US MEMS industry is growing rapidly, says MIG

By Rachel Robinson
WaferNews Associate Editor

“We are on our way” seems to be the sentiment coming from the MEMS Industry Group (MIG), which recently reported that the US MEMS industry will grow from 2000’s $2 to $5 billion to an $8 to $15 billion industry by 2004.

“MEMS may not yet be a household name,” said John Seely Brown, chief scientist as Xerox, and MIG founding co-director. “But with the continued rapid adoption of MEMS technologies into products and devices of virtually every nature, it’s just a matter of time before MEMS is as much a part of the common understanding of technology as the microchip is today.”

According to a recent report issued by MIG, Pittsburgh, PA, there are approximately 1.6 MEMS devices per person today in the US. By 2004, MIG expects that number to grow to nearly five per person – a compound annual growth rate of 45%.

According to Ken Gabriel, MIG founding co-director and professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon U., the report put out by MIG is the first comprehensive review of economic and other indicators about the MEMS industry. “One of the things that is significant about the report is that there is a report at all,” he said. “This is the first report where the industry has come together, big and little companies, and has worked in context of the MIG over the last 10 months, to put together a consensus view of what the drivers are and what the challenges are.”

The study found that over 40% of US-based MEMS companies were founded between 1995 and 2001, with an average of 10 new companies per year founded over the past three years. To Vladimir Vaganov, founder and CEO of MegaSense, Sunnyvale, CA, a provider of integrated photonic micro-modules and micro-subsystems, the rapid growth proved to be both a blessing and a curse.

“Lately, a lot of MEMS companies started up and the majority of them didn’t have any experience in MEMS manufacturing. Because of that, they shook things up a bit, and hurt a good reliable reputation.”

He emphasized, however, that MEMS themselves are reliable and have a solid future.

“The industry is still maturing,” he said. “It’ll take time before we reach the level of the IC industry.”

According to MIG, employment growth in the US MEMS industry has “exploded.” It found that the level of employment in 2001 was 30X greater than in 1985.

Gabriel told WaferNews that the MEMS industry is getting highly trained graduates wanting to enter its work force. He said that students are being educated via federal funding for MEMS research, and research projects from universities.

In reference to the positive findings of the MIG study, Gabriel commented that the MEMS industry has been built on existing semiconductor infrastructure, which is a real benefit. “90% of what’s used in processing equipment for the semiconductor industry can be used for MEMS,” he said, adding that there are some differences and additional needs for MEMS that go beyond the chip industry. He pointed to infrastructure for optical MEMS devices, which are going to be different than that of the infrastructure for advanced biomedical applications as examples of diverse needs in the same general sector.

Vaganov said that the goal of MEMS was to create a complete system that will see, smell, hear, and process information, and then react to it.

Gabriel agreed, adding that MEMS is giving computing chips that can’t sense anything the eyes and ears to perceive and act upon the physical world.

Vaganov, like MIG, is very optimistic about what lies ahead for MEMS. “Any field, and any area of our lives will be affected by MEMS sooner or later,” he told WaferNews. “It is enormous, with uncountable applications.”


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