MEMS Innovation: A Tipping Point

Consolidation is inevitable as efficiency drives companies to low-cost, high-volume production.


By Joanne Itow
Two years ago I attended my first MEMS Executive Congress and was impressed with the high level of enthusiasm in new applications and growth prospects for MEMS. This year’s event was just as impressive and the new MEMS products continue to amaze me. The market has been flooded with new gadgets, new suppliers and now, new challenges. All MEMS are not created equal.

One of the reasons why these new applications are possible is the lower cost to integrate MEMS functions into consumer, medical and communication devices. The MEMS Technology Showcase on Thursday morning featured six companies with products ranging from fitness monitoring devices to a robotic ball and an illuminated graphic skateboard. MEMS devices are enabling both fun and practical new applications. But MEMS companies are facing the growing pains associated with a technology caught in the transition to volume breakthrough. How to maintain ROI with declining ASPs is a question being asked more and more often today.

Tony Massimini, Semico’s chief of technology, was on the MEMS Market Panel and was asked, “What does the industry need to do to address the issue of falling ASPs?” As an industry veteran, Massimini pointed out the two ways the semiconductor industry traditionally responds to this trend. First, they can add functionality or enhance performance to add value and maintain pricing levels. Second, they can accept the lower market prices and maintain ROI by reducing manufacturing costs. Of course, these options are not mutually exclusive. Most companies are working both angles to keep up.

To provide increased functionality and improved performance, companies are turning to sensor fusion. Integrating two or more MEMS sensors in one device or in a single package improves performance and can lower cost, but the key ingredient to sensor fusion is the addition of software algorithms that determine what information is important and what to do with it all. Sorting through the relevant information and effectively processing the massive amount of data collected from MEMS sensors is the key to sensor fusion.

On the manufacturing front, new techniques and equipment are being developed to reduce production costs. EV Group touted their Omni Spray coating technique, which reduces resist consumption. To improve yields, inline metrology and improved edge die yield have been implemented. There are a number of improvements that can be made when it comes to wafer bonding. Manufacturers are focused on improving the accuracy and strength of wafer bond lines to reduce their size, and reducing the temperature and/or the processing time at high temperatures can result in faster throughput.

I have no doubt that these innovative developments will improve the functionality and lower the cost of MEMS products. However, not all companies will have access to these developments. Semico believes we’ll continue to see new products and new companies entering the MEMS market, but we’ll also begin to see consolidation as the most efficient move to low-cost, high-volume production.

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