MEMS Successful Transition: "From The Lab To The Fab"

Roger Grace

The phrase "from the lab to the fab" addresses a number of critical elements in the commercialization process for all technology, including MEMS and nanotechnology. It is also the theme of the panel discussion that forms part of the all-day MEMS and Nanotechnology pre-conference session on June 9, held as part of Sensors Expo 2008, June 9–11, in Rosemont, IL.

With 17 speakers and five panelists participating in the session, the audience will be exposed to a broad spectrum of MEMS- and nano-related technologies and applications and informed about the complex manufacturing infrastructure necessary to successfully transition these designs into successful products.

It takes a great deal of time and resources to achieve full commercialization of MEMS products. MEMS pressure sensors were the first devices to transition from the lab to the fab and this process took 36 years. Most recently, numerous other MEMS devices have achieved full commercialization, for example accelerometers (24 years) and gyros/rate sensors (22 years). I expect that a number of MEMS devices, including MEMS oscillators, will achieve full commercialization within the next few years. As part of this analysis, I will be presenting my annual "Barriers to the Successful Commercialization of MEMS/Nanotechnology" at this session, addressing 14 barriers/critical success factors for MEMS commercialization.

I believe that the MEMS industry is finally becoming mature and that this is driving the recent successful commercialization of a number of MEMS devices. In fact, design for test and manufacture (DfTM) is one of the MEMS Commercialization Report Card's 14 critical elements. The grades of DfTM have slightly improved from C+ in 1998 to B– in 2006.

In the past, MEMS designers have not focused on packaging/interconnection and test when designing MEMS devices. Instead, these non-MEMS elements were considered as design afterthoughts and as such, the optimization of the solution from a performance and cost perspective were severely compromised.

However, with the advent of numerous high-volume applications e.g. print heads, manifold absolute pressure sensors and air bag accelerometers, it was critical to have a robust solution at minimum cost. The magic formula to achieve this was to adopt a systems approach vis-á-vis DfTM. Some 75%–80% of the total cost of manufacture of most MEMS devices is attributable to packaging, test, and assembly. We are now seeing significant interest in technologies such as wafer-scale and "sandwich" packaging techniques that are helping reduce the cost of the product.

The panel of industry experts represent organizations that address critical elements of the "lab to fab" process. Mr. Joe Giachino of the University of Michigan's Wireless Integrated Microsystems Center (WIMS) and Dr. George Katchen of the University of Massachusetts Lowell will represent the early stage device developers. Professor Harry Stephanou of the University of Texas's Advanced Robotics Research Institute and Bennington Microtechnology Center will represent packaging and testing issues. Jean-Michel Stauffer of Colibrys will represent the MEMS foundry process. Finally Dan Holliday of SVTC will represent the function of transitioning smaller size wafer designs (4 in. or 6 in.) to larger 8 in. wafer designs. Since many new applications for MEMS are driven by high-volume automotive or consumer applications, the requirement to produce very low cost MEMS devices dictates moving to larger wafers to reduce the unit device cost. All of the presenters will be armed with case studies illustrating their organizations role in the "lab to fab" process.

I hope you can join us on June 9 at Sensors Expo. Click on the link for a look at the agenda and abstracts of all of the presentations.