MEMS Commercialization Report Card Research Project, Part Two

Roger H. Grace, Guest Contributor

Part one, which appeared in the September 5 , 2014 issue of the weekly Sensors Newsletter, provided the rationale, background, and methodology of the MEMS Commercialization Report Card Research Project. In part two, we will address the first two of the 14 MEMS Commercialization Report Card topics: Design for Manufacturing and Test and MEMS Marketing.

In this series, I will address two topics in each episode. You will be provided with the individual historical grades from the Report Card's 1998 inception to the present and some of my personal observations and interpretations of the results. Finally, there are several of what I consider to be the most significant "verbatims" from the approximately 85 total verbatims on each topic. Where applicable, I will also provide "want to learn more" opportunities with details of conferences that address the issues that I discuss in the topics.

DESIGN FOR MANUFACTURING AND TEST

Grade Analysis

2013 Grade=B, 2012 Grade B-, Change=+1, S.D. =1.6 (based on 85 respondent inputs)

Fig.1: Design for Manufacturing and Test continues to receive good grades never falling below C+ since 1998.  The standard deviation noted is for based on the grades from 1998 to 2013.
Fig.1: Design for Manufacturing and Test continues to receive good grades never falling below C+ since 1998. The standard deviation noted is for based on the grades from 1998 to 2013.

Introduction

The concept of design for manufacturing and test is slowly beginning to focus on the "design solution" and includes not only the MEMS element, but also and at a minimum, the signal conditioning and packaging of the device (figure 2). I refer to this approach "MEMS-Based Systems Solutions" (MBSS).

Fig. 2: MEMS / Sensors form an important and necessary part of an application solution however it is becoming more critical to provide several other functions to be able to provide the customer with a viable integrated MBSS solution to their application.
Fig. 2: MEMS / Sensors form an important and necessary part of an application solution however it is becoming more critical to provide several other functions to be able to provide the customer with a viable integrated MBSS solution to their application.

Regrettably, and only until recently, has the non-sensor related part of the solution become important to MEMS suppliers. Packaging and software/algorithms are gaining large attention as critical elements to effectively offer products by adding value and creating product differentiation. This continues to be a major shortcoming of MEMS developers since the cost of the package, assembly, and test of a solution can account from between 60-75 % of the total cost of producing the device. These two items can provide significant product differentiation to a solution since MEMS-based sensors are quickly becoming commodities.

Over the past several years, MEMS manufacturers are beginning to adopt various packaging techniques that lend themselves to high volume/low cost applications. One of the most popular of these is wafer level packaging (WLP). Here the classic MEMS process uses a "capping" wafer as the package and thus eliminates the need for a discrete package which is costly and increases the size of the sensor. This process is done at the wafer scale level and provides for higher reliability, smaller size, higher throughput, and lower cost. IC companies are also pursuing this WLP approach with exceptional vigor. For MEMS, the adoption of WLP reduces the supply chain and helps shorten the time to market for a product. Time to market is especially critical in products that have short product cycle, like consumer goods. Several MEMS Silicon foundries have integrated the WLP process into their offerings, e.g., Silex.

Additionally, with the advent of wearables, the concept of flexible packaging is gaining major attention in the semiconductor and sensors industries. The ability to make pressure, temperature and bio sensors on a roll-to-roll process is the first step in integrating them into the above defined MBSS.

Currently American Semiconductor is one company using these flexible sensors and integrating them on a flexible substrate along with flexible microcontrollers and communications chips as the first step in creating a hybrid flexible solution. The next step is to monolithically integrate these functions along with their interconnects to create a single part solution providing ruggedness, small profile, low cost and high throughput manufacture of MEMS-based system solutions.

Verbatims

  • Too many MEMS companies are still using people without MEMS experience to develop their MEMS products. Without knowledge of MEMS manufacturing issues, Design for Manufacturing can't be done. Some companies are doing this well, but there are still too many either doing it poorly or not at all.
  • I think some of the larger companies in particular are focusing on this.
  • The competitive landscape for end users of MEMS makes it imperative to promote design for manufacturing, to continue to drive costs down.
  • Billions are sold = manufacturing seems under control.
  • I believe this is getting better as toolsets are enabling rapid design for production.
  • Prices are down, which must mean yields are up, which must mean DFM is working.
  • CAD tools continue to get better. In particular, lumped model tools are getting much better.
  • I think the infrastructure for MEMS manufacturing is maturing and there is much better understanding what is required to make a MEMS-based design in volume due to experience gained by the industry with the expansion of high volume products.
  • As volumes increase and prices go down, manufacturability has become more important.

Summary

There was consensus that with the emergence of high volume/low cost applications presented by the consumer market Design for Manufacturing is trickling down into many other applications. The gradual adoption of "MEMS-Based Systems Solutions" with a focus on packaging and algorithm development will be a critical item in helping MEMS manufactures continue to reduce cost, enhance performance and provide increased functionality to their customers. The adoption of novel packaging strategies including WLP and flexible hybrid are gaining significant interest and are being adopted from MEMS manufacturers and organizations that use MEMS as part of their application solution

Want to Learn More?

