MEMS: Poised for Success


Diving competitions always draw my attention. Having the courage to align one’s body in a head-downward position from a precipice high above the water seems illogical, risky, and difficult. I watched a clumsy individual who didn’t even walk with an even pace take a moment to “center” and align her body, and then dive using beautiful form. I kept wondering how this awkward teenager could take such control over a difficult, unnatural process.

Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) stood at the brink of new technology, poised for success. It took quite a while for the MEMS market to take hold in commercial applications, other than the crucial sensor for airbag deployment, but right now MEMS presents the most useful and practical solution to a myriad of problems in the electronics industry. Few recognized the broad scope and versatility of MEMS. However, MEMS integrates motion, light, sound, molecular detection, computation, and radio waves.

MEMS accelerometers have been too expensive and limited in function to be used by many computer and consumer products. Just this year, however, many accelerometer manufacturers have promoted and shipped sensors that can discern complex 3-D movements. Why is this so important to consumer electronics? If a sensor can sense motion in 3 axes, it can deploy protective measures if an object with a hard drive falls.

Most people drop things, including laptops, cell phones with hard drives (Samsung introduced this in 2004), and other handheld consumer products, such as video recorders and players. IBM used a 2-axis sensor for drop detection to its ThinkPad last year.

If an object falls, the gravitational field pulls it to earth at a rate of 9.81 m/s/s. For every second that an object falls, its speed increases by 9.81 m/s/s. If an accelerometer can detect this free-fall, it can set off a response to protect a hard drive in response and save important data.

The technology has been there, but the cost holds up the implementation. Freescale Semiconductor claims that they can supply these MEMS devices for $5 if purchased in 10,000-lot minimums. Others have offered $1 per axis prices by the end of the year.

There are already more than 250 commercial MEMS companies actively working in the field, including Agilent, Analog Devices, Canon, Delphi, Denso, Epson, GE, HP, IBM, Intel, Lexmark, Freescale, ST Microdevices, TI, and others, according to Ken Gilleo (MEMS/MOEMS Packaging: Concepts, Designs, Materials, and Processes, 2005). Another report by The Information Network claims record-breaking growth in consumer electronics products, such as cellular phones, cordless phones, headsets, and headphones, had a tremendous impact on MEMS microphones and speakers in 2004.

Advanced Packaging will present a Webinar this fall, titled simply “MEMS”. Tune in by registering at We will have four industry leaders: Ken Gilleo, Dan Crowley, David Haynes, and Chad Brubaker giving short presentations. Please bring questions, comments, and spend an hour learning more about versatile methods to produce and use MEMS.

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Gail Flower