2013: MEMS devices better, faster, smaller

01/03/2013

By Tony McKie, general manager, memsstar, Ltd.

At the moment, the MEMS industry is experiencing tremendous growth, driven largely by numerous consumer electronics products whose MEMS components, both multiple and varied, are finding their way into people's everyday life. Whereas before a phone had a single microphone, today’s high-end smart phones may have as may as three microphones for noise suppression using advanced beam forming audio techniques. This and other high-end consumer applications for devices such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, and MEMS oscillators are the likely drivers in analysts’ predictions for a 15 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the next five years.

This growth in end-user devices has filtered down to the manufacturers and equipment suppliers, challenging them to provide more efficient and cost effective means to manufacturing at the component level. Low cost has always been a major consideration in the manufacturing of MEMS devices and now there is the added complexity of increasingly sophisticated devices. Any consumer market is price driven with increasing levels of competition between component manufacturers, so, to be competitive, manufacturers need to employ standard techniques where possible with a manufacturing process that provides high yields.

This need to provide increased process capability and performance has now reached equipment suppliers, who must provide more advanced processes to allow manufacturers to design and manufacture their structures in a cost effective manner with consistently high yields. In addition, advanced process monitoring is a critical differentiator that ensures processes are stable and predictable, minimizing testing and ensuring high yield for a given manufacturing step.

One new application on the horizon for MEMS devices is autofocus, and its potential to drive the MEMS market has yet to be determined. We also see significant potential coming from the area of energy harvesting. As devices are continually designed with more and more components, the need for low power components becomes a high priority issue, as consumers will no longer accept a short battery lifetime between charges. One method to accommodate the higher power requirements would be to employ energy harvesting techniques to further extend battery lifetime of devices.

In the end, while the consumer market continues to evolve and the demand for better, faster, smaller increases even further, MEMS should continue to grow and find success as they are designed into more and more devices.

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