liquids (waterproof) and dust (dustproof), being developed with piezoelectric technology.

[0091] Finally, it is clear that modifications and variations may be made to what has been described and illustrated herein, without thereby departing from the scope of the present invention, as defined in the annexed claims.

[0092] In particular, it is underlined that alternatives may be envisaged as regards the number and shape of the cantilever elements 18 and, also, as regards the corresponding coupling to the actuator element 15, in particular with the aim of obtaining structures with higher levels of performance in terms of sound power delivered with greater linearity of the frequency response.

[0093] In this regard, Figures 7A-7D are schematic illustrations of possible alternative embodiments, in which in particular: the cantilever elements 18 are once again four in number and are elastically coupled to the actuator element 15 by means of respective elastic coupling elements or coupling springs 17, having, however, in this case a generically trapezoidal shape (Figure 7A); the cantilever elements 18 are once again four in number and have a generically triangular shape, being connected directly and integrally to the coupling element 15, i.e., without the presence of elastic coupling elements (Figure 7B) - also in this case, the elastic elements could in any case be present; the cantilever elements 18 are two in number, are elastically coupled to the actuator element 15 by means of respective elastic coupling elements 17 and have a generically circular half-ring shape (Figure 7C); the cantilever elements 18 are four in number, are elastically coupled to the actuator element 15 by means of respective elastic coupling elements 17, have a generically rectangular shape, and are carried by a same external structure 63 with a circular-ring conformation (Figure 7D).

[0094] It is in any case emphasised that further alternatives may be envisaged, also as regards the shape of the die 12 and the geometry in plan view of the central opening 16 (which, as mentioned previously, may be generically polygonal, instead of circular).

[0095] Moreover, the piezoelectric regions 19 may extend also above the actuator element 15, or else be removed from the front surface 13a of the monolithic body 13 at the same actuator element 15.

[0096] The piezoelectric regions 19 may also be of a bi-morphic type, i.e., including a double layer of piezoelectric material, each layer being interposed between two electrodes.

[0097] In a way not shown, the MEMS electroacoustic transducer 11 may further comprise an ASIC (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit), coupled to the actuation structure 10, for example to provide electrical biasing signals. This ASIC electronic circuit can be integrated in the same die 12 where the actuation structure 10 is made, or may be obtained in a distinct die of semiconductor material, which can be housed in the same package as that of the aforesaid die 12.

[0098] Moreover, variants of the manufacturing process may be envisaged, in particular, as regards formation of the actuation structure 10.

[0099] In this regard, an alternative manufacturing process may envisage different initial steps for providing the buried-oxide region 52 underneath the front surface 45a of the wafer 45.

[0100] In particular, with reference firstly to Figure 8A, the process may in this case envisage providing a SOI (Silicon-On-Insulator) wafer, once again designated by 45, having an active layer 66, for example made of monocrystalline silicon, an insulating layer 67, for example made of silicon oxide, and a supporting layer 68, for example once again made of monocrystalline silicon.

[0101] In this case, in an initial step of the process, the active layer 66 (after being possibly subjected to a surface thinning-out process) and the insulating layer 67 are subjected to etching so as to define a stacked region 69 of portions of the same active layer 66 and of the insulating layer 67, having an extension corresponding to what will become the central opening 16 and having, at the centre, an opening corresponding to what will become the arrangement of the coupling portion 15' of the actuator element 15.

[0102] Next, Figure 8B, the front surface of the wafer is subjected to re-growth of silicon and planarization so as to cause formation, starting from the aforesaid stacked region 69, of the buried-oxide region 52, the membrane 49, over the buried-oxide region 52, and the aforesaid coupling portion 15' of the actuator element 15. It should be noted that, after re-growth, a monolithic body of monocrystalline silicon is hence formed, in a way altogether similar to what has been described previously.

[0103] The manufacturing process may then proceed in a way altogether similar to what has been discussed previously (in particular, starting from Figure 6F).

[0104] Finally, it is pointed out that the MEMS electroacoustic transducer 11 may act so as to detect sound waves; i.e., it may provide a MEMS microphone sensor (instead of a MEMS speaker, which has been described previously).


