MIG Conference Japan Wrap-Up

By Karen Lightman, Executive Director

I am finally over the jet lag and able to share my thoughts from MEMS Industry Group (MIG) Conference Japan, MIG’s inaugural conference in Asia that was held on April 24. But first let me quickly express my happiness to have returned to Japan after a three+ year hiatus. (My last visit was before the tsunami/earthquake.) I ate sushi every day, drank sake, partook of a Japanese bath and consumed green tea (in very large quantities). What a great place to visit.

A few months ago I invited you to spend a week with me in Japan, as there were several partner events that dovetailed with our MIG conference, including the NanoMicro Biz ROBOTECH and MEMS Engineer Forum. On April 23 I traveled to Yokohama to give a keynote at NanoMicro Biz’s 20th annual International Micromachine/Nanotech Symposium.

The conference had been relocated to Yokohama, an impressive “city by the bay” that is only a 30-minute train ride from Tokyo. And while the exhibition site was smaller than previous years, the Symposium was still impressive, and my presentation on “MEMS and Sensor Trends, Paving the Way for the Internet of Things” was well received by a diverse and international audience. I also had the opportunity to represent MIG in our booth and sneak in a few MIG-branded chocolates created for us by the conference organizers (yum) as well as connect with several MIG members and partners in attendance.  

Then it was back to Tokyo to kick off MIG Conference Japan with MIG Events and Program Manager Chivonne Hyppolite. Simply put, the conference exceeded expectations in terms of quality/number of attendees as well as content. I am grateful for the guidance and support MIG received from Mr. Susumu Kaminaga of SKG Partners and Mr. Yoshio Sekiguchi of OMRON; without them, there is no way that the conference would have happened let alone be successful.

What excited me the most about MIG Conference Japan was the originality of the content provided by our keynotes and featured speakers. (Here is the agenda.) The focus of the conference was on navigating the challenges of the global MEMS supply chain. Several of the speakers gave their no-holds-barred view of these challenges, including the keynote from Sony Communications, Takeshi Ito, Chief Technology Officer, Head of Technology, Sony Mobile Communications. Mr. Ito’s shared his thoughts on the future of MEMS and sensors (and in particular, alternative uses for acoustic MEMS), which I found very interesting, and I truly appreciated his end-user/OEM perspective.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the presentation by Leopold Beer, regional president Asia Pacific, BOSCH Sensortec, who explored the criticality of balancing higher integration and rapid product cycles with the need to support multiple applications.

Honestly all the presentations at MIG Conference Japan were impressive, and I am not going to do a play-by-play here for you. (Sorry folks.) But what I will do is urge you to consider attending our next big event in Asia: MIG Conference Shanghai, which will be held September 11-12, 2014 in Shanghai in in partnership with Shanghai Institute of Microsystem and Information Technology (SIMIT) and Shanghai Industrial µTechnology Research Institute (SITRI).

Our Shanghai event will be more focused on the theme of the Internet of Things/Services/Everything as well as the challenges of a global MEMS supply chain. Please join me there to further explore the future of MEMS and sensors. For more information, you can visit our website.  

Bulbs Need Intelligent Lighting Systems

Guest blog from Semico Research

There are over 3,000 companies making LED bulbs.  Regionally, there are countries like China that have 5-year plans which foster the development of leading SSL manufacturing firms while pushing LED lighting on the market.  How many light bulbs do you have in your house?  How many are LED?  How many lights at your workplace? On the streets and freeways?

If you thought the sensor market was large before, with smartphones and fitness trackers, imagine all the sensors and controls that could go into lighting sources and outlets, with the intent of monitoring behavior and finding trends in order to predict how and where our lighting should be installed.

With MEMS, the entire smart home may have sensors.  For example, your walls may have accelerometers built in to help predict and recover from earthquakes.  Bulbs may make use of a MEMS microphone to help determine lighting needs.  As the price of MEMS sensors continues to decline, manufactures should turn their eye to this market.

