Contributed by Karen Lightman, managing director, MEMS Industry Group
What a delight it was to be in to Chicago for Sensors Expo 2010 at Rosemont Convention Center. I spent my first day attending the MEMS pre-conference symposium hosted by Roger Grace. The opening keynote for the MEMS symposium was Professor Thomas Gessner from Fraunhofer Research Institute for Electronic Nano Systems (IENS) in Germany. He focused his keynote on the main topic of the day: MEMS integration. In lieu of talking about high volume applications, Professor Gessner spoke of on-chip integration in lower volume for smaller sized customers (their niche). He also touched upon NEMS and a new generation of pressure sensors, as well as nanostructured multi layers using wafer bonding technology. He ended his presentation by discussing the energy harvesting capabilities of IENS’ devices. I will definitely stay tuned.
Following Professor Gessner’s presentation, host-with-the-most Roger Grace gave a presentation on “thinking outside the chip: MEMS based system solutions review and overview.” Though this wasn’t the first time I’ve heard Roger speak this mantra (system, system, system), I have to admit I have not grown tired of hearing him say it. What he did highlight was the importance of having the package, hardware, software folks all on the same page early. Roger also discussed that while some MEMS device companies are selling “commoditized” MEMS (ST Micro, for example), others are “MEMS engine” companies that offer unique product that guides their unique outcome. Basically the main message was that SOFTWARE is major play in the MEMS based solutions (just look at the cool stuff coming out of Philippe Kahn’s company Fullpower for just a glimpse of the potential).
The day then flowed in a similar pattern – each speaker had 25 minutes to present his/her slides and give their overview of MEMS integration. Some of the highlights included a talk by Jay Estfandyari of STMicro. Jay talked about the dominance of STMicro in the current market, with over 700 million inertial sensors shipped (WOW). He also touched upon STMicro’s sensors’ cost size power consumption and features, which are the most important factors for their large customers (i.e. Apple, though he didn’t name names). Jay also highlighted the remarkable shrinking of part size of STMicro’s devices in the past five. He spoke of the importance of having to adapt process to balance the size with performance, and that each MEMS device manufacturer has their own process (as my six-year-old daughter would say “No Duh”).
There are of course cost pressures amongst competitors; STMicro says their quality is higher than the competition (unstable performance with portrait/landscape for example). Jay gleaned over future accelerometer trends, saying that they also see applications (in consumer electronics) of man machine interface (MMI), vibration control, motion control, dead reckoning all on one accelerometer sensor. Everyone was eager to hear him discuss the integration with MEMS gyros and he prefaced it by stating that gyro packaging is especially challenging because you need to meet customers demand. Major customers want 3axis digital gyro developed in only three or four months. That is a challenge, I am sure! Jay summarized by looking at trends in combining gyro/accel – applications include MEMS magnetometer…the future is definitely (in his opinion) a sensor with embedded intelligence – integration inside the chip.
Other presenters included J. Kemerling, Triad Semiconductor who gave an overview of how they are developing interface ASICS. His presentation was followed by Amr Hafez of Si Ware Systems (in Egypt – surprise!), who is the CTO of their ASIC Solutions Division. Si Ware Systems is a design house (50 employees); they focus on ASIC solutions and are MEMS based. Amr discussed configurable inertial sensor interface ASIC – on chip fully integrated. He also touched upon the design issues and tradeoffs of electronic interfaces to MEMS sensors,as well as the integration of gyros and optical MEMS.
I was delighted to see presentations by two companies who I’ve previously invited to speak at MEMS Executive Congress – Movea and Hillcrest Labs. Movea’s Tim Kelliher of Movea and Chad Lucien of Hillcrest Labs both talked about the enabling power of MEMS and how they’ve utilized this technology to gain (hopefully) a competitive advantage in the very tight consumer electronics space. While Movea is moving to gain an edge in the sport/health/fitness market, Hillcrest is definitely positioning itself to be perfectly poised for when all TVs are interactive, computer-like products. Hillcrest is selling the remote controller that will revolutionize the way we all interact with home media. I can’t wait!
There were two keynotes following lunch including a presentation on “smart system integration” by VDI/VDE’s Gereon Meyer who discussed the EPOSS platform which is a technology platform for the EU’s strategic research agenda. His keynote was followed by another keynote by Peter Hartwell of HP who discussed “applying new MEMS architecture to achieve low-cost, ultra-sensitive wireless sensors for mission critical applications.” Basically this long title can be summarized in two words: SENSORS EVERYWHERE. I was thrilled to hear Peter’s keynote as a teaser to the keynote at MEMS Executive Congress 2010–by HP’s Rich Duncombe–which will similarly discuss how HP plans to revolutionize the way we all interact with our world. Really.
There were several other presentations that afternoon. I encourage you to check out the website for more information. The final program was a panel that discussed the integration tradeoffs for a design for manufacturing world. What was great about the panel is that we (Joe Brown, Jim Knutti, Harry Stephanou, Joe Giachino and me-Karen Lightman) presented differing yet symbiotic views of the future of the MEMS industry and the future of MEMS integration. While I urged the audience to go out and hit home runs and make millions because the MEMS industry needs success stories, other panelists talked about the niche markets and opportunities that MEMS integration offers in smaller volume markets. We also talked about the importance of the SYSTEM and yes, thinking outside the chip. Overall, it was a great panel – even if there were few in the audience to appreciate it.
I invited the remaining guests to join me at the Hyatt bar for an impromptu MIG member happy hour. I was pleased to see some MIG members and hopefully some soon-to-be-announced MIG members. I also had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know some great new-to-the-industry folks like Sarah Boisvert, a turnaround expert who is a marketing guru – stay tuned – Sarah and I are working on an upcoming “marketing for MEMS” webinar.
More to come soon as I blog more from my entertaining and engaging (video cam in hand) day on the Sensors Expo and ESC floors at Rosemont Convention Center.