Fluid Handling

Microstaq inventor masters micro-electro-mechanical systems flow control

Jul 21, 2005

Nelson Fuller has spent more than 20 years designing and developing fluid systems. For the past three years at Microstaq (www.microstaq.com), he has been engineering a silicon chip microvalve technology that holds great promise for the miniaturization of these systems. The micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) technology will soon make its way into a number of flow control applications where improved flow control performance and integrated intelligent control are sought.

Fuller spends his days designing and testing Microstaq’s new valve technology. He enjoys being part of a small company, after spending years working in the large corporate world. His work at Microstaq is extremely hands-on and team oriented, and he enjoys being able to see his work come to fruition.

“The buzz word is that you want a ‘disruptive’ technology,” Fuller said. “Our technology is such that it has the potential to replace all solenoid control valves, which is a pretty big market.”

Fuller came to Microstaq in 2002 after a successful engineering career at TRW Automotive. While with TRW, Fuller was key in the invention and commercialization of antilock braking systems, now a product mainstay of TRW.

After some initial design work on microvalves at TRW Fuller joined Microstaq, where he is now successfully testing this all-silicon valve at the company’s Bellingham, Washington labs.

Microstaq’s valve is a silicon MEMS technology, which means that its internal moving parts will not wear out. It is a tiny silicon wafer the size of a button that controls the flow of liquids, mists and gases at high pressures, replacing traditional control valves larger than a spark plug. In automotive applications its lighter weight and smaller size will increase fuel economy and reduce power consumption in every car, truck and SUV that uses it.

Fuller thinks the microchip-sized valve will revolutionize the flow control industry. He has kept his eye on the future, finding his work exciting and groundbreaking, as well as challenging at times.

“I basically did it because I saw that the industry had developed solenoid valves to the point that they couldn’t be made more efficient,” he said. “My desire has always been to stay ahead of the research curve.”

Fuller has a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, and was an aerospace photographic system repairman for the U.S. Air Force. He worked for Chrysler Introl Division in Michigan as a development engineer before moving on to Kelsey Hayes (now TRW) in the early 80s and then to Microstaq in 2002.