From the floor of Transducers ’09 Day 4

Continuing coverage of Transducers 2009 from Paul Werbaneth, VP Marketing & Applications, Tegal Corporation.

Day 4: We’ve been making jokes this week about the stimulus money being flashed around now in MEMS, but, all joking aside, it does seem like the Research community is in a buying mood.  These approved budgets have surely been long in the making, nothing that could really be attributed to the quick-injection dollars handed out over the last six months, but no matter where the money’s coming from, it’s a positive and reassuring message.

Funded research for Science and Engineering — That’s great!  We’re still investing in the future.

If you go back to the model that it takes twenty-seven years in MEMS from concept to commercialization, then some of the cutting-edge research being launched now will just about make it to the market in my lifetime.  (I hope.)

Personally, I’m waiting for a personal attendant robot in my later years.  Maybe a really sharp Toyota PizMo, or one of those Honda ReadyMates.  (I’m afraid my robot’s not going to be coming from GM.)  It’ll have tactile sensors like I see in some of the Transducers posters today, it’ll have a full medical diagnostic kit, made by the BioMEMS folks, to let me know how I’m doing on my diet and with my exercise, it’ll have a big flexible display for news and entertainment, and it’ll be sitting there when idle harvesting energy from secret harmonies only robots hear, and maybe running on its microfuelcells when it’s up and ambling about.

Lease or own?  We have some attractive deals.

Walking near the Colorado Capitol last night, street people are out in force enjoying the warm evening (and probably ducking later due to sudden showers).  One guy is in preacher mode, holding a thick hardback book with a tattered but intact cover.  I look a little closer:  this isn’t a bible he’s holding, it’s a copy of The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectation, by Christopher Lasch, first published in 1979 (looks like an original copy).

Wow, heavy, I have to stop to talk.  “I’m an Air Force major,” says the preacher, a guy about my age.  I ask, “Have you read that book by Lasch?”  “Yes, it’s literature, and every word in it is even more true today than when first published.”  I agree it must be literature if the book is still being read these thirty years later, but that remark strikes the wrong tone for the major, and I start moving away.  “I’m an Air Force major!  I’m an Air Force major!  And you, you’re a journalist!”

He means that to be damning somehow.  (Is it?)

I think, “No, not a journalist.  Just a first-time blogger”

Now signing-off.

From the floor of Transducers 2009, thanks for reading.

Paul

From the floor of Transducers ’09 Day 3

Continuing coverage of Transducers 2009 from Paul Werbaneth, VP Marketing & Applications, Tegal Corporation.

Day 3 Morning: Ever heard of a carbon nanotube microforest?

Neither had I – it certainly isn’t anything we saw at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science the other day.

But Cliff Fung says a nanotube forest sprang to life for him in the talk he heard this morning during the 3D Technologies session he attended this third day of Transducers 2009.

Makes me think about nanobots roaming through a microforest glen, which is as amazing to imagine as it must have been for Leeuwenhoek to make the leap of comprehension he did when he observed, with his new microscopes 300 years ago, “an unbelievably great company of living animalcules, a-swimming more nimbly than any I had ever seen up to this time.”

I can’t completely recommend The Diamond Age, a novel by Neal Stephenson (the book gets a little freaky near the end), but large parts of the near-future world  Stephenson imagines do seem they will come to pass, given the sensor and actuator technologies being presented in Denver this week.

Silicon animalcules, nanotube forests, and all.

From the Floor of Transducers ’09 Day 2

Continuing coverage of Transducers 2009 from Paul Werbaneth, VP Marketing & Applications, Tegal Corporation.

Day 2 Afternoon: What’s Bill McClean from IC Insights been saying?  “Watch for the incremental improvements on the quarterly, or shorter, timescale to predict first signs of the upturn.”

Where is it equipment makers look for these signs?  Machine utilization rates and orders for tool consumables from systems in the field:  o-ring orders, replacement ceramic parts, new targets for PVD.

What did I hear today from a colleague in the PVD target business (typically three week lead times for target order to delivery, so a very leading indicator)?  “After November it got bad, but the target business is ticking back up.”

I’d like to think the dots connect…

If 80% of life is showing up then 75% of MEMS is DRIE, at least as I’ve heard repeated several times today – DRIE shows up everywhere.  It’s alive!

Day 2 Morning: … And a scary display case with objects (stuffed animals, birds, and the skeleton of some kind of tiny vampire/homunculus) that could have been collected by Charles Darwin during his famous voyage.  Remind you of The Museum of Jurassic Technology (http://www.mjt.org/) anyone?