As mentioned above, the concepts of wafer scale packaging and flexible electronics are very hot items for both the IC, MEMS, and sensors markets. The following conferences will be addressing these topics:

Sensor Technology & System Integration for Human Performance and Health Devices; Nano-Bio Manufacturing Consortium; Northeastern University, Boston, MA; October 16-17, 2014; (flexible sensors/electronics to be addressed)

International Wafer Level Packaging Conference, San Jose, CA, Nov.11-13, 2014; (wafer level packaging to be addressed)

Trillion Sensors Summit; La Jolla, CA; November 12-13, 2014; (printable and wearable sensors to be addressed)

3-D IC Conference, Burlingame, CA; Dec.10-12, 2014; (wafer level packaging to be addressed).

MARKETING

Grade Analysis

2013 Grade=B-, 2012 Grade=C+, Change=+1, S.D. = 1.8 (based on 85 respondent inputs)

Fig. 3: MEMS marketing continues to receive less than favorable grades…the good news is that it has improved slowly from a C to a B- over the past four years.  The standard deviation of noted is for all grades from 1998 to 2013 and shows a minor variance over the reporting period.
Fig. 3: MEMS marketing continues to receive less than favorable grades…the good news is that it has improved slowly from a C to a B- over the past four years. The standard deviation of noted is for all grades from 1998 to 2013 and shows a minor variance over the reporting period.

I believe thatt marketing efforts by organizations to support the sales of MEMS devices and services has been hampered by a technology push versus that of an applications/market pull strategy. I also believe that this is due to the management of MEMS companies coming from a research and engineering background where technology is "king". My personal feelings are highly correlated with the results of the Report Card verbatims.

MEMS marketing has typically received mediocre grades with the lowest being C- and hovering in the C level. I believe that MEMS Marketing is considered to be an oxymoron2, primarily influenced by the lack of knowledge and familiarity of basic marketing principles by MEMS industry participants, lack of adequate market research on unfulfilled customer needs, limited budget allocations, and "we have a better mousetrap" mentality of MEMS industry management3. MEMS marketing plays a vital role in the early phases of the MEMS commercialization process as noted in figure 1 (see fig. 1 above).

Verbatims

  • Thanks to smart phones, users are aware of MEMS
  • MIG has done a noteworthy job and deserves a higher grade. Companies like Invensense are aggressively marketing.
  • Many companies lack visionary marketing, and as a result follow en masse the latest trends. As a result, there are a lot of similar products.
  • Marketing will always be difficult since the application of the technology spans so many traditional markets.
  • Still too much "herd mentality", especially in the consumer segment
  • MEMS seems to self market, little to no involvement in 2012
  • Marketing resources are available in the industry. Not sure that companies developing unique solutions know how to approach unique marketing requirements.
  • Marketing? I don't see MEMS marketing as opposed to individual products.

Summary

MEMS marketing and, I believe, sensor marketing in general, are plagued by a technology push versus applications pull mentality driven by technology engineering management. I believe the grades of C in 2009 and 2010 were greatly influenced from significantly reduced promotion and marketing budgets as a result of the depressed global financial situation during that time. The good news is that the grade has steadily increased from C to B- over the past four years.

I believe that investment in marketing programs has to be highly leveraged because of this fact. Based on 30 plus years of, I think it is quite apparent that a well-planned and properly resourced people-and-finance perspective can return large ROIs on management's investments in these marketing programs. These include trade show participation, public relations, media advertising, and a plethora of other marketing communications tools. Case studies of these programs are provided in Reference 3.

My mantra - "MEMS Marketing: Oxymoron or Opportunity" – applies. MEMS and sensor companies do not need incredibly complex and expensive marketing plans. They just need to be better than the "next guy" and the "next guy" is not doing such a great job.

Want to Learn More

The MEMS Industry Group Executive Congress; November 5-7, 2014; Scottsdale AZ.

References

1. R. Grace, "Barriers to the Commercialization of MEMS: The 2013 Report Card", Sensors.

2. R. Grace, "Thinking Outside the Chip for MEMS Design Success, Electronics Products", February 2010.

3. R. Grace, "MEMS Marketing: Oxymoron or Opportunity".

About the Author
Roger H. Grace is president of Roger Grace Associates (Naples, FL) which he founded in 1982 as a marketing consultancy serving the sensor, MEMS, IC and capital equipment markets. He holds the B.S.E.E. and M.S.E.E. (as a Raytheon Company Fellow) degrees from Northeastern University where he was awarded the Engineering Alumni of the Year Award in 2004. He was a visiting lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley College of Engineering from 1990 to 2004. He can be contacted via email at [email protected].

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