Global MEMS/Microsystems markets and opportunities


Dr. Paula Doe, SEMI Emerging Markets

Burgeoning demand for a host of new products enabled by MEMS devices means the sector will likely see a healthy increase this year despite any general semiconductor slowdown, and will remain on track to maintain its 17% average growth for the next five years.

With hit consumer applications like the Wii and iPhone in high-volume production???and sparking a jump in interest from other consumer gear designers in similar new MEMS-based features???MEMS device production hit 2 billion units in 2007, and looks to jump 25% to 2.5B in 2008. But these consumer market volumes bring consumer price pressures as well, holding total MEMS revenue growth to 14% this year.

As an increasing number of these new consumer designs are ramped to volume production, revenue growth will accelerate to 18%???19% in 2010-2012, even with the price pressure. By 2012, MEMS makers will be shipping 8.1B units/year worth some $15.5B, and nearly half that market will be consumer devices. Major market drivers will include silicon microphones, micro displays, RF MEMS, and even microfluidics for biomedical applications. RF MEMS and silicon microphones alone will account for more than 45% of unit demand from 2011.

Click here to enlarge image

Taking advantage of mature semiconductor process technology means MEMS makers can get by with spending a remarkably small 4% of revenues on equipment, and a similar 4%???5% on materials. The $8.0B in MEMS device sales this year is expected to generate $320M in demand for equipment and $380M in material sales. Yole D??veloppement revised its forecasting methodology this year to better take into account how much actual usage of each tool was required for specific MEMS device structures, resulting in lower but more realistic figures than in some past projections.

MEMS equipment sales can also expect healthy 17% average annual growth through the next five years as it keeps pace with strong device market growth. The equipment market will slow to 3% growth this year, but then accelerate sharply as consumer devices now in development move to high-volume production. Equipment sales should see 9% growth next year, then see demand jump 26%???28% in 2010 and 2011.

Click here to enlarge image

With MEMS devices reaching real volumes for things like silicon microphones for cell phones, gyroscopes for game controllers, and digital micromirrors for displays, traditional semiconductor equipment suppliers including Tegal, Lam Research, and ASML are starting to pay more attention to this market. At the same time, MEMS tool suppliers will have to start paying more attention to service/support and reliability issues to compete with the big IC suppliers. Conversely, MEMS toolmakers are penetrating semiconductor niches requiring deep etching or wafer bonding, such as through-silicon vias, advanced packaging, and photovoltaics. The severe cost pressures of consumer markets, meanwhile, are driving device makers to smaller geometries, creating requirements???and opportunities???for new kinds of etch and clean technologies.

More closely linked to total wafer starts, materials for MEMS can expect a more stable growth pattern, with 12% CAGR over the five-year period to $603M. Materials sales should increase at close to that long-term rate in 2008, with about 11% growth to $380M.

Application trends

MEMS’ mainstay automotive market will only see modest 3.5% average growth 2007-2012, but a number of consumer-oriented markets are poised for big growth, paced by 30% average annual growth for wireless telecommunications applications, 19% for biomedical applications, and 16% for other consumer gear. Consumer applications???including inkjet heads, inertial MEMS, micro-displays, and emerging devices such as energy harvesting and autofocus systems???will account for more than 40% of the total MEMS device market by 2012.

New MEMS devices hitting the market in 2007 included auto-focus systems, oscillators, and dual-axis gyroscopes. Gyroscopes for cell phones and low-cost micro-mirrors for pico projectors currently present strong emerging business opportunities for MEMS suppliers. Best five-year growth prospects for specific products will be RF MEMS and???somewhat surprisingly???microfluidics for drug delivery at >40% per year.

Silicon microphones will continue to see fast growth (32%), as will microfluidic chips for diagnostics (25%), micro tips and probes (22%), and microdisplays (21%). Defense markets will also average strong 21% five-year growth, from demand for things like high-value inertial MEMS devices for munitions guidance systems.

Major recent application developments

Pressure sensors: The US made tire pressure sensors mandatory in September, spurring an estimated 70M in unit shipments.

