A Systems-Based Approach to MEMS

E-mail Roger Grace

I have previously addressed the topic of adopting a systems approach in the use of MEMS ("MEMS-Based Solutions"). There, I attempted to provide some rationale as to why this shift from device to system has happened. I believe that a great deal of this "MEMS device think" stems from the education undergone by many of the MEMS developers. University programs have focused on creating devices and reporting on their performance. Only recently have advanced R&D activities addressed system integration solutions.

The Solution: Think Outside The Chip
In the real world, a MEMS device is only a small part of the application. The many other elements of the systems are typically more expensive to make and offer significant integration challenges. To add to this, all of the electronic devices in the system need to be interconnected, powered, packaged, and tested and this is where true innovation is required, in selecting the individual system elements and their optimum partitioning and interfacing.

The June 8, 2009 all-day pre-conference session "Thinking Outside the Chip: MEMS-Based System Solutions: Designs, Tradeoffs and Applications") will be held at Sensors Expo 2009 at the Stephens Exhibition center in Rosemont, IL. It is designed to address this MEMS-based system concept and to present actionable and executable strategies to implement this approach in your designs. The pragmatic and user-friendly session will consist of 16 presentations, two keynotes, and a panel discussion, all of which will address aspects of MEMS-based systems solutions, including application examples. A brief discussion of the various major topics follows.

  • Device integration strategies: Monolithic versus multi chip
  • Software co- design/system architecture development
  • Functionality tradeoffs when selecting an ASIC/interfacing IC
  • The role of embedded software in optimizing system performance over temperature and through manufacturing variances
  • Packaging and interconnects
  • Energy harvesting and storage
  • Application examples
  • Overview on system integration design for manufacturing and test. This topic is also the theme of the panel discussion.

Industry experts from the University of Michigan's Center for Wireless Integrated Microsystems, The Fraunhofer Institute, Analog Devices, ST Microelectronics, MEMSIC, the University of Liège, MicroGen Systems, Axept, Microchip Technology, Kionix, ePack, Aspen Technologies, Si-Ware Systems, Austriamicrosystems, Chipsensors, Triad Semiconductor, Asia Pacific Microsystems, Coventor, and SVTC will be providing "street smart" perspectives and approaches to create these systems solutions.

Panel Discussion
The all-day session will conclude with a panel discussion. A number of MEMS industry pundits will address the topic "MEMS design for manufacturing and test." As MEMS become more mainstream and enter into more high-volume applications, care needs to be taken to create designs that are robust, reliable, reproducible, and that have a low cost of manufacture and test. We will be discussing a number of issues that support this concept including using MEMS design software and creating an optimum production migration path from breadboard design to full scale production

In Closing
Based on recent market research that I have conducted, a number of companies have adopted a "think outside the chip" MEMS-based systems approach. These include, axept, Tronics Microsystems (France), and Infotonics. (Note: Axept, Infotonics and Tronics Microsystems will be making presentations in the session). Additionally, this area of investigation has been pursued by a number of universities and advanced development teams at Fraunhofer ENAS, University of Michigan's Center for Wireless Integrated Microsystems and IMEC (Belgium). We are fortunate to have the director of the Fraunhofer ENAS group, Professor Thomas Gessner and the assistant director of the University of Michigan WIMS group, Professor Khalil Najafi to be keynote speakers at the event.

The session will aid attendees in designing integrated solutions to their applications. In my opinion, adopting a MEMS-based system approach will help organizations differentiate themselves from competitors in a MEMS market that is becoming increasingly commoditized. In the current economic downturn, this approach can provide MEMS users with a plug and play/turnkey solution that may help them reduce staffing levels. It also promises to provide customers with solutions that are cost effective and minimize the time to market.

Please come to the June 8 Sensors Expo all-day session and hear more about this exciting topic from some industry experts that will help you "think outside the chip."

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