SEMI-MEMS & Sensors Industry Group Blog

Monthly Archives: July 2012

SEMICON West 2012: Where Has the Love Gone?

Has the romance between the MEMS and semiconductor industries started to fizzle? Or is the real issue that for new equipment vendors, the appeal and shiny/sexy new-ness of MEMS has faded as they salivate in anticipation of a switch from 300 to 450mm (with all of that sexy, new and expensive semiconductor equipment)?

In 2011, I declared that it was the "the year of MEMS" at SEMICON West in my MEMSblog, because last year, MEMS was everywhere! This year, not so much…

Don’t get me wrong; I love going to SEMICON West. I keep coming back because it’s like homecoming. I can’t walk the halls of Moscone without bumping into dozens of colleagues and MEMS Industry Group (MIG) members. This year it was even more fun, because I was armed with hundreds of adorable MIG stickers that I emblazoned/bedazzled on every MIG member (and future member) I saw.

MEMS was definitely present at SEMICON West this year, and the MIG brand was stronger than ever. MIG had a fabulous MEMS Pavilion, with co-exhibitors IMT, IQE Silicon, n&k Technology, Oxford Instruments, and Xactix. The MIG member lounge inside the pavilion was always full of activity (and fun). The MEMS content on the first day — which I had the honor of moderating — "Taking MEMS to the Next Level: Transitioning to a Profitable High Volume Business" — was chock full of MIG member companies: Applied Materials, Coventor, Hillcrest Labs, NIST, Silex, Teledyne DALSA and Yole Developpement.

And I must humbly add that MIG’s fifth annual member happy hour at LuLu’s was THE BEST frickin’ party at SEMICON West this year. Our party was rockin’ and we have the Flickr photos to prove it. No need for caution in case you were worried:  the photos are all clean and involve no mechanical bulls (pause for the inside joke). It was the best party I attended, and if you think your party was better then you better invite me to your party next year so I can be the judge!

But, sadly, here’s where I must address the feeling I had during SEMICON West that "the love is gone." Much of the content presented at the off-site conferences and workshops I attended had little or no mention of MEMS. And while the underlying reasons may be otherwise, I do wonder, in my heart of hearts, if the growing disconnect between MEMS and the semiconductor industry stems from the latter’s embrace of the migration to 450mm.

To the delight of those who want to enter MEMS manufacturing — or for those who want to stay there — the move to 450mm is in no way a requirement. Companies can manufacture MEMS devices on 200mm wafers just fine, thank you. Does this explain why only a handful of stalwart MEMS device manufacturers were present? Is the zeal for 450mm on behalf of semiconductor equipment vendors (who dominate SEMICON West) responsible for the seemingly fair-weathered friendship between MEMS and the semiconductor industry at SEMICON West or is it an issue worldwide? Share your thoughts with me — and let’s keep this discussion going.

Email Karen Lightman at [email protected]

Sensors Expo report: MEMS Pre-Conference Symposium

MEMS in the mainstream — Music to my ears

For the second year in a row, MEMS Industry Group was host to the Sensors Expo Pre-Conference Symposium, and this year’s theme was "MEMS in the Mainstream: Commercialization and Product Realization — Leveraging the MEMS Infrastructure." I felt like a bandmaster — not trying to make the music, just trying to get the band with all its different instruments, rhythms, and tones to harmonize.

It’s not a simple piece to orchestrate, because when you talk about commercialization and product realization and leveraging the micro electro mechanical systems (MEMS) infrastructure, you are talking about lots of different perspectives from equipment vendors to materials suppliers, from foundries to device manufacturers (some captive-fab, some fab-lite, some fabless), as well as from end-users and OEMs. Each of these "bands" has its own instrument, its own sheet music, its own style and its own "special sauce." You can see where I am going with this analogy. Like in music, MEMS can either work like a 10-piece orchestra in total sync and harmony, or it can sound like something the cat dragged in!

Thankfully, at our Sensors Expo pre-conference, we sounded a lot more like the 10-piece orchestra. We focused on utilizing the MEMS infrastructure to produce harmonious communication with our customer and our customer’s customers, in order to get the product out in time, at cost, and in the right form factor.

Each of our presenters and panelists shared their own perspectives.  They didn’t always agree (oftentimes they didn’t) and that’s OKAY — because MEMS by its nature is not one-size-fits-all.  Approaching the topic of MEMS foundry models from differing angles, John Chong of Kionix and Rob O’Reilly of Analog Devices Inc. (ADI) both gave fantastic overviews of MEMS foundry models, digging into which approaches work for them and why.

