MEMS market building steam

JUNE 5–NEWPORT, Wales–The market for micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) will see approximately 45 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in unit volumes in the next two years according to Ian Smith, chief executive of Surface Technology Systems (STS), a supplier of plasma etch systems.

The number of MEMS devices per person in the USA is expected to grow from less than two today to more than five by 2005.

The evolution of MEMS has arguably been slow in recent times largely due to the industry’s inability to commercialize it because higher device cost cannot compete with existing technologes. However, MEMS has gained significant traction in the past 18 months because an increased number of foundries are offering low volume production.

Additionally, new technologies such as STS’ ASEHRM source for deep silicon etching demonstrating 3.5 times faster etch rates. Both approaches significantly reduce cost per die, enabling the commercialization of new technologies. According to Marlene Bourne, senior analyst for MEMS Markets & Technologies at In-Stat/MDR, worldwide revenues of MEMS devices will grow at a CAGR of 17.1 percent between 2003 and 2007.

“Customized process equipment, such as that supplied by STS, is an essential part of manufacturing MEMS at increased yields and reduced production costs,” Bourne said. “Lower prices will help to accelerate unit shipments of MEMS devices by allowing them to move into applications for which they were previously too costly.”

Smith’s main drive behind this aggressive growth prediction is his company’s preparedness to accelerate the growth in the MEMS market. Currently, the factors poised to become the dominant drivers of this growth are reducing the cost per die and improving performance and overall application of MEMS. So far MEMS has been in a technology driven R&D phase but seems ready to come out of its shell with more applications reaching their full commercialization stage in the next 2-3 years, including photonics, biotechnology, telecommunications systems and RF applications. In addition, the automotive and medical industries will continue to drive the growth in market volume and applications.

“One major cost reduction will come from bringing MEMS production to cost effective volume production levels. MEMS technology is currently used in few volume applications and the main obstacle preventing its wider adoption is the high cost. A mechanism giving smaller organizations responsive and affordable access to MEMS fabrication is essential,” noted Smith.

New Challenge and New Opportunity
In addition to the production challenges, the packaging of MEMS devices and systems needs to improve considerably from its current ‘primitive’ state. MEMS packaging is more challenging and expensive than IC packaging due to the diversity of MEMS devices and the requirement that many of these devices be in contact with their environment. Today packaging makes up between 30 to 80 percent of the total cost of each MEMS device.

The ability for device manufacturers to package components on a wafer scale as opposed to individual component scale has the potential to drive down cost significantly but also increases the overall application and exploitation of microelectronic systems via further miniaturization.


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