Click here to enlarge image

Silicon microphones: Many manufacturers including Yamaha, Panasonic, and Hoshiden began sampling, aiming at production in 2008. More new entrants will bring even more competition, as semiconductor makers such as ADI and NXP target the niche.

Accelerometers: Mandatory electronic stability control for passenger vehicles is driving demand for low-g accelerometers in the automotive market. Consumer demand moved beyond hard disk drive protection into motion sensing in game controllers and handsets. Industrial applications have started to include an increasing range of vibration sensors, for earthquake detection and building monitoring.

Gyroscopes: Price pressure is increasing for gyroscopes for electronic stability controls, as competing new platforms from Honeywell and Panasonic face off against new generation versions from Bosch, Systron Donner, and Atlantic Inertial Systems, with designs for the US market in the 2010 timeframe. Demand is strong for both handheld and automotive GPS systems. Optical stabilization systems are beginning to penetrate camcorders and digital still cameras, and may start to appear in handsets in 2009.

MOEMS: Micro-bolometers have become the dominant technology for uncooled infrared imaging, and falling costs should open new markets in thermography and automotive applications.

RF MEMS: Sales of products from Radant MEMS and Teravicta demonstrated that RF MEMS switches could meet reliability requirements for demanding ATE and military applications???but market penetration for the disruptive switching technology has remained limited.

Click here to enlarge image

This market study can be purchased directly from Yole D??veloppement, and is available through SEMI as a benefit of membership.

iSuppli: Auto MEMS sensors to surge

New government mandates will help nearly double global shipments of automotive MEMS from 2006-2012, while sales surge at a 8% CAGR clip to $2.1B, according to data from iSuppli.

The automotive MEMS sensor segment consists of 26 applications spanning the chassis, power train, and body electronics, incorporating devices such as inertial sensors, pressure sensors, flow sensors, infrared sensors, and emerging sensors. These devices perform various safety, control, and environmental functions ranging from airbag collision detection to tire pressure monitoring to engine management.

In the US and Europe, chassis safety-related mandates require implementing electronic stability control (ESC) systems and tire-pressure monitors, which is driving rapid growth in the automotive MEMS sensor market, stated Richard Dixon, senior analyst for MEMS at iSuppli. “Both applications significantly contribute to saving lives on the roads, and tire-pressure monitors also lower fuel consumption.”

Unit shipments for various MEMS sensors are expected to surge over the forecast period: MEMS pressure sensors used in tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) more than quadrupling to 179M units, MEMS inertial pressure in ESC systems to 158M units (17% CAGR). As a result, automotive MEMS sensors will outgrow the overall automotive/car electronics segments.

While the US has led the way in implementing TPMS and ESC systems, “sweeping proposals” are popping up in Europe too, he noted, which is good news for suppliers. “Mandates support systems that require several MEMS sensors???four TPMS pressure sensors per car, a gyroscope with one of two low-g accelerometers in a cluster, and one or more brake pressure sensor per ESC system on average,” he said. “For accelerometers and gyroscopes, mandates will more than double the number of sensors required.”

Another market driver in Europe is coming in 2009 with stricter emission-control regulations, which will boost demand for powertrain pressure sensors used for optimizing engine operation and reducing particle emissions in diesels, Dixon noted. Other healthy MEMS markets include high-g accelerometers for airbags.

“Mandates are reshaping the supply chain,” added J??r??mie Bouchaud, principal analyst for MEMS at iSuppli. For ESC systems, “transitioning rapidly from an expensive option to a standard function in just a few years will create a space for newcomers and threaten established second-tier suppliers.” Also, government mandates will likely create a market for commoditization and thus increased competition and price erosion for MEMS sensors, since all suppliers must conform to the same specs and in a range that spans the least and most expensive vehicles available.

MEMS-based asthma monitor offers low-cost solution for developing countries

An inexpensive web-enabled MEMS-based device for measuring lung function in patients with asthma and other disorders is being developed by researchers at Texas Instruments in Bangalore, India, and co-workers.

Writing in the International Journal of Biomedical Engineering and Technology, the team explains how the device could allow physicians to monitor their patients remotely and quickly instigate medical attention in an emergency.