For example, imagine having the majority of your ceiling be comprised of multiple types of lights, all of which can automatically be adjusted depending on your behavior.  This is important for the home theater system, where in order to play a movie, the screen must be lowered, the system turned on, the curtains closed, etc.  But, with smart lighting controls, the mere act of sitting down on the couch at a particular time of the day could trigger all those other actions automatically with the lights adjusted accordingly.  How can MEMS contribute?

Perhaps even more useful, intelligent lighting can sense commands from other lighting sources without the use of a wired connection.  This effectively creates a 3D map of your environment with the lighting system at the head of it.  No more automatic lights that rely on gestures in order to stay on.  The lighting system of the future will know if there are living creatures in the room or not.  This isn’t far out in the future either, we’re looking at this technology now, and at the point where manufacturing and deployment must work together.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 86% of all lighting in residential markets currently have no control system, and 70% of all commercial lighting have no controls.  The market penetration rate is so small, and the potential so large, this is a market you should be keeping an eye on.  That is why Semico is hosting a Smart Lighting Event on April 23rd in Santa Clara to discuss deployment trends and what opportunities and barriers to entry we have to look forward to.  Semico’s CTO, Tony Massimini will be discussing, in particular, how MEMS manufacturers can build a niche within the Smart Lighting market.  Join us and register here.

Next-gen RF MEMS Switch for a Smarter, Faster Internet of Things

By Karen Lightman, Executive Director
Originally appeared on GE Global Research, March 28, 2014

Big Data. Internet of Things. Quantified Self. Connected Home. Connected City. These buzzwords are pretty much everywhere (unless you live under a rock or up a tree), and many of us are excited about the possibilities of connecting to data in intelligent ways that improve our everyday quality of life.

Micro-electromechanical Systems (MEMS) and sensor networks give us access to a more connected and quantified world by making “big data from little data.” (ARM CTO Mike Muller explored the topic at a recent MEMS Industry Group conference held at the 2014 International CES). But what if those little and then big bits of data can’t get out? What if they are stuck on the ever-clogged and expanding Internet Highway? How will I be able to quantify myself and analyze my sleep, eating and exercise habits if the data just stays put on my wearable device? What good will come from all this data then?

The simple answer is that it will be NO GOOD unless the data is conveyed via a robust connection with strong signal quality. A strong “data backbone” ensures that the little data can be quickly and seamlessly combined with other little data, then scrubbed and polished through algorithms to create big data that helps make smart decisions — fast. Sometimes these decisions might be as simple as “get off your butt, Karen. You’ve only walked 2,000 steps today” or it might be as complicated as a sensing microsystems that senses, switches, monitors and makes real time decisions on board planes flying overhead to industrial or healthcare monitoring and diagnostics here on the ground warning system for a jet engine turbine that has struck a flock of birds.

The bottom line is that all the fancy MEMS- and sensor-enabled gadgets in the world won’t reach their potential of truly creating an Internet of Things unless the data itself gets to its destination quickly, safely and efficiently. That’s why I became super excited to hear of GE’s RF MEMS switch that promises to enable increased data transfer speeds, enhanced signal quality, and longer battery life.

The RF MEMS switches developed by the folks at the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna, NY use a unique material set and proprietary metal MEMS process developed at GE Global Research. This is breakthrough science, to be quite honest; and I am can’t wait to see this technology realized in future mobile devices. LTE-Advanced (also called “true 4G”) is already common in several spots in Asia and is expected to become the benchmark for mobile communications worldwide. GE’s RF MEMS technology will create that backbone, to enable the building of big data from little data on this new level of mobile communications.

In 2012, I had the pleasure of visiting the research center in beautiful Niskayuna. (It was in July not in the winter, mind you.) I learned all about GE’s new class of devices (including the switch) and am excited to see what breakthroughs will be coming from GE in the future.  I also got to dress up in the bunny suit and take a tour of their amazing MEMS foundry. (Read more about my visit by reading my blog.)

It is gratifying to see now that technology making its way into the market, with its promise to span numerous applications — across consumer to commercial and industrial products. I personally can’t wait to have my mobile device with the GE RF MEMS switch, truly enabling a smart and fast Internet of Things.

