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Consumer Applications Push MEMS to New Volumes - 6/20/2008 8:01:00 AM - Semiconductor International

Consumer Applications Push MEMS to New Volumes - 6/20/2008 8:01:00 AM - Semiconductor International

Consumer Applications Push MEMS to New Volumes
SEMI, San Jose -- Semiconductor International, 6/20/2008 8:01:00 AM

MEMS will become a $7.6B business this year, as more and more developing consumer applications go into large-volume production, projects Yole Developpement (Lyon, France). The high-volume consumer market will bring with it a 25% jump in unit shipments, which will be countered by a relentless 6-7% overall decline in prices. It will also likely bring with it more reliance on foundries, and major new emphasis on shake testing high gravitational forces.

“Nintendo’s Wii and Apple’s iPhone really got user attention for what could be done with MEMS motion sensors,” said Rob O’Reilly, director of MEMS test at Analog Devices Inc. (Norwood, Mass.). “I got hundreds of calls and e-mails asking if we could do this or that for all types of innovative applications. The handset people all came out of the woodwork.”

The MEMS product line is now among the fastest growing at Analog, according to O’Reilly, based on demand from consumer devices. And the company expects strong growth to continue, as portable device makers look to add more convenient user interfaces, and all sorts of new markets develop — from accessible control systems for the handicapped, to contact microphones for musical instruments, to portable ultrasound systems. “Some time ago, the MEMS user group estimated MEMS per capita was about 1.5 devices per person, and would get up to 2,” he said. “That model has been completely blown away, with the MEMS adoption rates of gaming, GPS, portable media devices, cell phones and cameras. Me personally, I’m up to 6, and I know I’m not alone.”

That means a whole new kind of volume to deal with, as one cell phone model alone may run 40 million units. “OEMs will soon start asking for that weekly,” O’Reilly said. “You really need to use a foundry to meet this kind of demand.”

Digital camera modules, low-power displays, timing and handheld projectors

Also getting close to market are handheld projectors, allowing cell phones or laptops to display large images on most nearby surfaces. Microvison Inc. (Redmond, Wash.) is working with a variety of electronics suppliers to manufacture prototype units, and aims to have its initial MEMS-based display engine out by the end of the year, targeting high-volume consumer products with OEM partners in 2009.

The first volume product using the laser scanning technology is actually a barcode reader released late last year, using a simpler version of the MEMS mirror that oscillates on only one axis to project the scanning laser beam across the barcode, for a low-cost scanner for applications such as warehouses. That serves in part as a vehicle to ramp the company’s fab. “We’ve done demonstrations for years, but now we’re learning scaling,” said Jason Tauscher, Microvision’s manager of MEMS development. “We’re really starting to push volume now and stabilize the process.”

Microvision argues that its laser scanner approach, based on one MEMS mirror that oscillates on two axes within its frame, allows a smaller, lower-power device compared with competing approaches. Each pixel is generated by mixing red, green and blue laser beams into one beam of the desired color, which the scanning mirror then directs toward the right spot on the projection surface, rapidly reproducing the image pixel by pixel.