MEMGen Corp., a MEMS fabrication company, has widened its scope to include applications that are not strictly MEMS.
“We view ourselves as a MEMS manufacturer, but with additional capabilities,” said Adam Cohen, MEMGen’s founder, president and chief executive officer.
MEMGen can manufacture devices ranging from “smaller than a grain of sand to about the size of a match head,” Cohen said. Overall device size can span from tens of microns to several millimeters.
This “intermediate area” is a manufacturing gap between the micro and macro world that has been overlooked, said Chris Bang, director of applications for MEMGen. “We’re meeting an important area of need.”
Along with his business titles, Cohen also is the primary inventor of EFAB, electrochemical fabrication, the trademarked name of MEMGen’s micromanufacturing technology.
The EFAB process is automated in a machine about the size of two refrigerators. The manufacturing technology doesn’t use silicon, but rather traditional engineering materials such as metals, including nickel and gold. The company continues to develop new materials and substrates, Cohen said.
EFAB is more akin to large-scale rapid prototyping than integrated circuit manufacturing in clean rooms, Cohen said.
Rather than machining an object from a solid block, rapid prototyping builds up layers to create a 3-D object. The big difference is that EFAB is a batch process for volume production of fully functional devices, not just prototypes.
“You can make more arbitrarily complex 3-D structures by stacking enough layers,” Cohen said.
Although projects and partners are kept close to the Burbank, Calif., company’s vest, MEMGen has reported producing structures of more than 38 layers.
Applying principles of rapid prototyping in the MEMS world was a natural progression for Cohen. An MIT-trained physicist, Cohen was at the center of the action when rapid prototyping took off in the 1980s.
As program manager/systems engineer at Valencia, Calif.- based 3D Systems Inc., Cohen led development of the SLA-250 stereolithography system. The SLA-250 “essentially got the whole (rapid prototyping) industry going,” he said.
Cohen also co-founded Soligen Technologies Inc. Northridge, Calif.-based Soligen developed and commercialized Three Dimensional Printing, a rapid prototyping process invented at MIT. The process fabricates metal casting molds directly from CAD designs.
Cohen then took a break from the business world to lead the EFAB project at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. His group unveiled EFAB in 1999 during a poster session at the IEEE International Microelectromechanical Systems Conference in Orlando, Fla.
When Cohen left USC to found MEMGen, the company acquired the exclusive worldwide license on the patented technology. MEMGen and USC, which has an equity stake, continue to pursue patents on EFAB, Cohen said. This includes a patent granted last year to market EFAB in Japan.
The privately held company employs 27 people and has a 22,000-square-foot facility.
“Intriguing,” Marlene Bourne, MEMS analyst for In/Stat MDR, said of MEMGen’s marketing evolution. Bourne questioned when the company will show its hand. “How far away are they from announcing customer specifics?”
MEMGen has made a “tremendous amount of progress in hitting a lot of refinement issues,” said Warren Packard, a managing director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson. MEMGen is one of several MEMS and nanotech companies the Redwood City, Calif., VC firm has funded. “The technology is coming down to a very stable process that is repeatable and commercializable.”
|An array of spray nozzles designed by MEMGen, which can|
manufacture devices ranging from “smaller than a grain of sand
to about the size of a match head.”
1103 W Isabel St.
Burbank, Calif., 91506-1405
The company was founded in August 1999 based on technology developed by Adam Cohen and others at the University of Southern California.
MEMGen manufactures MEMS and precision devices for strategic partners spanning a range of industries. The company markets services to clients rather than selling equipment.
Small tech-related products and services
MEMGen uses proprietary EFAB technology for contract micromanufacturing services, enabling speedy prototyping and volume production without a clean room.
MEMGen has raised more than $11 million in first round funding, plus $1.5 million in a financing agreement with Pentech Financial Services Inc. DynaFund Ventures led the series A round. Other investors included Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Chevron Technology Ventures LLC, Zone Ventures, Atherton Venture Partners LLC, Venture Law Group and Riordan & McKinzie.
Market education: “Building a broad awareness among prospective customers of the existence and capabilities of EFAB,” said CEO Adam Cohen.
No direct competitors; MEMS foundries are indirect competitors.
Short-range and long-range goals
“Our short-range goal is to deliver EFAB technology to the market and demonstrate its value through customer success stories,” Cohen said. “Our long-range goal is to become the first choice for companies needing a micromanufacturing partner to get to market with innovative new products.”
Why they’re in small tech
“We believe the micromachine industry has tremendous potential that is very difficult to realize since it is constrained by conventional manufacturing approaches that are not flexible, versatile, fast, affordable or accessible to most engineers and designers,” Cohen said. “We have developed EFAB, our flagship technology, from the ground up to address these problems and to help catalyse the long-promised explosive growth of the industry.”
What keeps them up at night
“Remembering all the things we need to do the next day.”
— Research by Gretchen McNeely