Spirometers are commonly used in medical diagnostics to measure lung capacity and breathing during therapy. However, the widespread adoption is limited in the developing world and in remote regions because of the high cost of the instrument and a lack of specialist healthcare workers trained in its use.

The team has developed the device as a low-cost portable spirometer built around a pressure sensor for detecting airflow. It can measure the flow and volume of air moving in and out of the patient’s lungs.

The MEMS-based sensor is fabricated using technology similar to that for manufacturing computer chips, meaning the device can be inexpensive (a few dollars per unit), small, and thus portable. Embedded electronics and software allow it to connect to a computer and the Web, making it ideal for remote monitoring by a patient’s healthcare worker. “Not only can the remotely located patient consult a specialist,” the researchers say, “the specialist too can instruct the patient for specific test procedures and treatment.”

NIST studies how new helium ion microscope measures up

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are probing the newest microscope technology, which uses helium ions to generate the signal used to image extremely small objects. Their goal, to further improve measurement accuracy at the nanoscale, is critical for setting standards and improving production in the semiconductor and nanomanufacturing industries.

This new imaging technique using helium ions is analogous to the scanning electron microscope (SEM) introduced commercially in the 1960s. Although helium ions are far larger than electrons, they can provide higher resolution images with higher contrast. The depth of field is much better with the new technology too, so more of the image is in focus.

Gold atoms on tin seen via SEM (a) have relatively poor depth of field???only parts of the image are in sharp focus. By contrast, the entire image from a helium ion microscope image (b) is sharp and clear.
Click here to enlarge image

“Ions have larger mass and shorter wavelength than electrons, so they can be better for imaging,” explains Andras Vladar, SEM project leader in NIST’s Nanoscale-Metrology Group. The images appear almost three-dimensional, he says, revealing details smaller than a nanometer???the distance spanned by only three atoms in the silicon crystal.

The clearest advantage of the helium ion microscope is that the images show the actual edge of a sample better than the SEM, which is critical in precision manufacturing. “Meeting critical dimensions by knowing where an edge is in high-tech manufacturing can mean the difference of hundreds of dollars per piece,” explains Michael Postek, chief of NIST’s precision engineering division and the nanomanufacturing program manager.

The work was done on a new helium ion microscope from Carl Zeiss, which has revamped the tool based on NIST’s suggestions, including an improved cooling system for the helium source.

Scientists grow ???nanonets’ to snare added energy transfer

Using two abundant and relatively inexpensive elements, Boston College chemists have produced a flexible webbing of nanoscale wires that multiplies surface area critical to improving the performance of the wires in electronics and energy applications.

Researchers grew wires from titanium and silicon into a 2D network of branches that resemble flat, rectangular netting. The “nanonet” material that is extremely thin yet maintains its complexity, a structural design large or long enough to efficiently transfer an electrical charge. The work by assistant prof. Dunwei Wang and his team report in the international edition of the German Chemical Society journal Angewandte Chemie.

Tests showed an improved performance in the material’s ability to conduct electricity through high-quality connections of the nanonet, which suggests the material could lend itself to applications from electronics to energy-harvesting, Wang said. Titanium disilicide (TiSi2) has been proven to absorb light across a wide range of the solar spectrum, is easily obtained, and is inexpensive. Metal silicides are also found in microelectronics devices.

When pushed by the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope, the nanonet rolls up; when the device is removed, the nanonet unfurls, demonstrating a remarkable flexibility.
Click here to enlarge image

The nanonets grew spontaneously from the bottom-up through simple chemical reactions, unprovoked by a catalyst, according to Wang and co-authors, postdoctoral researcher Xiaohua Liu and graduate students Sa Zhou and Yongjing Lin.

Basic nanostructures are commonly created in zero or one dimension, such as a dot composed of a small number of atoms, while the most complex structures grow in three dimensions, somewhat resembling the branches of a tree. Working in 2D, Wang’s team produced a web that under a microscope resembles a tree with all branches growing in the same perpendicular direction from the trunk.

