MEMS product development — why is it so hard?

September 23, 2011 — On the journey to micro electro mechanical system (MEMS) commercialization over the past 20 years, the industry has seen some very successful products and companies, but the road is also littered with many failures: failed products, bankrupt companies, and disgruntled investors. According to Jean-Christophe Eloy, president and CEO of Yole Développement, MEMS start-ups need about $45 million and three to four CEOs to make it to commercialization. Not exactly the best “Welcome to MEMS” sign if you are entering this diverse industry.

Developing a new MEMS product is a difficult and risky business. What makes developing new MEMS devices so hard? This is a question that many ask — especially those who have experience in the semiconductor industry — but the comparison is not fair. The main reason it’s a false comparison is because while the IC industry has robust and efficient electronic design automation (EDA) tools, MEMS does not. Though several MEMS-specific EDA tools do exist, they do not yet offer the end-to-end simulation capability that has speeded design in the IC industry.

MEMS product development differs in other ways as well. There is a lack of standard processes, and foundries serving the MEMS industry offer varying material properties. If this weren’t challenging enough, MEMS process and layout design rules are complicated by their sensitivity to multiple variables, including pattern load factor, line-width and location on the wafer. These issues lead to a lot of process characterization work, which adds to the budget and timeline.

MEMS supplier ecosystem today — much improved. Specialization reduces resource requirements.

While all of this may sound daunting, we are making significant strides in MEMS product development. The good news is that the MEMS industry now has a more robust infrastructure: a supply chain of MEMS foundries, software designers, equipment vendors, materials suppliers, and device manufacturers (all represented in MEMS Industry Group), which can assist and support a MEMS-intelligent product development methodology. To commercialize a successful MEMS product, one must start with an experienced technical team that can close the gaps in current MEMS EDA tools, and an experienced business team, that can assemble the correct supply chain to support that specific MEMS product.

Commercializing MEMS can take years and millions of dollars. But as in life, many things that are hard are worth the effort. Just look at the wildly successful Apple iPhone and the resultant App store. Would there be the phenomenon of Angry Birds without MEMS? Nope. Thankfully, someone figured out the challenges to MEMS product development to enable the MEMS inside the machine.

This blog is provided by MEMS Industry Group (MIG).

Karen Lightman is managing director, MEMS Industry Group. Contact her at

Alissa M. Fitzgerald is founder and managing member, A.M. Fitzgerald & Associates; and a member of the MEMS Industry Group governing council board.

Subscribe to our MEMS Direct newsletter


Easily post a comment below using your Linkedin, Twitter, Google or Facebook account. Comments won't automatically be posted to your social media accounts unless you select to share.