The MEMS Opportunity: For Riches Or Rags?

You can design and tape out a MEMS device for under $100,000, and bring it to market for $5 million.

Who says so? Mike Jamiolkowski, Founder and CEO of Coventor, which supplies MEMS EDA tools to 11 out of the top 15 MEMS companies.

Jamiolkowski believes that MEMS is ripe for democratisation. That it is entering the mainstream.

“There are hundreds of companies in MEMS”, he told me at the Globalpress Summit Conference in Santa Cruz, last week, “there are hundreds of start-ups.”

Jamiolkowski says he sells his software for under $50,000, and that multi-project wafer runs are available to bring down the cost of prototyping.

“The chasm to be jumped is manufacturing cost,” said Jamiolkowski, “we need processes which can be re-used, and we need products which can be designed on old processes.”

The problem is that there are loads of different MEMS product types, and each one seems to require a different manufacturing process.

“Standardising a MEMS process is one of the biggest challenges facing the MEMS industry”, says Jack Blaha of Applied Materials, “there are 20 to 30 product groups each with their specific manufacturing requirements.”

“Foundries will look to see where is the greatest volume coming from”, adds Blaha, “and the foundries will go for the areas with the biggest volumes, and focus on specific products.”

Apparently, the MEMS market won’t be far short of $5 billion this year and the MEMS manufacturing equipment industry will be worth $500 million in 2012.

However there are loads of sceptics on MEMS. The MEMS glitterati: HP, TI, ST, Bosch, Seiko-Epson, Canon, Freescale, Lexmark, ADI, Avago have spent billions in the last decade investing in the area.

Will they ever see that investment back?

The CEO of a $600 million revenue analogue company, who was sitting at my table at lunchtime, had an answer to that question:


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