MEMS Product Development Challenges – Sweet Dreams and Nightmares

By Karen Lightman, Managing Director, MEMS Industry Group

MEMS product development is not for the faint of heart. Though you will see many success stories in the industry, you will also see many failed ventures (did anyone say “telecom bubble?”), several bankruptcies (TeraVicta to name one), gray hair (or no hair), and divorces (sad, but true). And then there are the companies that are just middling along, waiting to break through – we have a duty to help them break out –  now!

That’s why I aptly titled our upcoming 2nd annual MEMS Industry Group (MIG) workshop with BSAC, on September 19, “MEMS Product Development Challenges – Sweet Dreams and Nightmares.” We have a lot to be proud of in the MEMS industry, but we still have a lot to learn and a lot to improve on in order to grow. We may be a $10B/year industry now; but to get to my dream of “MEMS frickin’ everywhere,” we need to do more.

All year long, MIG’s theme for content and programs has been focused on addressing MEMS product development and commercialization challenges. Our annual technical members meeting, M2M Forum, focused on MEMS new product development and we invited Len Sheynblat of Qualcomm to give a keynote on the real truth about what makes integrating MEMS and sensors into end-use mobile devices so darned hard and complicated: a lack of MEMS standardization. We teased out the differences and nuances between MEMS technology push and market pull; when, what and how it matters and why we should care. We developed a MEMS Technology Development Process Template to help managers navigate the gating process to determine when and if a MEMS device is a GO or NO GO. Additionally, MIG has worked closely with our MIG Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to ensure the content of our MEMS Education Series webinars is focused on MEMS product development.

We also hosted a fantastic one-day pre-conference symposium at Sensors Expo & Conference in June – all focused on, you guessed it – MEMS commercialization challenges. This time we called it “MEMS in the Mainstream: Commercialization and Product Realization – Leveraging the MEMS Infrastructure” (I was feeling less creative that day, I guess).  I am really proud of the folks we invited to speak and present at the Sensors Expo pre-con and MEMS tracks. The presenters all spoke honestly about the sweet dreams and nightmares they experienced while taking a MEMS device through the many stages of development along the MEMS supply chain. Thankfully, the supply chain is a heck of a lot more robust to help shift the odds more towards the “sweet dreams” side of things rather than the nightmares…but it’s still critical to keep that honest conversation going and give those case studies about MEMS product development challenges, specifically about MEMS fabrication models.

That is why our September 19 workshop at BSAC is so unique. We will give attendees an inside peek at how some of the best and most impressive MEMS companies have overcome their nightmares and are enjoying some sweet dreams (with occasional scary monsters under the bed and in the closet at times, I am sure). I am thrilled that one of MIG’s Governing Council members, and a really nice guy, the esteemed Dave Monk, MEMS Automotive Sensor Product Manager, Freescale Semiconductor, will present a case study on Freescale’s hybrid model of fabrication: “To Integrate or Not to Integrate: A Case Study on System-in-Package Integration for MEMS-based Products.”

This workshop is especially unique – because for the first time – drum roll please – we will have Knowles Electronics share a case study on their perspective of having a totally fabless model for their MEMS microphones. This is big stuff people. I didn’t have to change the name of my first born to get Knowles to agree to come and present; but it did take some convincing so I hope you will join me to hear Angelo Assimakopoulos Director, New Business Development and his colleague, Eric Lautenschlager, MEMS Engineer Manager, talk about how the magic happens. The third case study will be given by my friend and colleague, Peter Himes, VP Marketing of Silex Microsystems, the worlds’ biggest pure play MEMS foundry (I feel like have been programmed to say that every time I say the word “Silex”). Peter has been working on this presentation all summer – “Foundry: MEMS Product Proliferation and Time to Market: A Foundry’s Perspective on Process Standardization vs. Full Customization”  - and I can’t wait to see it (especially the part with the Swedish chef – right, Pete?).

After the case studies we’ll allow for a very short break and then the fun will begin again. Leslie Field, Consultant, Manager and Founder, Small Tech Consulting will moderate the panel “Successful MEMS Commercialization – Lessons Learned.” Panelists include MIG members  Evgeni Gusev Sr. Director Technology R&D, Qualcomm MEMS Technologies; and Marcellino Gemelli, Senior Marketing Manager, Bosch Sensortec; and BSAC spin-outs Christine Chihfan Ho CTO, Imprint Energy; and Octavian Florescu President, Silicon BioDevices. These four bring very diverse backgrounds and perspectives on what it takes to successfully navigate the commercialization process, including considerations for planning the development of new products. I look forward to hearing how each of them will define “successful commercialization” and how they address the challenges of integrating MEMS into existing applications vs. new products. I also think it will be fun to hear what questions the audience will ask…

I encourage you to join me on September 19 on the UC Berkeley campus – for the workshop, our joint session in the afternoon with BSAC, and finally our mixer/social/cocktail party in the evening (sponsored by ClassOne Equipment – thanks guys!). The early bird registration discount ends on September 6 – so don’t delay! The time for MEMS really is now.

And, if you’re a MIG member, start the party early in Mountain View on September 18 at a Happy Hour we are hosting at Tied House Brewery & Café, sponsored by one of our distinguished industry partners MIPI Alliance.  RSVP today!

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