Claims

1. An actuation structure (10) of a MEMS electroacoustic transducer (11), comprising a die (12) of semiconductor material having a monolithic body (13) with a front surface (13a) and a rear surface (13b) extending in a horizontal plane (xy) and defined in which are: a frame (14); an actuator element (15) arranged in a central opening (16) defined by said frame (14); cantilever elements (18), coupled at said front surface (13a) between said actuator element (15) and said frame (14); and piezoelectric regions (19) arranged on said cantilever elements (18) and configured to be biased to cause deformation of said cantilever elements (18) by the piezoelectric effect,
characterized by comprising a first stopper arrangement (30), integrated in said die (12) and configured to interact with said cantilever elements (18) to limit a movement thereof in a first direction of a vertical axis (z) orthogonal to said horizontal plane (xy), towards the underlying central opening (16) .
 
2. The structure according to claim 1, wherein said frame (14) has a wall that faces said central opening (16) and extends along said vertical axis (z), and said first stopper arrangement (30) comprises first recesses (25a) of the wall of said frame (14) at said front surface (13a), which determine a first stopper surface (30') facing the cantilever elements (18), arranged at a first distance (d1) with respect to said cantilever elements (18), in a resting condition, in the absence of deformation of the cantilever elements (18) by the piezoelectric effect.
 
3. The structure according to claim 2, wherein said coupling element (15) has a respective wall, which faces said central opening (16) and extends along said vertical axis (z), and said first stopper arrangement (30) comprises respective first recesses (26a) of the wall of said coupling element (15) at said front surface (13a), which determine a respective stopper surface (30') facing the cantilever elements (18).
 
4. The structure according to any one of the preceding claims, further comprising a second stopper arrangement (32), which is also integrated in said die (12) and is configured to limit a movement of said cantilever elements (18) in a second direction of said vertical axis (z), moving away from the underlying central opening (16); said first (30) and said second (32) stopper arrangement jointly defining a bi-directional stopper mechanism along said vertical axis (z) for said actuation structure (10).
 
5. The structure according to claim 4, wherein said frame (14) has a wall that faces said central opening (16) and extends along said vertical axis (z), and said second stopper arrangement (32) comprises second recesses (25b) of the wall of said frame (14) at said rear surface (13b), which determine a second stopper surface (32'), arranged at a second distance (d2) with respect to said rear surface (13b).
 
6. The structure according to claim 5, wherein said coupling element (15) has a respective wall that faces said central opening (16) and extends along said vertical axis (z), and said second stopper arrangement (32) comprises respective second recesses (26b) of the wall of said coupling element (15) at said rear surface (13b), which determine a respective stopper surface (32').
 
7. The structure according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein said central opening (16) includes: a first cavity (50) at said front surface (13a) underlying said cantilever elements (18) and having a first width (L1) in a longitudinal direction of extension of said cantilever elements (18) along a horizontal axis (x) of said horizontal plane (xy); a second cavity (60) underlying said first cavity (50) and having a second width (L2) in said longitudinal direction; and a third cavity (61) at said rear surface (13b) underlying said second cavity (60) and having a third width (L3) in said longitudinal direction; wherein said first width (L1) and said third width (L3) are greater than said second width (L2).
 
8. The structure according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein said cantilever elements (18) have a first end coupled to said frame (14) and a second end elastically coupled to a coupling portion (15') of said actuator element (15) through respective elastic coupling elements (17).
 
9. The structure according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein said cantilever elements (18) are made of monocrystalline silicon.
 
10. A MEMS electroacoustic transducer (11), comprising an actuation structure (10) according to any one of the preceding claims, and an acoustic membrane (35) centrally coupled to said actuator element (15); wherein deformation of said cantilever elements (18) by the piezoelectric effect is configured to determine displacement of said actuator element (15) and corresponding displacement of said acoustic membrane (35).
 
11. The transducer according to claim 10, further comprising a rigid stopper element (34) interposed between said acoustic membrane (35) and said actuator element (15) at said rear surface (13b).
 
12. The transducer according to claim 10 or 11, wherein said acoustic membrane (35) has end portions coupled to supporting elements (36) coupled to said frame (14) at said rear surface (13b) of said monolithic body (13).
 
13. The transducer according to claim 10 or 11, further comprising a housing structure (40), having: a base (41), to which the actuation structure (10) is coupled at the front surface (13a); and a supporting portion (42), which surrounds the actuation structure (10) and has a first surface coupled to the base (41) and a second surface, vertically opposite to the first surface, to which end portions of said acoustic membrane (35) are coupled.
 
