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What will drive MEMS to drive I-o-T and I-o-P?

What will drive MEMS to drive I-o-T and I-o-P?
by Pawan Fangaria on 01-27-2014 at 5:45 am

  By I-o-P, I mean Internet-of-People- I couldn’t think of anything better than this to describe a technology which becomes your custodian for everything you do; you may consider it as your good companion through life or an invariably controlling spy. This is obvious with the embedded sensor techno-products such as Kolibree, a smart toothbrush (that tells you about your brushing style and effectiveness, recorded into your smartphone to be later examined by your dentist), PulseWallet (that biometrically reads your palm and links to stored credit card information to make payment without needing the card), Beddit(that tracks your sleep pattern), and others (Veristrideis developing a technology for your shoes that can tell you how you walk and how to improve, Netatmois developing bracelets that can monitor your exposure to sunlight and tell you when you have to put on your goggles and apply sunscreen, and Cityzen Sciencesis developing smart fabric for your techno-shirts!) making headlines among the most disruptive innovations in CES 2014. A comprehensive report of disruptive innovations is published here.

I-o-T again has a long list of gadgets and that is going to expand tremendously in near future by further proliferation into consumer, healthcare, mobile, automotive, aerospace, military and industrial applications. We will undoubtedly see more technology products joining the bandwagon of smartphone revolution in coming years.

What enables them to gain such an exciting acceptance in the market? MEMS are present in every such device making them responsive to our environment, which can be in the form of touch, motion, feel, sound, weight, pressure or any kind of change for that matter. There can be enormous ways to frame technologies based on our environment and that will be driven by MEMS. Starting with actuators in automotive airbag application, MEMS have expanded into several other areas with accelerometers, gyroscopes, microphones, resonators, switches, optical mirrors and so on.

Despite many design and manufacturing challenges, MEMS growth rate has been higher than the average of overall semiconductor industry; sensors and actuators revenue was $8.41B in 2012 and is forecast to reach $9.09B, up 8.1% in 2013 according to the reportat isuppli. It is expected to climb at double-digit growth rate from here reaching to revenue of about $12.21B by 2017. While Texas Instruments, ST Microelectronics, HPand Boschare among the top MEMS players across the world, Taiwan is seeing major volume growth in MEMS market; Domintechand mCube, each is estimated to ship 10 million units of accelerometers this year.

MEMS are rapidly moving into a more mainstream path in the modern semiconductor industry. What drives MEMS is their ability to be manufactured in tiny pieces that can be integrated with ICs in a package, thus giving push to the niche devices we talked about. Other factors that will help MEMS proliferate are low power and low cost.

So, how do we scale up MEMS manufacturing in smaller size, power, integration, and at lower cost? Since MEMS devices involve more physical variables such as motion, their process development is highly customized as per the design of the device. There is no industry standard process for MEMS unlike ICs. And therefore MEMS and IC cannot be on the same die as of today; they need to be put together into a package. My personal opinion is that 3D-IC in its assembly of planes can dedicate a few planes for MEMS, as the 3D-IC process technology matures going forward.

Anyway, apart from more compact packaging, the stage is already set for many other developments that can take place for better integration, accuracy, faster pace, and at lower cost. As I had indicated in my last article here, Coventor’s SEMulator3D tool can enable faster and accurate process modeling and scaling for MEMS manufacturing through its Virtual Fabrication platform. And that can reduce cost significantly by eliminating time consuming and expensive build-and-test cycles. This can also help accelerating development of newer and more complex MEMS models to fuel the growth of I-o-T and I-o-P.

From a design standpoint, Coventorprovides an integrated MEMS and IC co-design and verification environment through its new release of MEMS+ 4.0 suite of tools. This enables MEMS components to be designed in a 3D design entry system and imported as symbols into MathWorks(MATLAB, Simulink) and Cadence(Virtuoso) schematic environments. The MEMS models can be automatically exported in Verilog-A, which can then be simulated together with IC description in any environment that supports Verilog-A; Cadence (Virtuoso) or other AMS simulators. These models simulate extremely fast; up to 100X faster than full MEMS+ models. By automating hand-off between MEMS and IC designers, this approach can eliminate design errors and thereby require fewer build-and-test cycles. More details can be found in another article here.

Although we may be a bit away from having MEMS and IC on the same die, today we do have other tools and infrastructure to design and verify them together, which can then be put together in a system with accuracy at faster pace and reasonable cost. Coventor tools can be used by Foundries as well as fabless design houses to avail the large window of opportunity in MEMS business.

It’s heartening to see GLOBALFOUNDRIES taking a lead in volume production of MEMS by pursuing the path of IC fab-like production discipline. Such moves can bring standardization of MEMS manufacturing closer, which will be key to boosting the business further.

More Articles by Pawan Fangaria…..

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