MEMS – Enter with Care

Written by: Karen Lightman, Executive Director, MEMS Industry Group
First appeared on Solid State Technology, March 27, 2014

MEMS – enter with care. I think that will be my tagline for MEMS Industry Group’s third annual MEMS Executive Congress Europe 2014 recently held in Munich, Germany. The official theme of the conference was the “MEMS-Enabled Life,” and the keynotes and panelists did talk about how MEMS is currently and will continue to improve our quality of life. However, what struck me the most about this conference was how every panelist shared not only the “everything’s-coming-up-MEMS” perspective but also some real honest discussion about the remaining challenges of getting MEMS devices to market on-time, and at (or below) cost.

This was especially apparent on the consumer products panel – which makes sense.  Because nowhere else is the MEMS industry more competitive than in the consumer market. JC Eloy of Yole Développement characterized it best: “The MEMS consumer market is booming, but….” The “but” factor here is that it’s such a tough business that very few startups can enter the MEMS consumer market, the only exception being InvenSense. I’ve often said that MEMS is not for the faint at heart, but these days it really looks to be cutthroat in the consumer business as Bosch and ST duke it out for the #1 spot. My favorite quote from the Congress was a sign of that competitiveness – so coyly stated by Teemu Rämö of Nokia when he introduced himself on the panel: “Nokia, the phone you had before you switched to your iPhone or Samsung.” Yes, remember Nokia. Now the Lumia is best known for its (MEMS-enabled) camera, but alas, not for its mobile phone capabilities.

The perspective on the challenges and opportunities in this competitive field of MEMS was also well detailed by our morning keynote, Rudi De Winter, CEO of X-FAB Group, who spoke of the innovation and diversification of MEMS and how it compares to semiconductor and CMOS manufacturing. De Winter described the challenges this way: “In MEMS there are no elementary building blocks…the physical implementation is very different from CMOS and there is a huge potential for optimization (process, design architecture).” Clearly a leader like X-FAB that is expanding its MEMS capabilities sees the opportunity but is going in with open eyes and an appreciation of the challenges that lie ahead.

The automotive panel, ably moderated by Freescale’s Marc Osajda, also reflected on the challenges in the ever-changing world of automotive. The panelists gave a great overview of the changing landscape. As BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries are increasing their demand for cars, they are not necessarily increasing their demand for MEMS-/sensor-laden cars. In fact, Richard Dixon of IHS shared the statistic that only 8% of cars sold in BRIC countries have MEMS/sensors while the average American car has closer to 18. This market diversification is simultaneously creating both real opportunity andbig challenges. But as stated by Christoph Wagner of Analog Devices, “MEMS will always be an innovator in automotive.”

The MEMS in healthcare panelists also discussed the opportunities for MEMS – explaining that the biggest chance for a “killer app” in MEMS is in the health/wellness space. The panelists couldn’t help themselves by discussing the barriers to that killer-app-happy-place, with the biggest one being regulation (no surprise here). But they expressed overall optimism when describing a future where you “bring your own device” to maintain wellness and health, and I look forward to experiencing that world as I envision it — with fewer wait times at the doctor’s office. (A girl can dream, can’t she?)

My highlight of MEMS Congress Europe was definitely hearing the keynote from Klaus Meder, president of Automotive Electronics, Robert Bosch GmbH: “MEMS and our Connected World.” With his enviable-looking presentation slides (like seriously, who does his graphics? I want his/her contact info!), Meder painted an exciting world enabled by MEMS/sensors and truly smart Internet of Things and Services (IoTS). “Internet of things is about sensors everywhere, networks everywhere, analyze everything,” stated Meder. YES! I want that world because that world doesn’t intimidate me or frighten me with its regulations and privacy concerns. I can’t wait for that beautifully intelligent MEMS/sensors-everywhere world. Can you?

