The MEMS industry is starting to adopt some of the strategies that helped the semiconductor industry enjoy strong growth over a long period of time. MEMS processing technology is becoming somewhat more standardized with increasingly advanced modeling/simulation tools available to designers. The slow standardization of process technology is creating more foundry services that are available for outsourcing MEMS prototypes and production, leading MEMS start-ups down the path – over 15 years after IC firms – toward fabless or fab-light models. A key aspect is that MEMS features, while sophisticated, are almost never at the smallest scale and are often several microns in size. With traditional IC fabs constantly pushing the limits of physics, resulting in astronomical capital requirements and driving industry consolidation, one ‘escape’ route for 2nd and 3rd tier fabs is to shift into higher-value MEMS fabrication, where leading-edge MEMS devices can be made with equipment otherwise obsolete for high volume leading edge IC production.
The emergence of more tools and foundries means, as it did for ICs, that it is now possible to launch MEMS ventures that focus on value-added IP and applications knowledge, rather than manufacturing expertise. However, there is unlikely to be a global giant that dominates the MEMS market to the extent that a few companies dominate the semiconductor market, at least not anytime soon. The MEMS landscape is so fragmented in terms of device architecture and applications that it will be difficult for one company to emerge as the dominant force in every segment.
Also like IC’s previously, MEMS is moving away from discrete components to integrating the mechanical device with electronics, photonics and fluidics in an integrated system. MEMS will play a vital role in the emerging integration of ICT (Information Communications Technology) markets with biomedical, alternative energy and intelligent transportation. At the dawn of MEMS, right after pressure sensors were applied in automobiles, they were adapted for blood pressure and early BP-sensors have been a significant market for Motorola, Foxboro, EG&G and others. Today MEMS sensors are designed into many implantable medical devices.
This vision of MEMS whereby microsensors, microactuators and microelectronics and other technologies, can be integrated onto a single microchip is expected to be one of the most important technological breakthroughs of the future. This will enable the development of smart products by augmenting the computational ability of microelectronics with the perception and control capabilities of microsensors and microactuators. Microelectronic integrated circuits can be thought of as the "brains" of a system and MEMS augments this decision-making capability with "eyes" and "arms", to allow microsystems to sense and control the environment. Sensors gather information from the environment through measuring mechanical, thermal, biological, chemical, optical, and magnetic phenomena. The electronics then process the information derived from the sensors and through some decision making capability direct the actuators to respond by moving, positioning, regulating, pumping, and filtering, thereby controlling the environment for some desired outcome or purpose. Furthermore, because MEMS devices are manufactured using batch fabrication techniques, similar to ICs, unprecedented levels of functionality, reliability, and sophistication can be placed on a small silicon chip at a relatively low cost. MEMS technology is extremely diverse and fertile, both in its expected application areas, as well as in how the devices are designed and manufactured. Already, MEMS is revolutionizing many product categories by enabling complete systems-on-a-chip to be realized.
We note the following trends:
• New applications: Smart phones, tablets, remote controller, gaming consoles, pico projectors, GPS
• New MEMS products: 3-Axis gyroscopes, compass, scanning/arrayed micromirrors, RF switches and varactors, timing devices, autofocus/zoom
• Emerging MEMS: Point of care diagnostics, drug dispensing, gene sequencing, gas/chemical sensors, energy harvesting, micordisplays
• Emergence of MEMS fab-less companies
• Increased outsourcing of MEMS by IDMs
• Similarity of process and tools with IC industry
• Growing share of 8” MEMS manufacturing
• CMOS and MEMS integration
• Wafer level packaging
• Process standardization and reusable IPs
Non-standardization of process, materials and tools pose a major challenge for high volume manufacturing
No standardized design cell libraries & PDKs
• Materials and processes
Process Integration-high degree of customization
Automation & productivity
Tools modifications for wafer handling
• Wafers Volumes
Few products with economies of scale
Maintaining yield and quality for low volume products
Lack of resuable IPs and know-how
No consensus in the industry on MEMS Roadmap