Tag Archives: Small Times Magazine

October 8, 2012 – Sensirion AG says it will debut at Electronica 2012 (Nov. 13-16, Munich, Germany) what it says is the world’s smallest humidity and temperature sensor: a 2mm × 2mm × 0.8mm in size, based on its CMOSens technology that combines the sensor and signal processing on a single chip.

The tiny SHTC1 humidity and temperature sensor is specifically designed for mobile devices where size is a critical factor, the company explains. It measures humidity over a range of 0-100 %RH ±3 %RH accuracy), and measures temperatures from -30°C to +100°C (±0.3°C accuracy). The fully calibrated sensor has a digital I2C interface and is suitable for reflow soldering — making it compatible with standard industrial mass production processes for electronic modules. More details are available on the company’s Web site.)

The Swiss sensor manufacturer supplies CMOS-based sensor components and systems. CMOSens technology uses intelligent system integration, including calibration and digital interfaces.

October 5, 2012- The market for semiconductor magnetic sensors used in industrial and medical applications expanded by 6% in 2011 to $118.2 million, with green energy initiatives acting as a major growth driver, according to IHS iSuppli. This market is small compared to other areas, most notably automotive and wireless/consumer, but the technology will continue to grow at a 8% CAGR through 2016, topping $175.5M, the firm says. (Here’s a list of the top makers of magnetic sensors.)

Improving energy efficiency is a big opportunity in motors of all kinds, which collectively consume an estimated 45% of all electricity generated worldwide. "As government legislation comes into play, this is acting as a boon for the sensors, implemented with an eye toward reducing energy consumption," says Richard Dixon, principal analyst for MEMS and sensors at IHS. "In the industrial market, a main growth driver for magnetic sensors is renewable energy, such as solar installations, and to a smaller extent, wind turbines," he notes.

Magnetic sensor technologies include Hall-effect and magneto-resistive semiconductor integrated circuits (ICs) that are used to track rotational speed and linear angles in machines and devices, or to detect and process magnetic fields to establish positioning. In industrial and medical applications (which split about 70%/30% of total usage), these sensors are used in motors to improve their energy efficiency and other applications where motor control is involved, such as pumps. They are also used in uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) for a host of industrial applications and environments: computer servers, welding systems, robotics, train transport infrastructure, off-road vehicles, and forklift trucks.

Most magnetic sensors used in industrial applications are electronic current sensors: shunt resistors, Hall-effect integrated circuits, current-sensing transformers, open- and closed-loop Hall devices, and fluxgate transducers. Residential solar inverters, for example, and smaller UPS settings, use simple resistive bars or shunts to measure lower currents (>50A), while higher-current measurements such as large inverter motors use Hall IC sensors packaged with an amplifier. Industrial washing machines pair Hall ICs with ASICs.

In medical applications, magnetic sensors are used for motion control in things like ventilator machines, pumps for infusion/insulin/syringes, and kidney dialysis machines. These sensors also are used in simple centrifuges for preparing samples to smooth control of small motors. They are also found as switches for medication-dispensing cabinets, bed-positioning systems, and hearing aids.

  2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
US $M 111.9 118.2 123.2 131.9 144.3 160.4 175.5

Worldwide revenue forecast (in US $M) for magnetic sensors in industrial and medical applications. (Source: IHS iSuppli)

October 2, 2012 – Sand 9, a Cambridge, MA-based developer of precision microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) timing technology for wireless and wired applications, is partnering with GlobalFoundries for high-volume manufacturing of its technology, which incorporates silicon-on-insulator (SOI) and through-silicon vias (TSV).

"Partnering with GlobalFoundries allows Sand 9 to meet heightened market demand for the highest-volume mobile applications, including handsets, tablets and other consumer electronics," stated Vince Graziani, CEO of Sand 9. "Our collaboration will ensure a stable, reliable supply chain for all of our customers in mobile as well as in wireline communications infrastructure, cellular base station, and test and measurement markets."

The deal also highlights GlobalFoundries’ MEMS design and manufacturing capabilities, pointed out Raj Kumar, SVP for the foundry’s 200mm business unit & GM of its Fab 7 facility in Singapore (formerly Chartered Semiconductor). "For Sand 9, we have established a very cost-effective and novel MEMS process technology platform integrated with polysilicon through-silicon vias (TSVs) for wafer-level packaging," he noted.

