MEMS: The Future Looks Bright

E-mail Melanie Martella

So, at the beginning of the month I was lucky enough to attend the MEMS Executive Congress, wherein market analysts, people who make MEMS, people who use MEMS, and foundries that help people make MEMS all get together to discuss what's happening in the industry and how to make sure that the industry prospers. It's a very educational and fun event, and it provides a unique view of the MEMS industry as a whole.

The MEMS sensor industry as a whole is currently pretty darn healthy—experiencing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10% in 2011 with an expected 10.5% CAGR to 2015, according to Jérémie Bouchaud of IHS iSuppli—with the bulk of that growth coming from MEMS pressure sensors, accelerometers, and gyroscopes. And where's most of the growth happening? The two top areas of growth are due to the usual suspects: mobile and consumer electronics and automotive, the latter driven by the Chinese adoption of tire pressure monitoring systems. Similarly, Yole Développement's research, as presented by Jean-Christophe Eloy at the congress, gives a CAGR for the MEMS industry of $19.5 USD in 2016 with 14$ CAGR from 2010–2016. Of that bounty MEMS microphones, accelerometers, gyroscopes, and electronic compasses represent >50% of the MEMS units to be shipping in 2011. So, hey. At least part of the economy is doing well, right?

One of the other pieces of information about MEMS manufacturers is that, as the industry matures, there's increasing specialization. Some companies are focusing on high-volume applications while others are concentrating on high-value, lower-volume devices. That's very much to be expected as is is the growth of the ecosystem of companies that support the MEMS industry; foundries; materials suppliers; design and simulation software companies; companies that supply manufacturing, packaging, and testing equipment; and the list goes on.

The engineers currently incorporating sensors into our existing mobile electronics are getting more sophisticated in what they can do. Julie Ask of Forrester Research talked about how the use of mobile devices is changing the relationship between companies and their consumers. By adding increasing levels of intelligence—information on past purchases and past behavior, coupled with location and information about the immediate environment—companies can provide more targeted and useful information. A hypothetical example she gave concerned a traveller visiting an airline's home page. Depending on how close to the flight time, the home page could reflect the most likely information desired by the traveller. For instance, two days before the flight, it would give priority to viewing or changing reservations or reserving a seat. Two hours after the flight has landed, the traveller visiting the airline's page is most likely to be interested in ground transportation, reporting lost luggage, or navigating the airport and environs.

From an end-user perspective, this explosion in the availability of really good, low-power, less-expensive sensors means that some fairly sophisticated sensing technology is now available to a wider range of engineers, as the MEMS Tech Showcase at the congress ably demonstrated.

Right now, motion sensors are the new kid on the block; they're the ones that are getting all the attention and, I would argue, rightfully so. They are a very powerful enabling technology. But it's easy to forget the raft of other MEMS sensors and devices out there; the range of MEMS devices is still growing, and some of them, such as RF MEMS, haven't hit their stride yet. I look forward to seeing what's going to happen next in this interesting and vibrant industry and a big old Thank You to the MEMS Industry Group for putting on such a great event.

Editor's Note: There will be no Sensors Weekly next week in honor of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday!


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