IMT’s Craig Trautman and Silex’s Peter Himes carried the foundry discussion a little further. As foundry companies, they were able to rise above the idea that everyone should go fabless, in support of the diversity and maturity of the MEMS industry. I think Craig summed it up well when he said: "There’s no free lunch. There are pros and cons for various models of MEMS fabrication: fabless vs. captive). As a foundry, we have five customers ‘living’ at IMT. We give them free office space because a lot of the things that we do are really hard. The customer needs to collaborate to make it all work."

I loved hearing from the end-users, and those working closest to the end-users as these are the people who are truly driving the market for MEMS (and our future). As eloquently stated by Jim Clardy of Dell, "I want to avoid end-user scenarios where people have to wave a tablet around to get magnetometer calibrated. Sensors are collecting ambient data. What are the privacy and security concerns? Data must be shared with the cloud. Someone must track the user, his/her location, etc. Whoever controls those ecosystems is going to know A LOT about the end-user. This could be an adoption barrier."

We in the MEMS industry really need to listen to folks like Jim! We need to be thinking about the sensor fusion of all of these sensors; the security of that data; and the human who is interfacing with the device. We need to remember that MEMS is just an instrument. Sitting by itself untouched, it is nothing.  But when it’s played by the right artist, placed in the right band, it can harmonize and make beautiful music. And yes, that is music to my ears.

Contact Karen Lightman, managing director of MEMS Industry Group at [email protected]

MEMS isn’t NEW

What do you think of when I say the words "MEMS new product development?" Do you envision new categories of newly discovered MEMS hatching somewhere in a university lab? If your answer is "yes," perhaps you should rethink that — because MEMS isn’t new. If we are to grow this $9 billion/year industry to a hundred-billion or even trillion dollar industry as some predict, we need to think of new MEMS in terms of how the "regular, everyday" MEMS we have right now are used in development of new end products.  Whether these new MEMS-enabled products come from a combination of market pull and/or technology push, there are challenges and hurdles that the industry must come together to address, now!

That is why we focused the MEMS Industry Group (MIG) Member-to-Member (M2M) Forum on MEMS "New Product Development" earlier in May — because it is so time-critical for the MEMS industry to come together and address these barriers and challenges to commercialization that are hindering growth. Barriers that I like to call the "stickiness of MEMS," which include the "S" word of MEMS — "Standards" for things such as testing, packaging…not the sexy, shiny, bright things that are hatched in the lab and then probably never make it to the market.

I invited Len Sheynblat of Qualcomm CDMA Technologies (QCT) to give the keynote, "Sensor Systems Integration Challenges," which spelled out in very specific terms what the MEMS industry needs to do, specifically, Sensor API Standardization. He shared QCT’s commonly requested sensor vendors: 18+! With 26+ sensor product lines! And on top of this, there are numerous handset and tablet OEMS with different ecosystems: Android, Windows, RIM (which used to be Palm), etc. They all want to be loved, and this makes developing with MEMS just a smidge complex.

Sounds a bit nightmarish, don’t you think? I sure do, and MIG will be working with our members and strategic partners, including the MIPI Alliance, to address these challenges and issues of the stickiness of MEMS. I urge you to contact me and become active and involved in our M2M Action Item Task Forces.
That’s also why the MIG Technology Advisory Committee (MIG TAC) chose Mary Ann Maher, CEO of SoftMEMS, as the winner of our first-ever white paper competition, because she discussed the important issue of co-design and yes, standards. And because Mary Ann was the evening speaker, she also made the presentation into a drinking game. (Every time she said "co-design," you were to take a sip; I gave up after the 15th time.)

And as we have every year, since MIG began with DARPA funding, we also had working groups to dive deeper into the conference topic. Our working group leaders (Jim Knutti of Acuity, Mike Mignardi of TI, Jason Tauscher of MicroVision and Valerie Marty of HP) did a fantastic job of moderating the rich discussions we had in the working group breakout groups on "Market Pull vs. Technology Push" and "MEMS Technology Development." I encourage you to check out the MIG resource library to see the body of knowledge and case studies we’ve gathered; and MIG action item task forces will be forming soon to carry out several of the recommendations.

M2M Forum also featured a panel of speakers expressing diverse opinions and perspectives on new product commercialization — from those involved heavily and not so heavily with MEMS. The panel included: Anne Schneiderman of Harris Beach, an expert in IP law; Stefan Finkbeiner, a MEMS device manufacturing veteran with Bosch/Akustica; Matt Apanius with SMART Commercialization Center for Microsystems, who is well versed in tech transfer from lab to fab; and Ivo Stivoric with BodyMedia, someone who embodies a MEMS supplier’s dream of an end-user company.