Trip Report: MEMS Industry Group at MD&M West 2014

by Monica Takacs, Director of Membership, MEMS Industry Group

February 2014, MEMS Industry Group (MIG) exhibited at the MD&M West conference and tradeshow in Anaheim, CA with MIG members AM Fitzgerald & Associates, IMT – Innovative Micro Technology and Silex Microsystems as our co-exhibitors. Our host for the microtechnology pavilion was IVAM Microtechnology Network, one of our 26 partner organizations, and it featured international companies involved in the manufacturing of MEMS, sensors and printed electronics for the medical device industry.

Medical device manufacturers have quickly noticed MEMS as a viable solution to include in their multi-functional next-generation products. With MEMS steadily making its way into more medical applications, MIG is creating opportunities for our members to connect with the medical device community. In addition to attending and creating content for medical-device shows, we are launching members-only programming such as the MEMS in Healthcare Working Group, launched in the fall of 2013.

At MD&M West, MIG hosted a Learning Labs conference session, “Advanced Application of Sensors in Medical Devices,” with MIG Governing Council Member Alissa M. Fitzgerald, Ph.D., founder and managing member, A.M. Fitzgerald & Associates, LLC as the chair. A panel of MIG members IMT – Innovative Micro Technology, Merit Sensor, Silex Microsystems and Small Tech Consulting also participated in the panel discussion, “Utilizing new sensor technologies for implantable devices.” 

12815955115_6038d32e2f_nThe panel discussed the MEMS ecosystem and advised medical-device companies on navigating the opportunities and challenges of MEMS product development. Counseling companies not to reinvent the wheel, panelists explained that they can leverage partner relationships to overcome the technical challenges of MEMS fabrication.

They also described the evolution of the MEMS industry over the last 10 years from a landscape of startup companies to Fortune 500 and even 100 companies now including MEMS in their product roadmaps. Michael Shillinger, founder of IMT remarked that the majority of IMT’s customer base is now made up of large companies rather than startups. Moderator Leslie Field, CEO of Small Tech Consulting, remarked how development cycles aren’t what they used to be, which has led to the ubiquity of MEMS.

Kevin Mach, senior account manager of Silex Microsystems cited the critical role of MEMS foundries in the massive adoption of MEMS over the last decade: “Companies planning to get into the medical/life science space need to reach out to MEMS foundries early and often. It’s important to understand what options are available in manufacturing and to leverage the technical expertise gained from years of MEMS processing. In our experience, customers that take the time to understand the capabilities and limitations of their partners tend to be successful long-term.”

Rick Russell, president of Merit Sensor, encouraged attendees to design MEMS for packaging, particularly with regard to implantables, which require lots of capital and are a challenge due to FDA regulations. Alissa Fitzgerald added that MEMS packaging for implantables is an opportunity for innovation and patents. Because MEMS is heading in the direction of commoditization, the value add is the packaging of the chip into the product, said Fitzgerald.

MIG members on the panel had their own takeaways:

“I was very impressed by the number of people who attended the panel, said Russell. “The overwhelming response showed me that innovators are eager to adopt more MEMS devices to help diagnose your physical state, whether it be your heart rate during a medical procedure or simply sharing your daily activity level on social media. The number of companies adopting MEMS for wearable devices (noninvasive) has exploded, but those that require FDA approval (invasive) are much slower to market but have a higher long-term reward.”

“I was excited to see so many people in the audience already aware of MEMS and thinking about how to use them in their products,” said Fitzgerald. “We need to have more interactions like this between medical device innovators and the MEMS industry. The more we can learn about each other’s needs and capabilities, the faster we’ll see exciting new medical products emerge.”

Listen to moderator Leslie Field discuss all of the key takeaways of the panel below. 

Elsewhere on the show floor, MIG members were scattered throughout. Interlink Electronics showcased their force sensing technology, COTO Technology presented their RedRock MEMS Switch, which was awarded 2013 Product of the Year (MEMS category), by Electronic Products magazine, and Merit Sensor demoed their BP Series Blood Pressure Medical Sensor.

See both the Merit and Coto Technology product demos below.