14. The transducer according to any one of claims 10 to 13, defining a speaker for generation of sound waves in the audio band.
 
15. A process for manufacturing an actuation structure (10) of a MEMS electroacoustic transducer (11), comprising integrating in a die (12) of semiconductor material having a monolithic body (13) with a front surface (13a) and a rear surface (13b) extending in a horizontal plane (xy): a frame (14); an actuator element (15) arranged in a central opening (16) defined by said frame (14); cantilever elements (18), coupled at said front surface (13a) between said actuator element (15) and said frame (14); and piezoelectric regions (19) arranged on said cantilever elements (18) and configured to be biased to cause a deformation of said cantilever elements (18) by the piezoelectric effect,
characterized by comprising integrating in said die (12) a first stopper arrangement (30) designed to interact with said cantilever elements (18) to limit a movement thereof in a first direction of a vertical axis (z) orthogonal to said horizontal plane (xy), towards the underlying central opening (16).
 
16. The process according to claim 15, wherein integrating comprises:

providing a wafer (45) of semiconductor material having a front surface (45a) and a rear surface (45b);

forming a buried-oxide region (52) separated from said front surface (45a) by a membrane (49) and having a first width (L1) along a first horizontal axis (x) of said horizontal plane (xy);

forming a piezoelectric structure (54) on said membrane (49) ;

etching said piezoelectric structure (54) and said membrane (49) to define said cantilever elements (18) and said piezoelectric regions (19);

consecutively etching said wafer (45) starting from said rear surface (45b), with a first etch to form a deep cavity (60) that reaches said buried-oxide region (52) and has a second width (L2), and, subsequently, with a second etch to form a surface cavity (61) at said rear surface (45b) having a third width (L3), wherein said first (L1) and said third (L3) width are greater than the second width (L2); and

removing said silicon oxide of said buried-oxide region (52) so as to define a buried cavity (50) and release said cantilever elements (18) above said buried cavity (50).


 
17. The process according to claim 16, wherein removing comprises concurrently defining in said wafer (45) said first stopper arrangement (30).
 
18. The process according to claim 16 or 17, wherein consecutively etching comprises concurrently defining in said wafer (45) a second stopper arrangement (32), configured to limit a movement of said cantilever elements (18) in a second direction of said vertical axis (z), away from the underlying central opening (16); said first (30) and said second (32) stopper arrangements jointly defining a bi-directional stopper mechanism along said vertical axis (z) for said actuation structure (10).
 
19. The process according to any one of claims 16 to 18, wherein forming a buried-oxide region (52) comprises:

forming the buried cavity (50) contained in said wafer (45) and separated from said front surface (45a) by said membrane (49), a coupling portion (15') of semiconductor material being centrally arranged with respect to said buried cavity (50) and coupled to said membrane (49); and

forming silicon oxide in said buried cavity (50) to form said buried-oxide region (52).


 
20. The process according to claim 19, wherein forming a buried cavity (50) comprises:

digging inside said wafer (45), starting from the front surface (45a), trenches (47) that delimit between them columns (48) of semiconductor material;

epitaxially growing, starting from said columns (48), a closing layer of semiconductor material, said closing layer closing said trenches (47) at the top; and

carrying out a thermal treatment such as to cause migration of the semiconductor material of said columns (48) towards said closing layer to form said buried cavity (50) and, concurrently, said membrane (49) suspended above said buried cavity (50).


 
21. The process according to any one of claims 16 to 18, wherein said wafer is a SOI (Silicon-On-Insulator) wafer having an active layer (66), an insulating layer (67), and a supporting layer (68); and wherein forming a buried-oxide region (52) comprises:

etching the active layer (66) and the insulating layer (67), so as to define a stacked region (69) of portions of the active layer (66) and of the insulating layer (67); and

subjecting the front surface (45a) of the wafer (45) to silicon re-growth, so as to form, starting from said stacked region (69), said buried-oxide region (52) and said membrane (49) on said buried-oxide region (52).


 




Drawing






































REFERENCES CITED IN THE DESCRIPTION



This list of references cited by the applicant is for the reader's convenience only. It does not form part of the European patent document. Even though great care has been taken in compiling the references, errors or omissions cannot be excluded and the EPO disclaims all liability in this regard.

Patent documents cited in the description