MEMS INDUSTRY MUST GRADUATE TO MARKETPLACE,
PICK A PARTNER TO GUIDE IT ALONG, EXPERTS SAY

By Candace Stuart
Small Times Senior Staff Writer

CHICAGO, June 7, 2001 — The playboy days are over for the MEMS industry.

Small tech has matured to the point where it now needs to choose a partner, defining how if not with whom it wants to make its destiny, industry experts said Wednesday at the 2001 Sensors Expo in Chicago.

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Analyst Marlene Bourne
estimates revenues for MEMS
in consumer electronics
will total $200 million
this year but more than
$1.5 billion in 2005.
“We’re not here to make MEMS,” said Roger Grace, president of the small tech consulting service Roger Grace Associates. Instead, companies must concentrate on how they can make MEMS useful and marketable, he said.

Grace was among 29 panelists from industry, universities and national laboratories to discuss the applications and commercialization of MEMS at a daylong conference. Grace, among the first to track the industry, said his annual assessment of MEMS commercialization (available June 11 at www.rgrace.com) suggested the industry was coming of age.

The latest report shows improvements in attracting venture capital and industrial infrastructure, as well as the emergence of industry associations.

“That says something about the maturity of the industry,” he said.

Other panelists concentrated on near-term applications. Some examples:

* Motorola Labs is developing disposable microfluidic chips for clinical use. The chips may be designed to detect AIDS or cancerous cells.

* MesoSystems Technology Inc. is incorporating MEMS sensors in air quality detectors.

* The University of South Florida is working on a variety of MEMS and microsystems for detecting potentially toxic organisms in the ocean.

Marlene Bourne, an industry analyst with Cahners In-Stat Group, said MEMS that help consumer electronics perform or function better could find a market, such as gyros in camcorders for vibration-free recording, microrelays in cell phone antennas, or biometric sensors in cell phones or Personal Digital Assistants that scan the user’s fingerprint before allowing access.

“These are areas of growth,” she said. She projected revenues for MEMS used in consumer electronics would total about $200 million this year but reach more than $1.5 billion in 2005.

MEMS companies must scrutinize the marketplace to find suitable applications, Grace said. He foresees markets emerging in the wireless, optical and biomedical fields, but he predicts the most stable and consistently lucrative arenas are the industrial sector and companies that support the MEMS industry itself.

“The areas I’d invest my MEMS money are those that address and enhance the efficacy of MEMS devices,” he said. “I like packaging and testing because all MEMS need packaging and testing.”

But there are a number of hurdles to getting a product to market. Some are within the ambitions of the technology itself. Motorola, for instance, faces the daunting of task of creating a biochip that can take a blood sample, then transport, distill, amplify and analyze it, and finally provide a readout. And it must keep costs low, because the chip can be used one time only.

The University of South Florida faces another challenge: getting funding for marine applications, a segment that is traditionally undersupported, according to Carol Steele, director of business outreach at USF’s Center for Ocean Technology.

MesoSystems President Charles Call sees another obstacle. His experience with the industry is as a consumer of MEMS, not a designer or manufacturer.

“The people know a lot about MEMS but not about customer service,” he said.

MEMS companies have no models they can follow to avoid the pitfalls, according to Steve Walsh, a management professor at the University of New Mexico. Walsh, Grace and a team of industry and academic representatives are collaborating on a MEMS roadmap to help the industry.

Their goal is to speed up the commercialization of MEMS products by encouraging companies to share “precompetitive” information that could benefit the industry as a whole.

Research on other disruptive technologies – those that have an enormous impact on the marketplace – shows it takes around 17 years to get the technologies commercialized, Walsh said. Efforts like the roadmap might trim four or five years from that, he said.


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CONTACT THE AUTHOR:
Candace Stuart at candacestuart@smalltimes.com or call 734-994-1106, ext. 233.

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