IBM tips CNT-based light emitter

IBM says it has integrated and controlled an electrically driven light emitter based on a single carbon nanotube, which it says is a first step in developing nanotube-based integrated electronic and nanophotonic devices. The research is described in the Aug. 25 issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Building an optical cavity around the light-emitting nanotube mirrors (see bottom and top), IBM scientists were able to confine wavelengths to the desired 1.55??m communications frequency. (Source: IBM)
Click here to enlarge image

Semiconducting single-walled carbon nanotubes have a direct, diameter-dependent bandgap and can be exited readily by current injection, making them attractive as nanoemitters with spectrally broad and spatially nondirectional electroluminescence and low radiative yield, note the researchers from IBM’s TJ Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY.

Their work involves combining a single nanotube-based field-effect transistor (FET) with a pair of metallic nanomirrors on a chip. They were then able to control the optical emission properties from the 2nm-dia. nanotube including emission wavelength, spectral and spatial distribution of emitted light, and efficiency of emission, displaying “an unprecedented level of control over electrically-driven light nanoemitters.” The spectral full-width at half-maximum of the emission was reduced from ~300nm to ~40nm at a cavity resonance of 1.75??m, and the emission becomes highly directional, they report. The maximum enhancement of the radiative rate was estimated to be 4, and both the optically and electrically excited luminescence of single-walled nanotubes involved the same E11 excitonic transition.

The work demonstrates the concept of a “cavity-controlled” light source, where emission from optically active materials is controlled using an optical cavity, where light is bounced back and forth and interacts with active materials. A laser is one example of such a structure; now, nanocavities are shown to control and improve properties of individual, single-walled carbon nanotubes, indicating they might be used in integrated nanophotonic circuits, quantum optics, and high-performance on-chip optical interconnects and sensors.

Gold nanoparticles in stained-glass act as air-purifiers

Stained glass windows that are painted with nanoparticles of gold purify the air when they are lit up by sunlight, a team of Queensland U. of Technology experts have discovered.

According to associate Professor Zhu Huai Yong, from QUT’s School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, glaziers in medieval forges produced colors with gold nanoparticles of different sizes, which ended up in church windows across Europe. In very small particles, gold becomes very active in sunlight, he explained. “The electromagnetic field of the sunlight can couple with the oscillations of the electrons in the gold particles and create a resonance.” The magnetic field on the surface of the gold nanoparticles can be enhanced by up to 100??, which breaks apart pollutant molecules in the air, he said.

Energized by the sun, the gold nanoparticles could destroy air-borne pollutants like volatile organic chemical (VOCs), which are behind the “new” smell in walls and furniture as they are slowly released???along with less-than-healthy methanol and carbon monoxide, Zhu said. However, the byproduct of this purification was small amounts of comparatively safe carbon dioxide.

If the technology can applied to specialty chemicals production at ambient temperature, “it heralds significant changes in the economy and environmental impact of the chemical production,” Zhu said.

MEMS switch, varicaps market to reach $700M by 2012

Yole D??veloppement, a French market research and development company, forecasts that the MEMS switch and varicaps markets will reach $700 million in sales by 2012. Growth is driven by handset applications.

The potential market for switches and varicaps is large because MEMS-based switches can enable new applications for handsets where reduced weight and size are important. These new products will also require increased RF switching performance at a constant size and cost.

Price erosion is expected to be a concern for MEMS manufacturers???giving the current market leaders, such as ATE, an advantage during the upcoming production ramp.

Bruker AXS acquires AFM company SIS

Bruker AXS GmbH, an analysis tools developer, has completed its acquisition of Surface Imaging Systems GmbH (SIS), a developer of atomic force/scanning probe microscopy (AFM/SPM) systems. SIS will be renamed Bruker Nano GmbH and operate under its previous management.

SIS’ systems are used for numerous applications in materials research, including semiconductors, data storage, electronic materials, solar cells, polymers, and catalysts. The core technology consists of extremely compact AFM/SPM components that can be used easily with many instruments, such as optical microscopes or micro-hardness testers, according to Frank Burgaezy, EVP of Bruker AXS.