Silicon based power MEMS applications require the high-speed micro-rotating machinery to operate stably over a large range of operating conditions. The technical barriers to achieve stable high-speed operation using micro-gas-bearings are governed by: (1) stringent fabrication tolerance requirements and manufacturing repeatability, (2) structural integrity of the silicon rotors, (3) rotordynamic coupling effects due to leakage flows, (4) bearing losses and power requirements, and (5) transcritical operation and whirl instability issues. Over the past few years, a large body of research was conducted at MIT to address these technical challenges; many lessons were learned and new theories were developed related to the dynamic behavior of micro-gas journal and thrust bearings. Based on the above mentioned experience, a gas-bearing supported micro-air turbine was developed with the objectives of demonstrating repeatable, stable high-speed gas-bearing operation and verifying the new micro-gas-bearing analytical models. The key challenge in this endeavor involved the synthesis and integration of the newly-developed gas-bearing theories and insight gained from extensive experimental work. The focus of this paper is on the process and the outcomes of this synthesis, rather than the details and results of the underlying theoretical models which have been previously published. The characteristics of the new micro-air turbine include a four-chamber journal bearing feed system to introduce stiffness anisotropy, labyrinth seals to avoid rotordynamic coupling effects of leakage flows, a reinforced thrust bearing structural design, a redesigned turbine rotor to increase power, a symmetric feed system to avoid flow and force non-uniformity, and a new rotor micro-fabrication methodology. A large number of test devices were successfully manufactured demonstrating repeatable bearing geometry. More specifically, three sets of devices with different journal bearing clearances were produced to investigate the dynamic behavior as a function of bearing geometry. Experiments were conducted to characterize the “as fabricated” bearing geometry, the damping ratio, and the natural frequencies. Repeatable high-speed bearing operation was demonstrated using isotropic and anisotropic bearing settings reaching whirl ratios between 20 and 40. A rotor speed of 1.7 million rpm (equivalent to 370 m/s blade tip speed or a bearing DN of 7 million mm-rpm) was achieved demonstrating the feasibility of MEMS based micro-scale rotating machinery and validating key aspects of the micro-gas-bearing theory.

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