Tony Massimini is Semico's Chief of Technology.  See his bio here.

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MEMS Executive Congress 2011 Review: A High Growth Market

The MEMS Executive Congress (Nov 2 to 3, 2011) held in Monterey, CA was filled with optimistic and rosy views of the future for MEMS.  This year’s event attracted 225 attendees – a 25% increase.  There were companies in attendance that covered the breadth of the MEMS supply chain: MEMS vendors, manufacturing equipment, materials suppliers, modeling, tools, etc.  Large and small players alike were represented.

Semico Research presented on the panel featuring market analysts.  The consensus on the panel and by many in the audience is that MEMS is a high growth market being driven by high volume applications in consumer electronics, most notably smart phones.  Semico brought a fresh new perspective.  MEMS are becoming more main stream.  The market dynamics for MEMS will more closely resemble the rest of the semiconductor market.  The high volume consumer market is a commodity market.  Therefore, the MEMS market needs to develop a more cohesive ecosystem.  This would allow companies to leverage standard processes and tools for volume production.  This will reduce costs and speed up time to market.

ComicCon 2011: Lots of Excitement, but not much 3D

Frequent readers of the Semico Spin know that I am a fan of ComicCon and attend it in San Diego, CA during my family vacation.  This is the eighth year in a row we attended.  As I say every year, there were more nerds than you can shake a light saber at.

For those unfamiliar with ComicCon ( it is the largest convention for comic books in the world.  However, it covers a great deal more.  Science fiction and fantasy TV and movies are heavily represented.  These are usually tied in with comics and animation.  There is also a strong tie in with video games.  For the fourth straight year ComicCon was sold out for all four days with attendance of 125,000 each day.  It is the largest convention throughout the year for the city of San Diego.

The show began 43 years ago as a small convention for Sci-Fi fans focused on comics and literature.  It has ballooned into a huge media event attracting TV and movie producers to promote their work.  These productions usually have a tie in with comics and Sci-Fi, but Comic-Con has expanded to pull in other pop culture media.

Content is King!  Without enough material there is little incentive to buy the hardware.  What consumers want to see and how they want to interact with it drives the development of the electronics.  It is not surprising that many attendees are technically savvy early adopters.

A Tiny but Mighty MEMS Infrared Temperature Sensor

Did you ever use your a laptop on your lap and get an unpleasantly warm sensation, even a burning, sensation, on the top of your legs?  Manufacturers of portable electronic devices would like to have a way of monitoring case temperature to insure that you don’t experience that sensation on your legs; or an unpleasantly warm hand if you’re using a handheld device.  But, until now, the only way to do that was to measure the temperature of the warmest component in the device and use that temperature to approximate the case temperature.  Now, TI has made it possible to measure case temperature directly using a very small, inexpensive MEMS infrared sensor. TI part number TMP006 is a MEMS infrared digital temperature sensor in a 1.6-mm x 1.6-mm package; approximately 1/16” x 1/16.  That is certainly remarkable! In this small package, the TMP006 integrates an on-chip MEMS thermopile sensor, signal conditioning, a 16-bit ADC (analog-to-digital-converter), a local temperature sensor, and voltage references.  This provides a complete digital solution for contactless temperature measurement.  The TMP006 uses only 240 uA quiescent current and 1 uA in shutdown mode.  It supports a temperature range of -40 degrees to +125 degrees C (Celsius) with an accuracy of +/- 0.5 degree C (typical) on the local sensor and accuracy of +/- 1 degrees C (typical) for the passive IR sensor.   It includes I2C/SMBus digital interface.

An Analog Devices Inertial Sensor for Down-Hole Drilling

The temperature, shock and vibration requirements for components used in down-hole drilling are exceeded perhaps only by the requirements for components used in Hades, whatever those might be.  An oil well drill bit is not only subject to temperatures that may be beyond 200C, it is also subject to vibration while the bit is rotating and severe shock when the drill string is pulled or new sections are added.   Amazingly, Analog Devices new inertial sensor, part number ADXL206, which combines a MEMS accelerometer and the required logic on one IC, meets the down-hole requirements at a fraction of the cost and size of previous solutions. Oil wells are no longer only drilled straight down.  They are often drilled at a slant to reach an oil field from an accessible location.  They are also often threaded around obstacles such as water or hard rock.  This requires an extremely accurate measurement of the tilt and direction of the drill bit.  The Analog Devices inertial sensor provides that measurement.  This part also has an application when the well is completed, when it can be used to monitor vibration from the down-hole pump to provide an early warning of a potential failure of the pumping apparatus.

MEMS in Smartphones: Growth At What Price?

It’s no surprise, the smartphone market is a high growth and potentially huge market.  In 2011 over 469 million units will ship worldwide.  This is an annual growth of 30.8% over 2010.  Semico Research projects that this market has a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 21.9% on units from 2011 to 2015, approaching 1.1 billion units by 2015.

It’s also no surprise that smartphone feature sets change over time.  What constituted a smartphone in 2003 is not at all the same as in 2011.  With each generation cell phones are becoming more feature rich, especially smartphones.

MEMS and sensors are important components that enable many of the new features on smartphones.  MEMS devices offer not only additional functionality but also smaller size and lower power consumption.  This makes MEMS very attractive to the smartphone market.  But what truly paves the way for MEMS in cell phones?    Is it just the new feature or new features at the right price point?

Will the cell phone market force MEMS devices to reduce margins or will manufacturers find ways to produce these chips more efficiently?

