Report from SEMICON West: MEMS going mainstream

by Phil LoPiccolo, Editor-in-Chief

While the MEMS market is currently fragmented, both in terms of the types of devices being produced and the companies producing them, over the next ten years, MEMS components will increasingly be integrated into modules that will replace existing electronics systems, and manufacturing will be absorbed by mainstream semiconductor companies. That was the message delivered in an “emerging technologies” presentation at SEMICON West by Jean-Christophe Eloy, GM of Yole Developpement, a market research and consulting group based in Lyon, France.

Among the most significant trends in the market is that MEMS technology is replacing a number of non-silicon devices and is migrating from the component sensors to integrated modules, noted Eloy, summarizing the results of the firm’s latest MEMS studies. For example, several companies, including Bosch, BEI Technologies, Invensense, and Honeywell, are developing MEMS-based inertial measurement systems to replace non-silicon accelerometers and gyroscopes for automotive and other applications, and firms such as Knowles and Akustica are merging silicon microphones into acoustic modules. Elsewhere, manufacturers are integrating MEMS devices into modules aimed at replacing optical auto-focus and zoom functions in mobile phones.

As a result of this trend, the global MEMS market is projected to double from $5 billion to nearly $10 billion in the next six years, according to Eloy (see figure, below). Beneath the overall 13% CAGR, individual applications will undergo widely varying rates of adoption, with some of the newest applications accounting for the fastest growth. For instance, the market for silicon microphones, which totaled just $65 million in revenues in 2005, is expected to grow 44% through 2010, largely from demand in mobile phone and laptop PC applications. RF MEMS acoustic resonators and switches, totaling $105 million last year, will expand at a 26% CAGR during the same period.

Meanwhile, market saturation will slow two of the current leading MEMS applications, inkjet heads and pressure sensors (each representing more than $1 billion in revenue), to just 6% and 7% CAGR, respectively. Segments estimated to expand at 10%-20% CAGR include accelerometers and gyroscopes, MOEMS for optical applications such as digital micromirror displays, and microfluidic devices to control and deliver fluid samples to microsensors. MEMS-based micro fuel cell technology — designed to replace batteries in small portable devices — is anticipated to emerge in 2009.

Drilling down to examine MEMS in mobile devices, Eloy showed that this segment will also follow steep curves for revenue growth and expansion into new applications. MEMS revenues in the mobile market were less than $200 million in 2005, almost exclusively from silicon microphones and RF acoustic resonators, but by 2009 they will exceed $850 million and include a host of other applications: accelerometers for human-machine interfaces and GPS devices, RF MEMS switches, auto-focus devices, oscillators, displays, portable projectors, micro fuel cells, and gyroscopes for image stabilization.

Demand for MEMS equipment and materials also is poised for solid growth. According to Eloy, revenues from sales of MEMS manufacturing equipment will rise from about $650 million to nearly $900 million over the next five years, thanks in large part to the growing demand by MEMS makers for etching technologies (notably deep reactive ion etch), as well as for wafer-level bonding equipment for packaging operations. Likewise, sales of materials and chemicals will ramp from just over $400 million at present to nearly $800 million by 2010, with Si and SOI wafers, quartz, and glass materials accounting for the bulk of the market as well as the biggest growth rate increases.

Surveying the firms currently involved in MEMS reveals a highly diversified landscape. Roughly a half dozen companies, led by Texas Instruments and Hewlett Packard, generate more than $200 million in MEMS revenues annually; about 25 bring in between $20 million and $200 million; and as many as 250 companies sell less than $20 million worth of MEMS devices/year. This latter group includes mainly systems manufacturers with internal MEMS fabs that produce a few thousand wafers per year for their own products.

However, Eloy predicted that in five years, more than half of all systems manufacturers with internal MEMS fabs will turn to external semiconductor manufacturers for MEMS production, and in 10 years, virtually all will have made the transition. “The semiconductor companies are really looking to produce added-value ICs by integrating MEMS technology,” he said. “By 2015, the global MEMS market will reach $18 billion, and 70% of it will be in the hands of semiconductor manufacturers.” — P.L.


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