Custom fit: Tronics surges in MEMS foundry sector

by Debra Vogler, Senior Technical Editor, Solid State Technology

April 18, 2008 – Tronics Microsystems SA, a French manufacturer of custom MEMS components and microsystems, announced days ago that its FY07 revenues increased 56% to €10.5M (US $16.7M), 80% of which came from custom components for a select customer base. That sales growth is nearly twice the estimated 30% CAGR for the overall MEMS contract manufacturing/foundry business in 2007, according to Yole Developpement. Tronics also extended its profitability to six consecutive quarters with a net profit of €1.3M ($1.9M) and 12% margins.

The company attributes its success in part to increased penetration of its MEMS-based geophones for the seismic oil exploration industry and a growing number of projects involving other inertial MEMS devices. WaferNEWS asked the company’s manager, marketing and business development, Vincent Gaff, about its business and manufacturing strategy.

As a spin-off from LETI, Tronics Microsystems originally started manufacturing MEMS in a LETI facility based on the R&D group’s “thick” SOI process, which was transferred to the company. Not until the company had a sufficient number of customers, backlog, and money, did it expand. “In the past, some companies built “dream fabs” — investing too much in too large a fab in the beginning, and then struggling to reach a breakeven point,” explained Gaff. “We tried to be reasonable.” The original investment of €6.5M in 2003 was for equipment and building a cleanroom in an empty warehouse.

The company invested an additional €3.5M for equipment in 2006 and by the end of that year, the company shifted from 4-in. wafers to 6-in. wafer production, while in parallel building assembly and packaging lines in a rented space. These additional capabilities, Gaff said, are a differentiator for the company because they provide a value-add beyond processing wafers.

Tronics manufactures the majority of its products on thick SOI. According to Gaff, 90%-95% of its products are capacitive sensors or electrostatic actuators, such as acceleration sensors, gyros, miniature pressure sensors, actuators, and micro-mirrors — all of which are built on the same manufacturing line. Products that can’t be manufactured on SOI — RF MEMS and microfluidics — are still in the development stage.

Gaff told WaferNEWS that another key differentiator for the company is its efforts on yield management. “We work closely with our customers to understand failure modes at the device level,” he said. “We talk specifications and we understand failure modes and track them at the process level in order to set up production indicators related to the failure modes of the device.” — D.V.

[For more on Tronics, particularly its use of metrology in MEMS manufacturing, see SST’s March print issue, p. 56.]


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