My favorite part of the panel was when Ivo described the challenges in understanding/analyzing the "white space in the market." He warned that as a consumer of MEMS, he oftentimes doesn’t need a new device; he just needs a tweak or two and then wants the device manufacturer to "just go away" so he can go back to his customers. Amen, brother. I want that for you, too. Because the truth is that MEMS isn’t new, and so we need to find the solutions to these challenges to commercialization, and then move on to conquer the other white space in the market.

Contact Karen Lightman, managing director of MEMS Industry Group at [email protected]

Conference Report: MEMS Executive Congress Europe

ST’s Carmelo Papa boldly declared that "MEMS is only limited by the imagination" during his opening keynote at MEMS Executive Congress Europe.  In many ways this phrase exemplifies the conference itself. All of the speakers on our four panels  — industrial, biomedical/Quality of Life (QoL), automotive and consumer — as well as our keynotes — conveyed that frontier feeling that MEMS can truly change the world. Sure we have some challenges to overcome (the biggest being packaging), but the potential of having MEMS (frickin’) everywhere is a very tangible reality.

Thankfully the media who attended the Congress Europe have already done an impressive job of highlighting the panelists’ and keynotes’ more technical points. (Please refer to our Congress press coverage for the growing list of stories.)  So instead of retelling you who said what regarding which ISO qualification, I’ll use this blog to give you the more colorful side of the Congress (shocking disclosure, I know).  And speaking of color, MIG’s Monica Takacs did a great job of capturing the Congress in pictures and we’ve posted them on our Flickr site; you will want to check it out.

I am going to give you a taste of the Congress by sharing with you my favorite quotes, saving my very favorite for last. I’ll start with one by our opening keynote, Carmelo Papa. When Carmelo was talking "off the ST script," his playful Italian personality made him a crowd favorite. Like when he said that he couldn’t reveal ST’s biggest customer "even under torture," but he’d give us some hints: "It is green, round and delicious to eat." What a great way to describe Apple.  I also liked how he described MEMS as the "mouse for portable devices" as it enables a new realm of gesture.

My next favorite quote was from VTI’s Hannu Laatikainen.  I began to think of him as a "Finnish Haiku Poet" when he said that we needed to "treat the car more like a human that can see, feel, hear, smell and taste." Great stuff. I absolutely enjoyed hearing every single word coming out of the mouth of Dr. Berger of Clinatec and it wasn’t just because I am a sucker for a French accent. I loved his description of connecting technology with medicine and his passion for patient health, safety and welfare.  He urged that there must be more money for clinical trials of technology for medical treatment to prove efficacy (not just money for consumer-inspired sport applications masking as healthcare products). I couldn’t agree more.

I laughed when Stefan Finkbeiner introduced himself and stated that his company, Akustica, hailed from Pittsburgh, the "MEMS center of the US." Stefan then modified the statement by saying that Pittsburgh is the "MEMS capital of Pennsylvania" and "definitely the MEMS capital of Western PA." My hometown is a lot of things, but not yet the MEMS capital of the US.

But my absolute favorite quote from MEMS Executive Congress Europe came from Continental’s Bernhard Schmid. When someone from the audience asked the panelists if visual sensors will replace MEMS on automotive, Bernhard responded with a rhetorical question: "Have the eyes cannibalized the ears? No. Both senses/sensors are needed for smart automotive." I guess he was inspired by Hannu’s earlier comment about the car’s senses being more human. I wouldn’t have expected such eloquence from a bunch of automotive engineering executives.  But like the Congress in general, these guys impressed and surprised me.
MEMS Executive Congress Europe was a fantastic success. I was expecting 100 attendees; we had 155. I thought we had a handful of sponsors; we had over 30.

While pausing momentarily to reflect on the highlights of our European event, my staff and I are looking forward to building the content for this year’s upcoming MEMS Executive Congress US in Scottsdale (November 7-8). And yes, we are looking at another Congress event in Europe in 2013 and possibly in Asia as well.

By design, MEMS Executive Congress is unique in the industry. Involving only minimal bribery (just the chocolate in Zurich at our European event!), we have been fortunate to engage MEMS suppliers and their end-user customers in thoughtful, sometimes spirited discussions about the use of MEMS in commercial applications. With our success in both the US and now in Europe, MIG is meeting a need in the market. Good thing it’s also lots of fun.

Karen Lightman, Managing Director of the MEMS Industry Group.