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MEMS: Small Moves Result in Big Potential

MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) are perceived as being simple mechanical devices manufactured on 6-inch wafers or smaller, utilizing mature semiconductor fab technology.  Recently MEMS devices have experienced high growth rates as they revolutionized the smart phone screen orientation and game controllers for motion detection. Now the foundries and EDA/IP vendors are salivating over the revenue growth potential for MEMS development.

Just like CMOS image sensors filled the mature, unused fab capacity in 2003, MEMS is now expected to be the fab filler for this decade.  CMOS image sensors experienced quick adoption as it penetrated the consumer digital camera market but it grew from millions of units to billions when almost every cell phone integrated a camera into its handset.  That is one example of a success story.  But what about RFID?  RFID was suppose to be on every retail product tracking sales and inventory at Walmart and on every passport and drivers license for personal identification and security.  Those units have not materialized.  

MEMS has the potential to be much more than just a fab-filler.  For years MEMS have been used in hard disc drives and airbags for automotive markets.  They are now making inroads into other safety and engine control sensors in automotive applications.  MEMS are now gaining more recognition as they make their way into consumer devices even beyond smart phones and game controllers. 

Basic MEMS technology may not require rocket science but the potential to move into more consumer applications is driving a whole new growth segment for MEMS.  Last week Semico was briefed by a company named Coventor, an EDA tool developer with a unique niche.  Addressing the consumer need for quick time to market and integrating CMOS IC design technology, Coventor offers software suites that analyze the whole system.  Coventor has teamed up with Cadence to provide tools that allow the IC and MEMS designers to simulate their designs in a common environment.  This is more important as different MEMS functions are being integrated together.  Coventor points out that simulations must include more of the system than individual blocks.  There is no standard methodology in the industry for developing an integrated MEMS IC.

New EDA tools and more fab capacity from the mainstream foundries such as GLOBALFOUNDRIES and TSMC will provide the right conditions for broader adoption of MEMS in high volume applications.  Will this be enough to propel MEMS into the billions of units?  The MEMS Executive Congress is just around the corner and there’s already quite a buzz around all the new activities targeted at MEMS applications. 


Joanne Itow, Managing Director

Tony Massimini, Chief of Technology

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