Experts are predicting continued growth for MEMS devices for the next decade, driven by consumer applications such as smartphones, voice-activated devices, and bolstered by increasing demand from automotive, biomedical/health, artificial intelligence (AI), and industrial sectors. Additionally, the number of software applications that rely on MEMS for gathering data continues to increase. While this means we can expect the MEMS industry to have a bright future, MEMS manufacturers have some challenges they will need to overcome to be profitable. In this blog post, we will explore these and provide some tips to help you succeed.
Pay Attention to Yield
MEMS markets can be very cost-sensitive, particularly consumer, industrial and automotive. And while the biomedical market calls for high-end devices, manufacturing volumes tend to be lower in the first instance due to the long approval process for clinical use. This creates interesting market dynamics. Manufacturers need to consider both cost and ease of manufacturing. It doesn’t matter if you’ve designed the best MEMS device in the world; if it doesn’t have economic value, it’s a pointless exercise. As MEMS comes into its own, the industry will experience a similar path to what the mainstream semiconductor industry experienced 20 or 30 years ago. Pay attention to yield to maximize manufacturing and minimize cost.
Focus on Reliability
Automotive applications are one of the biggest drivers of high-volume, low-cost MEMS devices. And because more MEMS are required for today’s advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), automotive MEMS must adhere to the most stringent reliability standards. Unfortunately, unlike CMOS devices that have manufacturing solidly in place, standards for MEMS manufacturing are sorely lacking. This is an area that needs to be addressed. Standardizing MEMS manufacturing will have a big impact on device reliability, and on the industry as a whole.
Understand Emerging Materials
In the coming decade, we can expect to see more of the periodic table come into play for advanced MEMS, particularly to support emerging applications. Some materials will make things simpler, and some will increase the level of process complexity. Again, cost-sensitivity for developing and manufacturing these devices will depend on the target application. For example, high-end devices for biotech, military and space applications will require more complex processes, but will not be as cost-sensitive.
Remember, most of these devices are only expensive the first time they are made and introduced to the market. The more they are used and proliferated, the cheaper they become. There is an advantage to being first-to-market with a new capability, because although the investment is greater, you can benefit from the higher prices.
If you are working with materials that you haven’t used before, it’s important to understand their properties and how they interact with the MEMS structure.
Find the Right Foundry Partner
Most emerging MEMS companies are fabless design houses. To succeed, they need to go through the iteration process quickly to finalize designs. That makes them dependent on foundries and limits their design to what their foundry partner can manufacture.
However, today’s customers want increased innovation and integration, lower cost, smaller footprints, and faster design cycles to keep up with increased demand. This is bringing about change in both design and manufacturing to meet these requirements.
Whereas MEMS used to be a niche product, as they become critical to device functionality, more companies are getting involved. TSMC, the largest logic foundry in the world, now has a MEMS manufacturing line for high-volume products. Other foundries focus on lower-volume products and emphasize process capabilities. These foundries are willing to invest in the development of a variety of products. And then there are pure-play MEMS foundries that work together with designers to develop the process. Overall, there are now more players covering the MEMS supply chain. The key is finding the right foundry partner to support your design.
At memsstar, we are making next-generation MEMS devices possible by providing advanced processes and capabilities that support the use of new and different structures, materials and standards. Contact us to learn more about partnering with us to support your MEMS ideas for the next decade.