Analysis: MEMS – a technology in the fast lane
MEMS is a technology in the fast lane of the semiconductor market.
As the semiconductor industry struggles to recover from the last 12 months of downturn, it is MEMS technology which could lead the way.
Thanks to the fast-growing use of accelerometers in mobile phones, one sector of the semiconductor industry which will show decent growth this year is the MEMS.
According to analyst iSuppli, the market for MEMS devices used in consumer and wireless applications will grow 6.4% this year.
The big volume applications for MEMS are multi-axis gyroscopes used in controllers for game consoles.
This technology is now expected to be used for mobile phone camera image stabilisation next year. The first MEMS-based RF switches could go into production for handsets by the first quarter of 2010.
According to iSuppli, as many as a third of all mobile phones shipped next year will contain at least one MEMS device.
The early adopters of the technology included IBM, Analog Devices, STMicroelectronics, Maxim and Bosch. Relative new-boy, Qualcomm has even created a flat panel display technology based on MEMS.
As Mark Martin, v-p and general manager of Analog Devices pointed out at a much talked about discussion on the potential of MEMS at Globalpress Summit Conference in San Francisco in March: “We’ve been developing MEMS for 20 years and we’ve been shipping them to customers since the early 90s. We’ve shipped 400m sensors, accelerometers and gyros. But now, with iconic products like the iPhone and the Wii, it’s starting to get big.”
Silicon foundry TSMC could move the technology to another level of adoption with a process that will halve the cost of fabricating MEMS.
Such is the impact this technology is starting to have on volume semiconductor markets, some chip executives believe it to be the next ‘must-have technology’ for most semiconductor companies.
See: MEMS mix up the silicon
Other interesting MEMS market developments have included Bosch’s plan to acquire US-based MEMS microphone technology firm Akustica.
Akustica has developed a range of digital and analogue micro electromechanical microphones featuring CMOS MEMS (micro electro-mechanical systems) technology.
The attraction of the CMOS-based micro mechanical technology is that it allows for the integration of transducer elements and associated integrated circuits in a single chip.
Bosch has its own MEMS sensor products which are used in the automotive market and Akustica has sold over five million MEMS microphones.
In another move Analog Devices is working with Infineon Technologies on a new type of highly integrated MEMS-based car air bag sensor system.
See: Analog Devices, Infineon collaborate on air-bag systems
Earlier this year STMicroelectronics introduced a 0.75mm high three-axis digital MEMS accelerometer which it reckons is the thinnest of its type in the world.
The device which measures acceleration up to +/-8g, has dimensions 3x5mm and is aimed at handset applications.