SEMICON West 2015 Retrospective: The future of MEMS manufacturing

At this year’s SEMICON West in the U.S. this past July, MEMS was a major focus, especially with the advent of the Internet of Things. The IoT has the potential to dramatically increase adoption of MEMS and MEMS-based sensors.

“New applications for existing MEMS devices are driving healthy 12% annual growth in the MEMS sector, but the difficulty of ramping disruptive new products to volume production may slow down growth unless the sector figures out how to smooth the translation of mechanical devices to silicon, suggests Jean-Christophe Eloy, CEO and president of Yole Développement.”[1]

Two sessions took slightly different looks at business dynamics within the MEMS industry, with an eye on addressing the challenges facing the industry to maintain its recent growth trajectory. “What’s next for MEMS,” focused largely on new challenges and opportunities along the supply chain, while “Creating Solutions to Address Common Challenges Facing the MEMS, Sensor and Semiconductor Industries in the Next Decade” looked at the issue as it relates to potential high-volume co-integration with processors for IoT applications.

MEMS Standards

Standards were one focus, with Alissa Fitzgerald of A.M. Fitzgerald & Associates presenting the case for standards within MEMS manufacturing. Her modeling shows 20-30% cost savings in standardizing SOI wafers and DRIE processes. This translates into saving of $100,000 and months of time per new MEMS product design if SOI substrates and DRIE recipes could be standardized across the world.

Etch and Deposition Technologies

Another topic was etch and deposition technologies, with a look back at the origins of MEMS manufacturing and adaptation of semiconductor tools. This led to a discussion of the need for MEMS unit processes, which is an area near and dear to us here at memsstar. Simply put, adapted semiconductor processes are no longer meeting the performance requirements for cost-effective, high-volume MEMS manufacturing. In part, this is because to meet IoT targets, MEMS simply must become more manufacturable, with higher yields and lower costs. Features like dedicated MEMS process technologies and process control are critical to meeting industry targets, which is good for suppliers like memsstar that offer differentiated products and services to address emerging industry demands.

MEMS Time to Market

An interesting discussion also came from Michael Nagib of Si-Ware Systems, who explained how to make “Integrated Solutions (MEMS+ASIC): From Concept to Production.” He stated that in fast-paced consumer markets, minimizing time-to-market is vital, and creates a need to quickly develop new sensor prototypes and ramp into production. This calls for existing, proven, off-the-shelf sensor-signal conditioners and interface electronics. This brings us back to the need to change how MEMS are manufactured, as well as a need for products designed to solve customers’ challenges quickly and effectively, without costly workarounds.

Even with the advent of the IoT and need for cost reductions and time-to-market for high-volume products, the old MEMS adage of “one product, one package” seems likely to be extended, at least short term, because of proprietary positions and the plethora of processes.

Proprietary positions are based on both processes (legacy MEMS) and designs (vertical, fab-lite, fabless) tuned to diverse application-focused markets. Many of these processes are used to fine-tune device functionalities, and we may expect that materials/processes/structures will continue to be fine-tuned to best meet the needs of high-volume IoT devices.

With over 26,000+ attendees at SEMICON West 2015, 692 exhibitors and 180 hours of programs, we can’t wait for SEMICON West 2016.

[1] “IoT needs new MEMS approaches,” Paula Doe, EE Times Europe, June 4, 2015.

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memsstar provides etch and deposition solutions for MEMS manufacturing. Find out more about our XERIC dry release etching process with Xenon DiFluoride (XeF2) and AURIX Self-Assembled Monolayers (SAM) coatings services or simply contact us at: for further information.

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