MEMS isn’t NEW

Karen Lightman, MEMS Industry Group (MIG), lets us in on the real meaning of MEMS new product development. MEMS are micro electro mechanical systems.

May 30, 2012 — 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, 412-390-1644. Read her other blogs:


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