Also read:
MEMS timing firm Sand 9 lands $3M investment from mobile gear giant Ericsson
Intel Capital leads Sand 9 funding round, joins board

Examining a Sand 9-provided white paper (circa 2010) reveals more details about its "temperature-compensated crystal oscillator" (TCMO) technology. A silicon-based MEMS resonator is suspended and acoustically decoupled from a silicon substrate using a "special engineered substrate" (an SOI wafer), with a predefined cavity hidden in the handle silicon layer. Through-silicon vias are formed inside that SOI substrate, then the backside routing is prepared for final solder bumping. DRIE etch through the device silicon layer releases the resonator structure — having the buried cavity enables this release to be done "very fast and clean" using dry etching, the company explains, since no sacrificial layer or wet etching chemistry means one less time-consuming material removal process and it also eliminates stiction effects. The CMOS IC wafer and MEMS wafer are then bonded to create interconnects and hermetic seal around the MEMS resonator, followed by deposition of underbump metallization and solder bumps. Electrical and thermal interconnects are made during the bonding process; the TSVs are directly routed through to the IC, not the MEMS resonator.

MEMS oscillators accounted for less than 1% of the $6.3B timing devices market $6.3B in 2011, according to Semico Research, but the firm projects a sparkling ~86% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for both MEMS oscillator sales and unit shipments over the next five years (2011-2016), mostly thanks to demand from smartphones.

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September 27, 2012 – A device that measures very thin quantities of liquid, such as the synovial fluid in knee joints, and a device that measures change in mass when a microdevice adsorbs small amounts of material earned top honors in Sandia National Labs’ annual student design contest for microelectromechanical system (MEMS) devices.

Texas Tech took top "novel design" honors with a micro-rheometer device that can measure the behavior of very thin quantities of liquid, such as the synovial fluid in knee joints. The method requires much smaller samples compared to macro-scale rheometers. "It is much easier, and usually less painful, to obtain small quantities of bodily fluids from patients," according to the students’ submission.


Texas Tech proposes to create a micro-rheometer to measure very thin quantities
of liquid, like that found in knee joints. (Image courtesy of Texas Tech U.)

Carnegie Mellon students won in the education category, for a device that measures the (relatively large) change in mass with a microdevice material adsorbtion, which alters the vibrational frequencies of the system. This could identify surface changes in the structure — e.g., water vapor on MEMS devices may reduce the fatigue strength of polysilicon MEMS, while hydrocarbons adsorb onto microrelay contacts and increase their electrical resistance.

Both schools were repeat winners from Sandia’s 2011 MEMS competition. Last year Texas Tech showed off an ingenious, dust-sized dragonfly with surveillance possibilities, while Carnegie Mellon won acclaim for an ultrasensitive microvalve to control very small fluid flows.

Carnegie Mellon students made use of the relatively large change in mass that occurs when a microdevice adsorbs even a small amount of material. (Image courtesy of Carnegie Mellon U.)

The nine-month-long University Alliance Design Competition is a program geared around MEMS design, fabrication and test, with one category emphasizing novel design concepts, and another category emphasizing unique structure design and its use as an educational tool for MEMS or science education. Students developed ideas for a device, created and analyzed a design model, and submitted the design to be judged by Sandia’s MEMS experts and university professors. The designs were fabbed at Sandia’s Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications (MESA) facility using its "Summit V" (Ultra-planar, Multi-level MEMS Technology 5) — a five-layer polycrystalline silicon surface micromachining process (one ground plane/electrical interconnect layer and four mechanical layers). Designs were then shipped back to the university students to test whether the final product matches the purpose of the original computer simulation.

This year’s event attracted nine universities, up from five in 2011, partly due to added participation from Mexican universities: the Air Force Institute of Technology, Arizona State U., Central New Mexico Community College, Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional of Mexico City, Carnegie Mellon U., Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, Texas Tech U., Universidad de Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez, Universidad de Guadalajara, Universidad de Guanajuato, U. of Oklahoma, U. of Utah, and Universidad Veracruzana. (The two winners, plus Arizona, Oklahoma, and the AFIT, were the 2011 participants.)