Lots of talk throughout the day yesterday and into the evening about the long gestation times, from early development to full commercialization, for most MEMS products.  I hear twenty-seven years quoted as the average time-to-commercialization, which isn’t nearly a lifetime, but could certainly be most of a career.  Choose your racetrack:  RF MEMS, BioMEMS, Microfluidics, etc.; it seems to be similar for all.  Given the twenty-seven year average, we should be able to look backward from today to gauge which products will be rising stars over the next year or two.  Readers, thoughts?

The University of Michigan has stuffed a break-out room with abundant examples of their impressive work in multiple MEMS arenas.  I’m eager to learn more, which I hope to do at the dinner being hosted by Michigan tonight.

Professor Esashi (Tohoku University) and I run across each other in the exhibit area at 7:15am this morning, just long enough to say ohaiyou gozaimasu.  I’ll hope for more time talking with Esashi-sensei over the next couple of days – he looks busy.

From the floor of Transducers ’09 Day 1

Paul Werbaneth, VP Marketing & Applications, Tegal, is hitting the floor of the Transducers 2009 conference in Denver all this week and will be blogging his experiences. Stay tuned throughout the week as Paul sends more updates.

Day 1 Afternoon: I see Gary Fedder’s still in the spirit of things this afternoon, walking around wearing a Black Bart kind of hat.  With the poster session open there’s steady traffic through the exhibit area, and I make a connection with MIG activities for a couple of attendees from the Northeast.  People are saying, “Why are you at Transducers when you don’t actively make MEMS?” and we say we’re here because Transducers is a bridge between what the younger students are showing in the papers and posters they have up and what we want to put in our commercial products.  I invite my visitors to MEMS Executive Congress 2009, and promise that even though MEC is in Sonoma it’ll look like work because our social event is hiking up Sonoma Mountain.  In the rain, most likely.

They say they’ll take a look.

Off to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science tonight for a social program that includes Egyptian Mummies, North American Indian Culture, Dinosaurs, and …

Day 1 Morning: I take the elevator down to the opening reception; it’s 6:00pm, the bar’s been open for an hour, and the sound of a great party is heard even before the elevator doors open.  Many attendees in Western spirit, meaning clothes, hats, and badges, the last of which are worn by Transducers volunteers Joe Brown, Roger Grace, and Kurt Petersen.  A ten-gallon-hats-off to these tres hombres and their enthusiastic promotional activities on behalf of Transducers 2009.  It worked!

It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said “There are no second acts in American lives,” but apparently there are second acts in the lives of Tegal tools.  Ran into some colleagues from Japan last night doing MEMS-based ESD protection devices. Turns out they also have energy harvesting programs going with PZT films, and that the same Tegal etch tool that had been used in FRAM development all those years ago is now finding a second act, in piezoelectric MEMS.

I count at least four ways to accessorize with the bright yellow Transducers 2009 bandanas I see everywhere at the party.  What a great giveaway.

It can be a little cool between competitors in the device and equipment businesses, but there is a large, warm, mixed group of Cal – Cornell – Penn – MIT members comparing notes on topics like AlN, Women in MEMS, moving to Cambridge, and the weather in Ithaca.  I know all of us on the business side have been watching travel budgets this year, but just a sample of the dynamic energy radiating from this party makes it clear there’s nothing like being here in person.  Wasn’t it Woody Allen who said “80% of life is just showing up?”

From San Francisco to Denver: A surprise of fresh snow high on the summer peaks in basin-and-range territory Nevada. Reading Wallace Stegner short stories on the plane, Stegner a Western author, but Stegner’s West arcs from Salt Lake to Montana, up to the Canadian border, and then out to Almaden and Los Gatos, CA, by coming down through the Pacific Northwest.  Denver goes missing.  Which writers then for here?  Willa Cather (The Song Of The Lark) captures some of Colorado, but I decide it’s really got to be Kerouac. His West ends in either Big Sur or North Beach, having started somewhere in the Denver train yards, hopping a freight while the bulls weren’t looking.

Gritty ride in from the freeway to the Sheraton, and maybe that is Dean Moriarty’s father looking out from the peeling casement window in one of the railroad flop houses I see before reaching the hotel.  My Super Shuttle companion is here for Transducers 2009 too; he’s into microfluidics.  “What’s interesting in microfluidics these days?” I ask.  “It’s hard to make money” is the reply.

A lot of that seems to be going around.  “Business has been like a faucet, running wide-open and then suddenly turned-off,” says another voice from the floor.

“Belly-up to the bar” cocktail hour tonight may help. More later.

-Paul