MEMS State of the Nation

Roger H. Grace, Roger Grace Associates
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I’ll attempt to provide here a brief review and update of the “MEMS State of the Nation” by using my MEMS Commercialization Report Card”1 to help track the recent changes and the trends in the critical success factors to the commercialization of MEMS.

“Grades” for the fourteen critical success factors were created by a market research project conducted in April 2008, in which over 50 individuals were interviewed to assess each success factor ranging from “A” to “D,” but most importantly their rational for the grade. The research universe was international in nature, with representatives from MEMS users, suppliers, and infrastructure providers—a true representation of the MEMS universe.

The results of the study show that there have been advances in a number of areas as well as declines. The overall grade for 2007 was B-, the same grade given in 2006. Here are some of the more significant success factors, their grades, rationale, and recommendations for further improvement.

Design for manufacturing/test. Grade: B

MEMS designers have long suffered from an over-concentration of resources to create truly unique devices, without sufficiently considering the integration of the device into the “system” (remember the “s” in MEMS stands for systems). Such functions include signal conditioning electronics, ASICs, microprocessors, software, and network devices, as well as interconnects and packages. Companies including Analog Devices and Freescale have realized success in how they have integrated their MEMS accelerometers into packages, intelligently using a stacked wafer approach (Freescale) or monolithic (ADI) to achieve system optimization. The real challenge here is to recognize the critical nature and the need for tradeoff analysis in the development of MEMS-based systems, and judiciously select the integration strategy, whether it is monolithic or system-in-a-package, at the outset of the design based on volume, price, and performance demands. In addition, testing strategies need to be an integral part of the design and not an afterthought; industry consortium MEMUNITY was formed to educate the community about the role and importance of testing in commercialization of MEMS products.

Infrastructure development. Grade: A-

This area has improved remarkably, and I believe this is because it has learned from the semiconductor industry. Twenty plus years ago, it was normal for such companies to build a fab. Now, most new MEMS companies are fabless or fab-lite, utilizing the 60+ foundries worldwide that specialize in wafer fabrication (e.g., Asia Pacific Microsystems, Colibrys) or packaging and testing (e.g., Aspen Technologies, Infotonics). Foundries’ current oversupply means MEMS manufacturers can optimize the selection of a foundry partner at an aggressive price. Also, equipment suppliers including SUSS Microtec and EV Group have invested a great deal in developing high-throughput equipment specifically suited to the requirements of the MEMS industry—rather than retrofitting equipment designed for semiconductors as they did in the past. Finally, the move from 4-inch and 6-inch wafers to 8-inch has created the need for a development foundry—e.g. SVTC to assist MEMS developers to smoothly transition and speed the development of their products to market. (read more about SVTC’s MEMS work, p. 4.)

Marketing. Grade: C+

This area continues to be a major laggard, for a number of reasons—chief among these is companies’ lack of interest in conducting market research on products that uniquely meet customers’ needs, and inadequately resourcing product promotion programs. Many MEMS development programs have generated products with little competitive advantage, or even worse address a market that does not exist. While there are adequate studies on market size for various applications, in-depth research falls far short of where it needs to be.

MEMS commercialization has come a long way since its inception in 1955. Recently, major opportunities have surfaced for MEMS in the consumer portable electronics area including displays, microphones, and accelerometers. Consider, though, that semiconductors have been around for fewer than 10 years longer than MEMS, but now has a market value more than 25× that of MEMS. MEMS players need to pay attention to the successes and failures of the semiconductor industry.

Roger H. Grace, president of Roger Grace Associates (Naples, FL), is a technology marketing consultant with more than 35 years’ experience in the small-tech industry. Contact him at [email protected] or


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