For more information regarding the University Alliance and the design competition, contact Stephanie Johnson at [email protected]

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September 26, 2012 – X-Fab Silicon Foundries says it will invest more than $50M over the next three years in cleanroom space, equipment, R&D, and staff for its microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) operations, reflecting an anticipated growth in MEMS services as the company.

The move will consolidate all the company’s MEMS business and activities, rebranded as X-Fab MEMS Foundry, on the company’s campus in Erfurt, Germany. It’s the "next step towards our goal of becoming one of the top three worldwide suppliers of MEMS foundry services," according to CEO Rudi De Winter. [X-Fab placed 10th in Yole Développement’s 2011 MEMS foundry rankings, surging 33% to roughly $16M in revenues, about $31M shy of No.3 Silex Microsystems — but only $8M away from fifth-place IMT.]

"The MEMS sector is a strategic field of X-FAB’s overall activities to serve the growing needs of our customers," De Winter noted in a statement. "Our customers will benefit from the dedicated resources and expertise of a foundry focused solely on advanced MEMS technology, and built on X-FAB’s solid foundation of technical excellence."

Among X-Fab‘s company’s recent MEMS accomplishments:

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September 20, 2012 – CrossFiber, a San Diego, CA maker of photonic switches that incorporate microelectromechanical system (MEMS) technology, has acquired substantially all the assets — patent portfolio, manufacturing know-how, inventory, even lab notebooks — of 2D MEMS switch firm OMM for an undisclosed amount.

OMM was the inventor and pioneering manufacturer of Telcordia-qualified MEMS-based photonics switches. CrossFiber’s LiteSwitch family of photonic switches feature 3D MEMS micromirror technology originally devised at OMM, coupled with beam control techniques developed and licensed by Trex and CrossFiber’s own work in beam control, switch architecture, and precision optics.

"We now own an even stronger IP portfolio and a deeper base of know-how," stated Hus Tigli, CrossFiber’s president & CEO (he also served as the CEO of OMM). "Our core technologies, combined with our innovations in automated manufacturing and testing of precision parts enable us to serve customers demanding performance, economical solutions, and volume manufacturing."

It’s a busy month for CrossFiber — days ago it closed a $13M Series D funding round to help ramp capacity for its LightSwitch technology, which combines 3D MEMS micro-mirrors on silicon, non-invasive beam steering (NIBS), and custom ASICs, for application in data centers and fiber-optic switching. The company says its proprietary methods create precisely positioned fiber and microlens arrays, yielding collimator arrays with good beam shape and low insertion loss.

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September 19, 2012 – X-Fab Silicon Foundries has debuted an open-platform MEMS 3D inertial sensor process, the first to be made available directly from a high-volume pure-play foundry, it claims. The new technology is suitable for a wide range of applications that use 3D accelerometers or gyroscopes: mobile devices, consumer goods, games and toys, automotive, robotics, and industrial and medical equipment.

The new technology features robust, single-crystal silicon for inertial masses and drive-combs, proprietary buried contact technology that supports complex metal interconnects using a single metal layer, low parasitic capacitance, and EMI protection. It was developed using X-FAB’s step-by-step qualification procedures to ensure the process is characterized, stable, and high-yielding. One- and 2-axis designs can be produced with the same process, and accelerometer and gyroscope designs can be placed side-by-side on a single chip enabling manufacture of "six degrees of freedom" (6DoF) inertial measurement units (IMU).

Also read:

"X-FAB’s open-platform processes launch a new era for the MEMS industry," proclaimed Iain Rutherford, X-FAB’s MEMS business line manager. "We are shifting the paradigm from the limiting ‘one product, one process’ rule to the open platform approach of giving any company access to a world-class quality process that can be used for multiple applications. It enables our customers to realize their goals in record time."

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September 17, 2012 – CrossFiber, a San Diego, CA maker of photonic switches that incorporate microelectromechanical system (MEMS) technology, says it has completed the final tranche of a Series D round of funding, which closes totaling $13.4 million. Southern Cross Venture Partners led the funding round, with participation from New Venture Partners and Arsenal Venture Partners, as well as existing investors including Back Bay Management and PacifiCap.

