Efforts are proceeding on various fronts to drive MEMS technology into “more than Moore” territory. Dr. Michael Gaitan of NIST, who chairs the iNEMI and ITRS MEMS technology working groups, is pursuing a roadmapping strategy, as I recount on page 36.
Addressing attendees at the Test Vision 2020 workshop held in conjunction with Semicon West, Gaitan said current roadmapping efforts focus on MEMS used in mobile devices, including accelerometers, magnetometers, gyroscopes, personal health and fitness devices, haptic devices, fingerprint sensors, and humidity sensors. He cited an IHS iSuppli forecast that motion sensors in handsets could account for sales of $1.75 billion in 2015, up from a negligible level that barely registered on iSuppli’s bar graph for 2006.
Despite the rapid growth of the MEMS market, the path from an innovative MEMS concept to commercialization can be a daunting one. Smoothing that path is one goal of the Richard Desich SMART Commercialization Center for Microsystems at Lorain County Community College in Ohio. In an interview, Matt Apanius, director of the center, described it as a multi-user, shared resource focused on the back-end packaging and commercialization of MEMS, microsystems, and sensors. The center currently operates a 1,800 sq ft class 10000 cleanroom.
A 47,000 sq ft facility currently is under construction and set to open next year. It will include cleanroom labs, incubating space for startups, private R&D labs, a software design and simulation lab, and customer landing spaces where visitors can attend to other business when not engaged in the labs.
Apanius said that post-wafer activities constitute 70% of the time and cost involved in commercializing sensor products. Companies can perform packaging and testing themselves, an expensive, time-consuming effort that can distract a company from the core product its sensors go into. Companies also can contract out the effort, but that results in a time-intensive fragmented process that entails a loss of control.
The SMART Center’s goal is to offer shared facilities that provide companies with an alternative to in-house efforts and contracting. The center, Apanius said, provides a low-cost resource that enables large companies as well as entrepreneurs to develop effective MEMS solutions.
The center offers packaging equipment, reliability testing equipment, inspection and characterization tools, and co-design and simulation software. Lab access, Apanius said, is priced at $60 to $150 per hour, depending on equipment used, and visitors can access the center’s software for $75 per hour. The center provides special pricing for long-term reliability testing.
Apanius cited several projects in which the center is involved. Beckett Corp., for example, is developing a sensor that will improve water boiler efficiency. Acense LLC is designing an acetylene sensor for transformer fault detection. GreenField Solar is focused on a direct optical sensor for a solar concentrator. And Case Western Reserve is working on a transdermal sensor for a metabolic monitoring platform.
Both Gaitan’s roadmapping strategy and the establishment of the SMART Center are laudable initiatives to move MEMS and sensor technology forward. Indeed, the two initiatives are complementary, and Apanius supports the NIST roadmapping effort. He said of Gaitan, “It will be interesting to see if he is successful in rallying a common voice from industry regarding MEMS test. He is right on the mark but in a position where the most he can do is advocate the solution—others will need to implement it.”