NEW MICROSYSTEMS APPLICATIONS
DRIVE FAST GROWTH, STUDY SAYS

By Valerie Thompson
Small Times Correspondent

ZURICH, Switzerland, April 8, 2002 — A study by members of Europe’s key MEMS and microsystems association sees the world market for the products more than doubling from its 2000 level by 2005.

A new market research report from the Network of Excellence in Multifunctional Microsystems (NEXUS), a marketing organization for the microsystems industry, predicts that the worldwide market for microsystems technology (MST) will grow from $30 billion in 2000 to $68 billion in 2005.

NEXUS defines MST as all products that are microstructures in design, including monolithic and hybrid components and silicon-based devices, as well as anything micromachined.

Growth rate over the next five years is expected to be 20 percent each year. While other

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market researchers have had to downgrade their predictions for the first half of this decade, NEXUS had to upgrade its forecast by 2 percent more per year than it published in its 1998 report.

Industry insiders, however, are a bit cautious with the growth figures. “Nexus is a network promoting MST so they, like all of us in the industry, tend to be optimistic. Having said that, I would say that the new report is realistic. They have checked their assumptions,” said Bernhard Wybranski, editor of MST News, an independent German trade publication.

The group is upgrading rather than downgrading because it did not have very high projections for the telecommunications sector, which is now in a severe slump. Neither of its reports attribute a large market share to telecommunications applications.

NEXUS has factored in a bearish telecommunications market for the next two years. But it is not all bad news on the telecoms front. The report does say that there will be a breakthrough in the market for optical MEMS, as well as RF (radio frequency) MEMS, but just not this year.

Clearly the established MST markets, such as IT peripherals, take the lion’s share of the market well into the decade. Products categorized as IT peripherals include read-write heads for hard disk drives and ink-jet printer heads.

But a handful of new or emerging products and applications will also contribute to demand for MST products driving growth faster than originally expected. Some of these new products came to market after the NEXUS published its first report.

The blockbuster success of the optical mouse sensor, which is a microsystem based on the NEXUS definition, was a market development that blindsided NEXUS researchers.

“We certainly did not foresee the optical mouse. The device did not exist in 1998 and now it is a mainstream item. That was a surprise,” said Fritz Gotz, a microsystems professor at the Gelsenkirchen College of Technology.

The mouse uses an optical sensor for tracking instead of a mechanical trackball. Agilent Technologies Inc., the market leader in this space, shipped its 50 millionth optical mouse sensor in February of this year.

After IT peripherals, the largest market by application is the biomedical segment. “Biomedical is also the fastest growing market going out over the next three years,” Gotz said. But he cautioned that it is easy to report exponential growth going out from close to zero.

Biomedical products, such as cardiac pacemakers and hearing aids, as well as new emerging biomedical products will grow from $7.4 million in 2000 to $18.3 million in 2005.

Household appliances also represent an “emerging market” that will contribute to faster growth for the overall MST market. It is slated to go from $.4 million in 2000 to $ 2.3 million in 2005.

NEXUS already has a household appliance working group within its ranks, developing products, such as refrigerator sensors and “intelligent home” technology.

Other emerging applications discussed in the report include implantable drug delivery systems, biochips and fingerprint sensors. But the new markets are tiny compared to the overall market for IT peripherals.

The report contains a discussion of microstructuring techniques, pointing out that silicon bulk and surface micromachining remains most common, while integrating silicon micromachining with CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) is still tricky.

Microfabrication techniques are getting a boost from the use of laser machining, high aspect ratio microreplication based on lithographic patterning, electrodischarge machining, diamond milling and other precision mechanical methods, says the report. It also talks about working not only in silicon, but also polymers, metals, and ceramics too.

NEXUS provides a lot of information about its data, which will be good for researchers who want to use the information to compare it with other studies. For example, the calculation of the dollar value of the markets is based on volume times the smallest sellable unit that contains an MST.

It does not count the value of an integrated optics component “because the only part of that device that is MEMS is the V-groove for the fiber cabling,” according to Gotz.

However, the researchers had to include the value or cost of an entire printer head cartridge because that is the “smallest sellable component”.

“If someone were to sell only the nozzles then we could have calculated it based on that price, but no one is doing that yet,” says Gotz.

The data does include forecasts for liquid crystal-on-silicon displays but not the market value for traditional liquid crystal displays. Liquid crystal-on-silicon displays exploit MEMS micromirrors from Texas Instruments Inc.

NEXUS is organized around a number of industry segments. It calls them “user supplier clubs,” which deliver statistical market and production data, as well as “expert opinions on future developments.”

NEXUS membership now comprises almost 400 members from industry and academia. It will become a self-supporting association this year, after having received European Union support since its founding.


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