By Paul Lindner, Executive Technology Director, EV Group
A city’s skyline is a testament to the transformative power of technology—skyscrapers made possible only by the Bessemer steel manufacturing process introduced in the 19th century. Now in the 21st century, the world is undergoing another major transformation, as new MEMS and 3D semiconductor manufacturing processes create the building blocks for the Internet of Things. Being able to build higher gave birth to the modern city, while being able to connect not just people, but all manner of devices, promises to be just as big a reorganization of society. Similar to skyscrapers and the Bessemer process, the infrastructure of the Internet of Things is being enabled by new low-cost, high- volume manufacturing processes.
Today, sensors are not a new technology anymore than steel was in the 19th century. What’s new is the introduction of manufacturing technologies that are lowering costs to the point where sensors transmitting information to the Internet can be affordably integrated into almost any device. Material advances have played an important role, as metal bonding technologies enable narrower seal frames and shrinks of MEMS devices. In 2013, device shrinks, new high-throughput tools and increased competition between manufacturers, as volume picks up in increasingly standardized capacity lines, will further drive the commoditization of MEMS. With Windows 8 for example providing an API for sensors, operating system requirements are also driving sensor standardization, thereby making it easier to assemble the infrastructure for the Internet of Things.
The Internet of Things, however, is about more than just gathering information through ubiquitous sensors. Huge amounts of data need to be affordably stored and analyzed, in order to be useful, which requires keeping Moore’s Law alive. Fortunately, new semiconductor 3D manufacturing technologies are poised to play a critical role in further commoditizing memory and processing power. In 2013 high volume production of true 3D technology will commence. The industry will also see intensified wafer level developments particularly around image sensors and memory, as new DRAM designs allow for monolithic integration at the wafer level. Wafer-to-wafer bonding processes, combined with built in self-test, error detection and correction are poised to overcome one of the few remaining hurdles to high-volume, low-cost 3D manufacturing.
Although pundits can debate how the Internet of Things will transform the world, it is becoming increasingly clear that new MEMS and 3D high-volume, low-cost manufacturing technologies will accelerate a radical change to society’s cyber skyline.