Karen’s blog from SEMICON West 2012

Where is the Love?

Has the romance between the MEMS and semiconductor industries started to fizzle? Or is the real issue that for new equipment vendors, the appeal and shiny/sexy new-ness of MEMS has faded as they salivate in anticipation of a switch from 300 to 450mm (with all of that sexy, new and expensive semiconductor equipment)?

In 2011, I declared that it was the “the year of MEMS” at SEMICON West in my MEMSblog, because last year, MEMS was everywhere! This year, not so much…

Don’t get me wrong; I love going to SEMICON West. I keep coming back because it’s like homecoming. I can’t walk the halls of Moscone without bumping into dozens of colleagues and MEMS Industry Group (MIG) members. This year it was even more fun, because I was armed with hundreds of adorable MIG stickers that I emblazoned/bedazzled on every MIG member (and future member) I saw.

MEMS was definitely present at SEMICON West this year, and the MIG brand was stronger than ever. MIG had a fabulous MEMS Pavilion, with co-exhibitors IMT, IQE Silicon, n&k Technology, Oxford Instruments, and Xactix. The MIG member lounge inside the pavilion was always full of activity (and fun). The MEMS content on the first day– which I had the honor of moderating – “Taking MEMS to the Next Level: Transitioning to a Profitable High Volume Business” –was chock full of MIG member companies: Applied Materials, Coventor, Hillcrest Labs, NIST, Silex, Teledyne DALSA and Yole Développement.

And I must humbly add that MIG’s fifth annual member happy hour at LuLu’s was THE BEST frickin’ party at SEMICON West this year. Our party was rockin’ and we have the Flickr photos to prove it. No need for caution in case you were worried:  the photos are all clean and involve no mechanical bulls (pause for the inside joke). It was the best party I attended, and if you think your party was better then you better invite me to your party next year so I can be the judge!

But, sadly, here’s where I must address the feeling I had during SEMICON West that “the love is gone.” Much of the content presented at the off-site conferences and workshops I attended had little or no mention of MEMS. And while the underlying reasons may be otherwise, I do wonder, in my heart of hearts, if the growing disconnect between MEMS and the semiconductor industry stems from the latter’s embrace of the migration to 450mm.

To the delight of those who want to enter MEMS manufacturing—or for those who want to stay there—the move to 450mm is in no way a requirement. Companies can manufacture MEMS devices on 200mm wafers just fine, thank you. Does this explain why only a handful of stalwart MEMS device manufacturers were present? Is the zeal for 450mm on behalf of semiconductor equipment vendors (who dominate SEMICON West) responsible for the seemingly fair-weathered friendship between MEMS and the semiconductor industry at SEMICON West or is it an issue worldwide? Share your thoughts with me—and let’s keep this discussion going.

4 thoughts on “Karen’s blog from SEMICON West 2012

  1. Agree that MEMS seems to be getting shuffled off into the corner, despite still very strong activity and interest! And Karen, the MEMS can be made on 200mm wafers, we aren’t up to 300mm yet! Still the fact is that 450mm is driving the equipment guys and though MEMS is still growing strong it is still 10% of the overall market. But MEMS is more than an embellishment for ICs – what will it take to break out from this mindset?

  2. I’m curious if there really is a fizzling going on, or if it’s just the ADD tendencies of marketing and the media as new bright and shiny things show up. It makes you think that there is no longer any use for the previous bright and shiny thing that we’ve become bored with now.

    But, in fact, just as there are still lots of takers for older technology nodes like 90 nm or even larger, my guess is that there will be plenty of non-MEMS semiconductor guys that will resist the push to 450 mm. After all, for some folks, a 450-mm wafer may hold more than a year’s supply of dice. It’s probably humiliating to go to a foundry and say, “Um, yeah, I’d like one wafer please?”

    So MEMS folks may have plenty of company in using 200- and 300-mm wafers.

  3. @Peter – thanks for the post and for catching my typo re. MEMS on 300mm (which I have since changed in my blog!); yes MEMS is only up to 200 mm now.
    but back to your question: What WILL it take for MEMS to break us out of the “little sister to IC” mindset? We’ve come a long way, but we sure have some work to do…thank goodness we have great companies like Silex helping to change the mindset, one wafer batch at a time…

    @Bryon thanks for your note as well – yes I think it’s a basic human tendency to follow the next new shiny bright thing (reminds me of a scene from Finding Nemo). I saw a recent twitter post from @Ira_Feldman linking to this report: http://j.mp/PEOXrs that referenced the impact of a switch from 300 to 450mm on the IC supply chain. Clearly this is an issue that folks are discussing; but for MEMS it’s just not relevant. I especially love your sentence “um, yeah, I’d like one wafer please?” that is brilliant – thanks guys!

  4. In general as the semiconductor industry begins to set its sights on 450mm there is a lot and I mean huge amounts of resources being poured into the development of the tools and devices for this significant node adoption. This is probably why all the hubbub at Semicon and the like, probably only getting worse as time marches on and companies like TSMC tout the adoption or move to 450mm as a near term reality….

    As far as 200mm goes (this includes MEMS as one of many emerging technologies at this wafer size), we are one of the few companies continuing to develop new and innovative technologies at this wafer size to support the growing markets such as MEMS, Power Devices, Analog Devices, etc, etc. I guess it’s a matter of relative market size. When the world speaks of 450mm they think in terms of 10’s of $M and up, per tool prices…. When they think of 200mm technologies its still in the $1M+ range. This obviously has significant impact on who gets all the attention.

    That being said, technologies such as MEMS continue to evolve and become more complex in their fabrication requirements. This is driving continued development in all our areas of fabrication DRIE, CVD, PVD, etc, etc. We’re at a point (even just for MEMS) where I can list HW or process advances needed on each tool that are driven by the design of more complex MEMS or the integration of several types of MEMS onto one chip, etc. Give me a device and I’ll show you all the processes and/or advanced films required to enable it – every device has a secret sauce that enables its funcionality – a process or film that is key to its high yield fabrication.

    So, while it may seem from the outside looking in that big Semi is focused on everything else – there are groups within tool vendor industry that continue to invest heavily in 200mm and for us at least that means a significant support for the growing MEMS industry.

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