The majority of the funds has been and will be used to rapidly expand manufacturing capacity for CrossFiber’s LiteSwitch family of photonic switches, according to the company. The LiteSwitch photonic switches combine 3D MEMS micro-mirrors on silicon, non-invasive beam steering (NIBS), and custom ASICs, for application in data centers and fiber-optic switching. The company says its proprietary methods create precisely positioned fiber and microlens arrays, yielding collimator arrays with good beam shape and low insertion loss.

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September 6, 2012 – Sand 9, a Cambridge, MA-based provider of precision microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) products for wireless and wired applications, has secured a $3M investment from telecommunications giant Ericsson. According to a local media report, Sand 9 would not disclose whether its MEMS timing technology is already or being incorporated into Ericsson products, or whether this might be a prelude to a formal acquisition.

MEMS oscillators accounted for less than 1% of the $6.3B timing devices market $6.3B in 2011, according to Semico Research, but the firm projects a sparkling ~86% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for both MEMS oscillator sales and unit shipments over the next five years (2011-2016), mostly thanks to demand from smartphones. Compared with traditional quartz-based devices, MEMS oscillators can be made with semiconductor technology and thus their production can be scaled up to lower costs and extended to smaller process nodes, Semico explains. The technology also is programmable, so vendors can offer faster response times and improved inventory management.

Sand 9, which spun out of Boston University in 2008 with backing led by Khosla Ventures, says its MEMS timing technology is better than quartz crystal technologies, offering capability for integration and greater immunity to electromagnetic interference (EMI), vibration, noise, shock, and lead-free reflow temperatures. The devices feature piezoelectric actuation to achieve stringent phase noise and short-term stability, a spurious-free resonator design, and a low phase-noise oscillator resulting in low jitter to reduce packet loss and enhance network efficiency.

"Ericsson has a well-earned reputation as one of the world leaders in communications infrastructure and base station equipment," stated Vince Graziani, CEO of Sand 9. "Their investment in Sand 9 validates our emphasis on MEMS timing products that deliver high robustness, without sacrificing performance."

Earlier this summer the company raised $23 million in its Series C financing round, led by Intel Capital and with significant participation from Vulcan Capital, along with existing investors Commonwealth Capital Ventures, Flybridge Capital Partners, General Catalyst Partners, Khosla Ventures, and CSR. A previous equity funding drive launched in November 2011, targeted $6M in investments.

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September 5, 2012 – The recent partnership between Vectron International, Knowles Electronics, and SiTime could create a new force in the emerging market for MEMS timing devices, notes Semico Research.

Weeks ago Vectron and Knowles announced a partnership with SiTime to grow MEMS timing components in the frequency control products market. Under the deal, SiTime’s products will be rebranded by Vectron to its customers. Both Vectron, a decades-long leader in timing (but without a MEMS product) and Knowles (a leader in MEMS microphones) are part of Dover Corp. SiTime is a longtime leader in MEMS oscillators, notes Tony Massimini, Semico’s chief of technology.

Also consider: sales of timing devices totaled $6.3B in 2011, but MEMS oscillators accounted for less than 1% of that. Semico projects a sparkling ~86% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for both MEMS oscillator sales and unit shipments over the next five years (2011-2016), mostly thanks to demand from smartphones. Put it all together and it looks like a big market opportunity.

MEMS oscillators can be made with semiconductor technology, and thus their production can be scaled up to lower costs and to shrink the technology — both of which are advantages vs. traditional quartz-based devices, Semico explains. MEMS oscillators are also programmable, so vendors can offer faster response times and improved inventory management.

Adding the name-recognition and reputation of Knowles and Vectron will add credibility to the message of educating customers about MEMS oscillators, notes Massimini. (There’s also a barrier to entry in that it takes four years or more to develop and bring to market one’s own MEMS oscillator, so partnerships or M&A makes sense.)

Semico’s recent report, "The time has come for MEMS oscillators," examines key end-use markets for the devices, key and emerging players, and projections for units and sales.