Cartamundi, imec and Holst Centre (set up by imec and TNO) recently won the Best Product Award at Printed Electronics Europe for their ultra-thin plastic RFID technology integrated into Cartamundi’s playing cards. In each card, the RFID chip has a unique code that communicates wirelessly to an RFID reader, giving the cards in the game a unique digital identity. The jury recognized the potential of this technology to enhance printed electronics applications for the Internet-of-Things (IoT), as well as being a gamechanger <RIMSHOT> for the gaming industry.
Chris Van Doorslaer, CEO of Cartamundi, said, “The new technology will connect traditional game play with electronic devices like smartphones and tablets. As Cartamundi is committed to creating products that connect families and friends of every generation to enhance the valuable quality time they share during the day, this technology is a real enabler.” Imec and Cartamundi engineers will now explore up-scaling of the technology using a foundry production model.
“This is a thrilling development to demonstrate our TOLAE electronic technology integrated in the product of a partner company. TOLAE stands for Thin, Oxide and Large-Area Electronics”, stated Paul Heremans, department director of thin-film electronics at imec and technology director at the Holst Centre. “Our prototype thin-film RFID is thinner than paper—so thin that it can be invisibly embedded in paper products, such as playing cards. This key enabling technology will bring the cards and traditional games of our customer in direct connection with the Cloud. This achievement also opens up new applications in the IoT domain that we are exploring, to bring more data and possibilities to applications such as smart packaging, security paper, and maybe even banknotes.”
As reported by EETimes from the European MEMS Summit last month, French research institute CEA-Leti has manufactured accelerometer MEMS devices on 300mm-diameter wafers. This technology is currently being transferred to Tronics Microsystems SA (Grenoble, France), which currently only manufactures on 200mm wafers. Since CEA-Leti has long functioned as the R&D group for STMicroelectronics (ST), and previously led the way for ST to produce MEMS chips on 200mm-diameter wafers, we may expect that 300mm-wafer MEMS processing is now on ST’s internal roadmap.
Moving production to larger wafers makes sense when either the chip-size or the manufacturing volume increase in size. Much of the growth in demand for MEMS is for so-called “combo” sensors that combine multiple sensor technologies, such as CEA-Leti’s piezo-resistive silicon nanowire technology which allows the accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, and pressure sensor capability to be integrated on the same chip.
The compatibility of Leti’s 200mm-developed technologies with 300mm wafer fabrication, “shows a significant opportunity to cut MEMS production costs,” said Leti CEO Marie Semeria in a press release. “This will be especially important with the worldwide expansion of the Internet of Things and continued growing demand for MEMS in mobile devices.” Sensors of all sorts will be needed for all of the different “Things” to be able to capture new useful information, so we may expect that demand for combo MEMS devices will continue to increase. —E.K.
A secretive investment holding company out of Hong Kong named GAE Ltd has acquired 98% of the shares in Silex Microsystems AB (Jarfalla, Sweden). The transaction took place on July 13th of this year when the former major shareholders agreed to sell all of their respective holdings, while Silex founder and CEO Edvard Kalvesten retains 2% of the shares in the company and continues his role as CEO and board member of Silex. No changes are made to the organizational structure or business operations of Silex, while the new owners plan to build a new high-volume manufacturing line near Beijing that clones the equipment and processes in Sweden with first wafers out by mid-2017 (as reported at EETimes).
Silex claims to be the “world’s number one Pure Play MEMS Foundry”, has worked with AMFitzgerald&Assoc. on RocketMEMS shuttle wafers to reduce MEMS development time by 6-12 months, and has developed multiple Through-Silicon Via (TSV) technologies to allow for efficient 3D integration of MEMS and CMOS.
Almost lost as a footnote in the news is that Silex holds IP on lead-zirconium-titanate (PZT) thin-film technology that allows for efficient piezo-electric energy-harvesting chips. MicroGen Systems is currently in the market with aluminum-nitride (AlN) piezo-cantilever micro-power generator system to power IoT nodes by scavenging either single-frequency or multi-frequency vibrations, working with X-Fab in Germany as foundry partner. If PZT-based piezo-cantilever energy harvesters can compete with AlN-based devices then the former could constitute much of the product volume in the new Silex Beijing fab. In 2014, Yole Developpement forecast “the integration of IoT-dedicated electronic components to result in a market volume of 2B units for these devices by 2021;” if 30% will use energy harvesting then this represents 600M units globally.
Leading-edge IC fab investments are multi-billion-dollar risky bets. Insufficient demand for ICs dooms the line to economic failure regardless of the quality of design and manufacturing. Thus, it is a big deal that Austrian-headquartered ams AG—world leader in production of IC sensors, RFID chips, and power-supplies—has announced plans to set up a new silicon wafer manufacturing line in up-state New York.
To date, ams’ leading fabs run 200mm diameter silicon wafers, while the new line that is planned for 2017 will run both 200mm and 300mm diameter. With ~2.4x more chips/wafer, the commitment to a 300mm line is a sign that ams expects a major increase in demand for certain products. The vision for the Internet of Things (IoT) is that ubiquitous “smart objects” will be able to connect and exchange useful information without human direction, and the foundation of smart is sensing combined with decision-making. While other companies provide logic chips to allow for decision making, ams provides chips that can sense the world in various ways.
The investment into Marcy, New York represents a bet that there will be sustained demand for analog and sensor chips to provide much of the “smarts” for the IoT. Thus ams is planning to spend >US$2 billion over the next 20 years on capital purchases, operating expenses, and other investments in the facility. Pete Singer provides all the details in his thorough report. —E.K.
We’re still used to thinking that low-power chips for “mobile” or “Internet-of-Things (IoT)” applications will be battery powered…but the near ubiquity of lithium-ion cells powering batteries could be threatened by capacitors and energy-harvesting circuits connected to photovoltaic/thermoelectric/piezoelectric micro-power sources. At ISSCC2015 in San Francisco last week, there were several presentations on novel chip designs that run on mere milliWatts (µW) of power, and the most energy efficient circuit blocks now target nanoWatt (nW) levels of power consumption. Two presentations covered nW-scale microprocessor designs based on the ARM Cortex-M0+ core, and a 500nW energy-harvesting interface based on a DC-DC converter operating from 1µm available power was shown by a team from Holst Centre/imec/KU Leuven working with industrial partner OMRON.