Challenges and Opportunities Facing Next-Generation MEMS Devices

Before COVID-19, the MEMS market was one of the healthiest sectors in the semiconductor industry. Their efficient size, powerful capabilities, and, in many cases, relatively low cost to produce gave MEMS devices a significant edge over other sensor types, which is why this sector generated $11.5 billion in revenue in 2019, according to Yole Développement.

The COVID-19-induced supply chain disruptions and lockdowns slowed the projected growth of all but a few MEMS market sectors. But the industry is enduring and is expected to rebound significantly. There are some challenges the industry will face on the road to recovery, but there are also several promising opportunities for growth.

The following is a breakdown of the challenges and opportunities facing the MEMS industry in the near and distant future.

Challenge: Disruptions in the supply chain

While it certainly isn’t a problem exclusive to MEMS manufacturing, supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19 continue to be a major hurdle. The MEMS industry has always been very reliant on efficient logistics and quick turnaround times for production. With many countries around the world closing their borders completely, lead times slowed down significantly, and the just-in-time manufacturing model was severely altered.

The MEMS industry as a whole is doing an admirable job navigating the murky waters of 2020 and 2021. Despite positivity rates still high in parts of Asia and Europe, the early success of the vaccine in countries like the United Kingdom and United States provide a good reason to be optimistic.

That being said, even when the pandemic is finally behind us, the supply chain disruptions won’t be fixed overnight. It will take some time for the industry to fully recover and get back to having a predictable, secure supply.

Challenge: Rising development costs

One of the biggest challenges the MEMS industry currently faces are the ever-increasing development costs due to the complexity of today’s devices and the materials used to build them. MEMS development is now a multidisciplinary endeavor that requires more design centers, capital, and resources. One reason MEMS sensors are more prevalent today is their relatively low cost, so there is pressure on MEMS sensor suppliers to produce low-cost devices while providing greater product differentiation. Successfully navigating this challenge will be key to the future of the MEMS industry.

Opportunity: Adaptable processes across product generations

End-device manufacturers are demanding greater product differentiation, which often requires manufacturers to add dedicated manufacturing lines. This presents an opportunity for MEMS suppliers to utilize adaptable processes, which will allow tools to support several product generations. In the past, there wasn’t much continuity in the manufacturing process between the different generations or variety of MEMS devices. But by applying the same processes across the board, MEMS suppliers can increase total output and efficiency while reducing cost.

Opportunity: Application in new industries

One of the greatest opportunities for the MEMS industry is the staggering number of new applications that will benefit from MEMS technology. While automotive applications and mobile devices continue to provide a strong foundation for MEMS technology, the possibility for growth across other emerging industries is why industry leaders can be excited.

For example, we are seeing MEMS technology gain momentum in environmental hubs, virtual and augmented reality, health monitoring devices, wearables, and voice application devices. The possibilities for MEMS applications are truly endless, and there is no telling where we can take them over the next decade.

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