The Invisible Computers in Our Lives - Microchip

At the recent Semico Summit Ganesh Moorthy, Chief Operating Officer of Microchip Technology, examined how much embedded computing permeates our lives.  But he also pointed out how much more opportunity there is for microcontrollers.  Microchip is a leading vendor of microcontrollers

Mr. Moorthy showed how several applications that have evolved from very simple solutions to solutions that utilize sensors and intelligence.  This has enabled products that are adaptable, have more security, simplified user experience, improved energy efficiency and more.  Among these are developments in automotive, lighting, thermostats and appliances.  There are new applications for microcontrollers providing support management in personal computing, data centers, handsets, asset tracking & management and personal medical equipment.  Embedded computing is found throughout various applications within the smart power grid.

Mr. Moorthy cited several innovation enablers.

Doing Well by Doing - Good STMicroelectronics' View to Shaping the Semiconductor Future

At the recent Semico Summit STMicroelectronics presented its view on shaping the semiconductor future.  Bob Krysiak, Executive VP and GM of the Americas Region, spoke on how ST and the semiconductor industry is “doing well by doing good.”

Mr. Krysiak pointed out the demographic changes that are occurring.  There is increasing world population with most of this growth in non-Western countries.  By 2050 there will be nearly 10 billion people, an increase of 3 billion over today.  In addition we have an aging population.  This puts pressure on many resources.

The theme of his presentation, “doing well by doing good,” presents the internet and connectivity as key elements in addressing these issues.  He noted that the internet and connectivity have become the plumbing of our world and industry.  There are a growing number of online users, many in China.

We will depend more on the internet and connectivity for increases in productivity and security.  Human productivity will depend more on mobility and wireless.  Banking will be transformed by this, but then security becomes more important.  This will lead to growth in brand authentication, protection and trusted platform security.

Akustica AKU230: A Tiny Microphone with Huge Potential

Can you hear me? I’m using a microphone on a 0.7mm2 MEMS die in a package measuring only 3.76mm x 4.72mm x 1.25mm. It’s the Akustica AKU230 digital, CMOS MEMS microphone, announced on March 30, 2010. For anyone who still doesn’t speak metric, the package size is less than 3/16” X 1/8” X 3/64.” For anyone still having trouble visualizing it, the package is smaller than a 14 point font capital “A” stamped out of a penny as a rectangle. In the simplest terms, really small. Of course, I’m not really using the Akustica AKU230, but I could be. It is used primarily in notebook computers, just like the one I’m typing on. The AKU230 is manufactured using conventional CMOS processes. The microphone membrane is a metal/dielectric layer, manufactured just like every other metal/dielectric layer in a CMOS process. The ADC circuitry is located around the membrane and is fabricated at the same time as the membrane during the same conventional CMOS processes. This approach offers savings in silicon area compared to a MEMS microphone fabricated using more traditional MEMS processes. Some MEMS microphones have an analog audio output. Some have an analog audio output but can provide a digital output using a second semiconductor, essentially an ADC. Akustica MEMS microphones, including the AKU230, are the only MEMS microphones that combine the microphone and the ADC circuitry on one chip, offering a simpler, less expensive solution and one insertion cost rather than two.

Is This Really the Post-PC Era?

The latest introduction of iPad2 and the rise of the tablet PCs has prompted once again the proclamation that we are now in the Post-PC Era.  It seems we have been living in a Post-PC Era for about the last 15 years.  Every time there is an innovation in consumer electronics it is hailed as a major shift that will adversely impact the PC market.  First it was PDAs such as the Palm Pilot.  The cell phones and subsequently smart phones resulted in people sounding the death knell.  Today it is the iPad2 and tablet PCs.  If this is in fact the Post-PC Era, why did Apple introduce a high end MacBook notebook featuring Intel’s Thunderbolt last week?  This was announced just before the iPad2 launch.

I will contend a more correct description is the PC Enhancement Era.  All of these devices have grown and provided a larger TAM for the semiconductor market.  But the PC market continues to grow and is a huge market for semiconductors.  In 1996 the total PC market of desktops and notebooks was 78 million units.  By 2010, including netbooks, the PC market has grown to 328 million units.  This year that number is expected to reach 368 million.  This is happening even with tablet PCs growing to between 30 and 40 million units in 2011.

All these electronic devices work with a PC and enhance each other’s capabilities.  Until there is a major change to the iPad platform you need a PC to work with it.

Intel’s Thunderbolt: Will It Shock The Computing Market?

Intel has released the Thunderbolt technology (Feb. 24, 2011) with Apple as the first OEM to implement it.  Originally code named Light Peak, this latest technology is designed for faster media transfer and simplified connections between devices.

Thunderbolt combines both optical and electrical technology.  It consists of controllers, one at each end (PC and peripheral device), a common connector and a Thunderbolt cable.  Devices can be daisy chained connected by electrical or optical cables.

The first product to hit the market with Thunderbolt is Apple’s new line of MacBook Pro notebook PCs.  It should be made very clear that Thunderbolt is not exclusive to Apple.  Thunderbolt is a new PC technology developed by Intel.  Going forward Thunderbolt is expected to be deployed by other OEMs.

According to an Intel spokesperson, the current version of Thunderbolt connector technology will be licensed broadly to the industry.  This will enable products using Intel’s Thunderbolt controllers.  At first Intel is focused on enabling targeted products.  However, deployment will broaden as the technology ramps.

Thunderbolt combines high-speed data and HD video connections together onto a single cable.  There are two communication methods or protocols – PCI Express for data transfer and DisplayPort for displays.  The transfer rate for media files is 10Gbps.

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