Sensors Expo report: MEMS Pre-Conference Symposium

MEMS in the mainstream — Music to my ears

June 25, 2012 — 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, 412-390-1644. Read her other blogs:


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