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Manufacturing and MEMS...a sweet solution

There’s been a lot of attention focused on MEMS in the past couple of years and rightfully so. In 2011 when total semiconductor revenues grew by only 1.3%, MEMS revenues grew by over 34%. MEMS have been activating air bags in our cars and projecting images on DLP screens for years, but it wasn’t until the accelerometer in smartphones when mainstream semiconductor manufacturers decided they wanted a piece of the action.

No doubt, MEMS is still in its infancy. But will this market experience an inflection point that will trigger a meteoric rise in sales causing shortages and a market imbalance? And if so, when will that happen?

There are MEMS products available today which offer more efficient timing devices, displays, and microphones. MEMS are also opening the door to new applications with innovative developments in energy harvesting. Yet, many of these products are still playing second string to the traditional solutions currently available. What will it take for all these products to enter the market in volume? There are several variables that come into play, but the most important are cost and availability.

Starting a Fitbit Experiment

As part of my trip to the Freescale Technology Forum, I was introduced to the Fitbit Ultra, a wireless activity and sleep tracker. One of the themes of FTF this year was "connected intelligence." We are a community that is becoming obsessed with tracking data, especially personal data.

So, I'll bite. Let's do this thing. Over the next month, I'll go through the process and document it here for your entertainment (or mockery -- I'm pretty sure I walk maybe ten steps within a day).

The first thing I noticed upon opening the box, other than the wonderful smell of hotel soap, was directions to go to to set up the device. It doesn't seem to work unless you set up a profile. Fair enough. Everything these days wants us to log in to something or another.

Freescale Technology Forum: More Useful & Relevant Than CES

These days the semiconductor industry seems to have a conference every week, but two that stand out in the consumer arena are the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas and the Freescale Technology Forum (FTF) in San Antonio.

I go to CES almost every year, and it was very frustrating this last time around. This year I decided to partake in the panels that went on throughout the week, and was sorely disappointed in how lacking in foresight many of the speakers were. I've written about my disappointment with CES here on EBN. (See: Battle of the Digital Ecosystems and The Agony of Digital Rights Management.)

Legacy Fab Issues At The ConFab 2012

The ConFab 2012 highlighted sessions on the semiconductor industry’s blockbuster topics impacting advance technology manufacturing such as the transition to 450mm wafers and the increasing importance of 3D integration and advanced packaging. But this year the conference also allocated time to a discussion revolving around legacy manufacturing. Unlike finFETs and 450mm wafers, the challenges faced by mature production facilities are seldom in the headlines. However, as Sanjay Rajguru, Director at SEMATECH/ISMI, pointed out, over half of the current fab capacity comes from facilities that are more than 10 years old.

The challenges faced by older production facilities include equipment obsolescence, skills obsolescence, availability of parts, software and support and equipment capability extension and tool re-use. Maintaining “More than Moore” fabs is a major concern to semiconductor manufacturers as these operations reach 20 or even 30 years old.

At the ConFab 2012 Executive Roundtable representatives from Sematech/ISMI, IDMs, OEMs, equipment dealers, and industry consultants gathered to have an open discussion on concerns, roadblocks and possible solutions.

ADI Raises the Bar on Low Power Consumption for MEMS Accelerometers

Analog Devices has announced a MEMS accelerometer with the lowest power consumption, the ADXL362. The company cites the following levels as the lowest in the industry:

  • Measurement current: 2 µA
  • Wakeup mode: 300 µA
  • Sleep current: 10 nA

The innovation that ADI has achieved is the design of the control circuit for the accelerometer. More intelligence and interrupt processing has been designed into the control logic. The MEMS sensor itself is also low power, but it was designed to fit the control circuit.

ADI has focused on the usage model for the accelerometer. This is not intended for portable consumer and smartphone applications which already have a cost effective solution. In these products consumers are accustomed to plugging in a device to recharge on a daily basis. ADI is targeting the ADXL362 at markets that require long battery life, on the order of years. These are applications that it is either costly and/or very difficult to change the battery. This includes monitoring remote or dangerous locations such as pipelines, bridges, tall buildings, etc. Other applications include sealed environments (military and medical monitoring), cattle tracking and gas meters.

The Tablet PC Usage Model Continues to Evolve For the Next Generation

About a week ago I had the pleasure of attending Phoenix ComicCon.  It is not as big a convention as ComicCon International in San Diego, but it keeps growing.  Frequent readers of the Semico Spin may remember I report on the consumer electronic trends I see at that show.

One of the big draws at Phoenix ComicCon was the 25th Anniversary of the TV show “Star Trek: the Next Generation.”  One of the panels was focused on actor Levar Burton.  I met Levar Burton at the Intel Developer’s Forum in 2010.  The video in this article was in the original article for IDF 2010.  Levar Burton appeared at IDF 2010 to promote Intel’s efforts in SmartTV.

In addition to his work as a performer, Mr. Burton also has a production company that is developing content for new media.  At IDF 2010 he did not go into details on these projects.  Besides Star Trek, Levar Burton is also well known as the producer and host of “Reading Rainbow”, (1983 to 2006) a TV show  that encouraged children to read.


We wanted to thank another one of our IMPACT sponsors - OCP-IP.

"OCP-IP is dedicated to proliferating a common standard for intellectual property (IP) core interfaces, or sockets, that facilitate "plug and play" System-on-Chip (SoC) design."  Check out their website by clicking on their logo.

Sonics and the Semico IP Ecosystem Conference

Grant Pierce, Chief Executive Officer, Sonics, Inc., gave a keynote presentation at the Semico Impact Conference: Focus on the IP Ecosystem on May 16, 2012.  His presentation that looked at the rise of cloud computing and its impact on the SoC market. Today, consumers expect connectivity ‘Anytime, Anywhere’ and can mostly get what they want over the various networks in the market today. However, as more of that connectivity functionality that resides in the ‘cloud’, increases in device performance are necessary to keep pace with the rich features that reside in the cloud. This puts pressure on SoC design and SoC architectures. Cloud-scale devices are driving SoC complexity due to the following market demands.

Synopsys and the Semico IP Ecosystem Conference

John Koeter, the Vice President of Marketing, for the Solutions Group at Synopsys, Inc., gave a presentation at the Semico Impact Conference:  Focus on the IP Ecosystem on May 16, 2012 that looked at the changes occurring in the market today caused by the rise in mobile devices. First, he started of by giving some metrics on the mobile market captured by Cisco.

Cadence Design Systems and the Semico IP Ecosystem Conference

Semico held its Impact conference: Focus on the IP Ecosystem at the DoubleTree Hotel in San Jose, CA on May 16th,2012.  The day before, on May 15th, Cadence Design Systems announced its first IP Subsystem product, a Storage IP Subsystem based around the new NVMe (Non Volatile Memory express) interface standard for flash-based storage applications completed in March, 2011.  This IP Subsystem provides a complete HW / SW verified solution and maximizes the command throughput for interaction between system software and the storage system.

It is intended for those applications that want to replace rotating media in a system with flash-based Solid State Drives (SSD). Vishal Kapoor, Vice President, Marketing Design IP and Services at Cadence gave a presentation at the Semico conference the very next day. He provided some fascinating insights into the forces at work behind the creation of their Storage IP Subsystem.