Prescription for pure-play MEMS foundries outlined at MEPTEC

by Debra Vogler, Senior Technical Editor

Seeking to accelerate the growth of the MEMS device market, CTO and chairman of LV Sensors Inc. (LVSI), Janusz Bryzek, called for the formation of a world-class pure MEMS foundry business with customizable standard unit processes at the recent MEPTEC conference (May 16-17, San Jose, CA). These unit processes, characterized and modeled over a broad range of settings, would be enabled by state-of-the-art high-volume processing equipment with first pass process yields similar to what is achievable in CMOS manufacturing.

That such standardization would shorten the current development cycle time and speed time-to-market is apparent given that custom processes represent ~100% of the commercial MEMS market, Bryzek observed. He cited Sandia and MemsCap/MCNC as being among the few that have standardized MEMS processes. But pursuing standardized processes would also restrict device designers — a familiar lament heard even by designers of bleeding edge advanced CMOS logic and memory devices. Bryzek pointed out to the conference attendees that venture capitalists are already pushing for start-ups to go fabless. Furthermore, he added that many of the objections being raised for MEMS standardized processes were the same ones heard in the CMOS sector before the rise of the fabless model.

However, accomplishing Bryzek’s goal, at least for newer MEMS devices, will require overcoming significant process IP protection. Competitors who hold key IP portfolios view the status quo as a way to ensure higher barriers to entry and standardization would challenge their leverage he said. And while the IC industry continues to push the envelope with respect to manufacturing in China (with Intel seeking a new 300mm fab, backend facility expansions from Micron, Qimonda, and NXP/ASE, and even Silicon Valley VC stalwart Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers extending roots), Bryzek told the audience that the country’s lax enforcement of IP protection is an impediment to the establishment of MEMS foundries there.

Reviewing the market potential for MEMS, Bryzek cited market projections from Yole D


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