Over the last few years, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) have moved into the mainstream electronics markets as established technologies, and are experiencing additional growth through software and applications. Whereas 10 years ago MEMS discussions revolved around hammering out the processes, solving manufacturing problems and pushing an agenda for standardization, these days it’s all about implementation.
Processes are better understood, and the industry is realizing that standardization is virtually impossible given the IP landscape and the numerous different types of MEMS devices. Instead, the latest topics of discussion revolve around repurposing existing MEMS technologies for new applications and using a collaborative approach across the MEMS supply chain to accomplish this.
So what took so long for MEMS to hit its stride? The answer is simple: While MEMS have been around as long as CMOS technology, nobody knew what to do with it. For years, it was a technology looking for an application. But gradually, as manufacturers have gained a better understanding of its capabilities, the applications themselves are allowing the MEMS industry to flourish and find its place in the world. Tire pressure sensors and air bags brought MEMS to the automotive market. MEMS arrived on the scene in consumer applications through the introduction of touch screens and virtual gaming controllers. Now, the proliferation of MEMS in the household for smart home applications is helping to drive growth.
While we can claim that MEMS technology has gone mainstream, due to the diversity of devices, MEMS devices will never individually experience the wafer volumes that CMOS devices do. Unlike their semiconductor cousins, MEMS manufacturers succeed by making multiple MEMS products, not just a few in high volumes.
In MEMS’ early years, semiconductor process tools were repurposed for MEMS processes, as 80-85% of those processes are standard, and 10-15% are MEMS specific, such as deep reactive ion etch and release etch. As such, MEMS designers became adept at designing out process flaws to accommodate for the tools’ processing inadequacies.
However, the industry has become more competitive, with more MEMS players coming into the market for specific applications. After all, when something is successful, everyone wants to get in on the action. At the same time, MEMS are becoming more advanced: they are shrinking in size and are now packaged together with electronics using sensor fusion approaches to serve the new wave of the internet of things applications across myriad markets including consumer, automotive, medical and industrial.
Competition continues to increase in the industry with a distinct focus on cost. With the increasing number of players, combined with a continual price erosion, designers are no longer willing to compromise designs to accommodate inferior processes and materials. They want to design exactly what they want, and to use standard materials where possible to reduce cost, which is driving the need for better MEMS-specific tools.
These trends are aimed right at memsstar’s sweet spot: advanced tools designed to accommodate MEMS-specific processes using both standard and exotic materials. The more applications there are, the more MEMS need to be manufactured, and leveraging process expertise, materials and equipment from a specialized MEMS company like ours can benefit customers, with faster time to market and better yields, which are both critical in the price-sensitive electronics marketplace.
If you want to learn more about our unique approach to MEMS manufacturing tools, connect with us during the 30th IEEE International Conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS 2017) in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, from January 22 – 26, 2017, Booth 35.