By Kyle James
Small Times Correspondent
HANNOVER, Germany, April 16, 2002 — A forum on international road maps for the microsystems industry Monday at Hannover Fair 2002 featured speakers from four countries and three continents. Although everybody gave their presentations in English, listeners were left wondering whether they really did speak the same language.
The morning talks illustrated that even though the microsystems industry is promoted as international, with researchers working closely with their overseas colleagues, there are still differences in perspectives and approaches that show national boundaries have not been entirely erased.
An industry road map is a study that looks at technological and application trends, and market forecasts. It leads to formation of industrial standards that streamline production and keep scientists from duplicating their colleagues’ work.
Jon Pepper, president and publisher of Small Times Media, referred to two road maps by two different industry groups, one complete, one still in preparation. “They are not as advanced as we might hope,” he said, adding that he’s not certain whether the road maps are “going to the same place.”
The same is true internationally, since there are big differences in the way Americans and Europeans use road maps and the data that make up their market forecasts.
The American road map that is now complete, by the Pittsburgh-based MEMS Industry Group, forecasts that the MEMS industry will reach $8 – $15 billion by 2004. Travel across the big pond and that number jumps exponentially. The road map published by the Network of Excellence in Multifunctional Microsystems (NEXUS), a Europe-based industry group, puts its 2005 estimate at $68 billion. No small difference.
But the gap lessens somewhat when we see that the criteria for calculating prices for MEMS units vary greatly. Whereas the U.S. studies only include the cost of the microjets in an inkjet printer, for example, the Europeans consider the cost of the whole cartridge in their calculations.
But even beyond standardizing calculating methods, there’s disagreement about standardizing the standardization.
The competing U.S. road map, now being finalized by Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI) and the Micro and Nanotechnology Commercialization Education Foundation (MANCEF), talks about the need for standardization in all phases of microsystems, including design, manufacture and interconnectivity.
But Gaetan Menozzi, chairman of NEXUS, does not believe talk of standardization is productive. “Maybe standardization concerning the interface is important,” he said. “But as far as the process goes, it’s not so important how it gets done, as long as the goal is reached.”
The difference in philosophy, according to Howard Goldberg of Texas-based Applied MEMS, has to do with the how a road map is designed. “From what I’ve seen the Americans look at road maps from a technology evolution standpoint,” he said, “whereas the Europeans look at them from a product evolution standpoint.”
That is not necessarily a bad thing, he said, since in marrying the two the industry could get a more comprehensive picture. “It doesn’t have to be an either-or situation,” he said. “But I do think the MEMS industry needs to get together and put more structure in road maps overall. I think the Europeans are better at infrastructure road maps. Americans are very individualist and better at commercialization and venture capital.”
And there are other differences of opinion between the old and new worlds.
NEXUS is seen as having found a successful model in its User Supplier Clubs (USCs). These are the backbone of the industry organization, where members from different companies working in optics or automotive, for example, get together to network, discuss technical and commercial issues and deliver statistical market and production data. The idea has worked in Europe, where closer ties between companies are the norm. It has not caught on in the United States, where many companies look upon such information sharing with suspicion.
“Just take a look at optical telecom,” Goldberg said. “People in optical MEMS are very skittish. They won’t even tell you they use MEMS, that’d be giving away too much.”
While no one at Monday’s forum had access to a functioning crystal ball, predictions of small tech‘s future varied widely. Pepper of Small Times warned against describing every innovation as “revolutionary” or making pie-in-the-sky predictions of skyrocketing profits. His sobriety was counterbalanced by the bright outlook of Wolfgang Ehrfeld, of Ehrfeld Mikrotechnik, who seemed convinced that an exciting new world entirely controlled by small tech will be here within the next decade.
Here at Hannover there are around 350 companies from around the world that have brought their innovations to the microtechnology hall. It could well be that there are close to that many differences in how best to move the industry forward.
“But international trade shows like this one,” Goldberg said, “or the Commercialization of MEMS Conference in September are good ways to get people to start interacting more, putting out good road maps and start working together.”
More news from the Hannover Fair
Microtech section is small, but it’s ‘where the action is’
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