MEMS in the Mainstream: Zurich Edition

Anyone who’s anyone in the Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) community descended upon Zurich in Switzerland earlier this month for the first ever European MEMS Executive Congress. Organized by the MEMS Industry Group (MIG), and sponsored in part by Applied Materials, the congress draws together executives from across the MEMS value chain to discuss topics ranging from end-user applications to new technologies and current go-to-market strategies for MEMS. 

The event in Zurich marked the first time the event had been held outside of the US. (You can read my article about last year’s event here.) With over 150 people in attendance, it’s a fair bet it will be a regular feature on the European MEMS calendar.

In his keynote speech, Markus Buhlmann from the Vehicle Dynamics/Software group at Audi AG, explored new MEMS technologies to enhance the driving experience.

Using Audi’s flagship A8 as his model, Buhlmann explained the varied applications for MEMS beyond the now-conventional Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Anti-Roll/Skid and airbag deployment controllers that employ intertial MEMS sensors.

He described the many new and advanced features that MEMS enable on the next generation of Audi vehicles: Park Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Assist, to name just a few.

It’s clear that MEMS have advanced from simple, single-function devices to complex systems of devices, software and external communications. Certainly the bar has been raised for vendors in this space as the requirement for a complete “solution” takes precedence over the individual device capability. The implication for chipmakers in this space is clear: the one who can independently design and volume manufacture the most silicon will dominate a market that revolves around price, form factor and a trend toward system level functionality.

Carmelo Papa, Senior Executive Vice President at leading MEMS maker STMicroelectronics, announced in his keynote address that STM has shipped its 2 billionth MEMS device, a remarkable milestone. Papa went on to discuss the complexity of the MEMS chips used in today’s consumer devices.

This complexity, which STM calls “Total Solution,” driven by the demand for increased functionality that MEMS enables in the consumer market, has created the requirement for greater sophistication in control electronics, MEMS and packaging solutions alike.

Underpinning the growth of advanced packaging technology for MEMS at STM is the use of TSV technology to stack a MEMS device on top of a logic chip – a first in the world of MEMS and a clear signal that MEMS is becoming a mature, mainstream branch of the chip industry.

But the story doesn’t end there: Papa went on to describe how ‘the internet of things’ will be enabled by ‘smart MEMS’ – stand-alone, self-powered devices combining MEMS, control electronics, RF communications and energy harvesting in a single package.

These self-sufficient, autonomous gatherers of information will blend seamlessly into our daily lives, sensing our every movement and working intelligently with higher system functions as part of a global network of smart devices.

In addition, there were panel sessions on topics that included MEMS Quality of Life (which I had the pleasure of introducing), MEMS and the Changing Automobile, MEMS Enabling Smart Industrial Systems and MEMS in Consumer Products. In each session, speakers delved deeply into the specific devices that are advancing the state-of-the-art in their respective fields.

As Papa said, “MEMS is limited only by imagination.” We’re in the middle of an explosion of ideas that’s driving MEMS towards a bright and exciting future. Applied’s role will continue to be to support the MEMS industry with the most advanced manufacturing systems to enable our customers to make those new ideas a reality.

If you’d like to learn more about how MEMS devices work, check out this video I made last year. For more on Applied’s toolbox for MEMS manufacturing, please visit the MEMS page on our website.

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