Speeding MEMS innovation and production

By Nishita Rao

DARPA’s Vision of Cross-Collaboration

Ron Polcawich, program manager, DARPA Microsystems Technology Office, will give the closing keynote at MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress on October 29-30, 2018 in Napa Valley, Calif. SEMI’s Nishita Rao spoke with Polcawich about the MEMS workshop on rapid innovation that he held earlier this year and his interest in continuing that conversation with a broad audience of MEMS and sensors suppliers attending MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress.

SEMI: What is your vision for the Rapid Innovation through Production MEMS (RIPM) concept and why does the MEMS and sensors industry need it?

Polcawich: The goal behind our RIPM concept is to advance the state of MEMS device technology by creating enhanced access to mature process flows for utilization by military, academic and commercial MEMS designers.

Compare MEMS to IC development and you will see much more rapid innovation in ICs. In many cases, IC designers can get through four design cycles in a calendar year because the process technologies are so mature.

In contrast, it can take three to four years to develop the process flow for a MEMS device. I believe that we can do better. With so much process-flow development in MEMS having taken place over the past 15 years, we now have plenty of commercial designs out there. How do we capitalize on these existing production process flows so we can rapidly innovate to avoid those painfully long production cycles?

With this question in mind, we launched a campaign to solicit feedback from small, medium and large foundries, integrated device manufacturers (IDMs), systems designers and integrators, and academic stakeholders. Our effort culminated in a May workshop where we were able to bring many of the same groups to the table. During one intensive day, we discussed challenges to the RIPM concept and what we would need to make it work.

SEMI: What were some of your areas of focus?

Polcawich: We covered a range of topics, from improving access to sophisticated packaging technology, such as advanced interposer technologies, to IP entanglement and the role of process design kits (PDKs).

SEMI: In an industry historically defined by competition over collaboration, how do you hope to convince MEMS supply-chain members to work together?

Polcawich: We see benefits from the proposed RIPM concept across the board. Foundries would benefit from outputting higher volumes of devices as well as charging for more sophisticated PDKs and process flows — which would comprise a new source of revenue for them.

From our discussions at the workshop and throughout the summer, we understand that certain technology sectors are going to be more willing to engage with the community than others. Notional examples that we highlighted at the workshop include the possibility of manufacturing high-performance inertial sensors, oscillators and pressure sensors within the same process flow. The challenge to the community is having the MEMS designers work within a locked-down process flow and not requesting different material layers, gaps and critical feature dimensions for each device type, which is very common within our industry. We asked everyone the question, “If there were broader access to production process flows, would faster technology transition and innovation cycles enable a more rapid time-to-market for a wider range of products?”

SEMI: What would you like MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress attendees to take away from your presentation?

Polcawich: We welcome additional feedback on the RIPM concept to help shape any potential program ideas. Furthermore, we would like assistance in identifying tipping-point technologies on each sector’s/foundry’s/IDM’s technology roadmap. We could use that information to determine mutual investment opportunities that could shift the roadmap timelines to the left, enabling more rapid production and commercialization timelines.  

Dr. Ronald Polcawich joined DARPA as a Program Manager in the Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) in August 2017. His research interests include advanced materials processing, micromechanics for small-scale robotics, device designs, and miniaturized position, navigation, and timing (PNT) systems. Read more.

Polcawich will present Rapid Innovation with Production MEMS Workshop Outbrief on Tuesday, October 30 at MEMS & Sensors Executive Congress in Napa Valley, Calif.

Register today to connect with Ron and learn about DARPA’s rapid innovation in MEMS concept.

Nishita Rao is a marketing manager at SEMI.


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