MEMS Standards

Written by Mike Mignardi, Manager, Energy Harvesting, Texas Instruments

In the movie “A League of Their Own,” Jimmy Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, yells at Evelyn Gardner, played by Bitty Schram, for making an error and says “There’s no crying in baseball!” I can generate a similar quote for those involved in MEMS – “There’s no whining in MEMS.” I can’t tell you how many MEMS conferences/workshops I’ve been to where folks complain about the lack of standards in the MEMS industry. Now, don’t get me wrong, I see a strong value is having standards for a particular technology or industry. Standards are very valuable in helping to alleviate many concerns in the area of reliability and product performance. It’s just that having a MEMS standard that covers all MEMS devices seems very complex if not impossible or impractical.

At this year’s MIG METRIC workshop a great comment was made that “80% of your problems have been solved by another industry.” Since MEMS covers such a diverse area of technology and industry, this is definitely true. Many involved in MEMS are finding other industries to help solve their problems, fabricate their devices, and utilize their standards. For those utilizing the semiconductor (SC) industry for their fabrication, they can take advantage of the plethora of SC standards. For those using another industry or creating a new process, they will utilize that industry’s standards or create their own set of standards.

Now, I must admit, that within the last 2-3 years, I hear less whining about MEMS standards. I am all about borrowing or stealing (not real stealing) whenever or wherever I can. If a standard exists for something being used by a unique MEMS process, package, material, test, etc., then by all means use it. Using standards by other industries will certainly help in demonstrating the reliability and performance of your product to your customer. For instance, a MEMS device fabricated in an SC fab leverages the tool sets and processes are already used to fabricate high volume and highly reliable ICs (integrated circuits). And, if you are utilizing an immature process, package, material or test – over time these items will become mature and new standards will be generated. I’m sure this was the case when LCD manufacturers started making display panels. Likewise, NIST is working hard on MEMS standards in areas that make sense.

So recognize that we will likely not have a single “one size fits all” set of MEMS standards to fit the many diverse types of devices, technologies and processes. But as the industry matures and develops niche standard, you’ll likely hear much less whining in the world – which will make me a happy conference attendee.

If I do have to whine, it’s about those who make the ‘S’ in MEMS lower case and folks who don’t use their turn signals when driving – but, that’s a whole other topic to discuss for my next blog.

3 thoughts on “MEMS Standards

  1. Hey Mike,
    Good points about the difficulty of creating standards that apply across-the-board for all MEMS devices. I think we can develop best practices that apply to all MEMS development but probably not standard design rules, test equipment, test procedures, etc.

    I also agree with the turn signal comment

  2. Mike,
    Nice kickoff post!

    Standards have always been kind of a dirty word in this industry. I tend to agree with you as to the complexity of the MEMS technology not lending itself to “standards” as defined by the IC industry. Still, there are endless MPW CMOS processes to design for yet very few in MEMS. I wonder if the IC pioneers thought the same thing when that industry was in its infancy?

    I’ve always believed (probably biased considering my source of employment the past decade) that you need to have some standard fixed processes to make it easier on students to enter the technology and convince them very early on to design for process rather than for design’s sake (and discover later on that your fabulous design is not manufacturable). Europe is using the dozen or so “standard” MPW programs as the foundation for stimulating exploitation of MEMS through the 4-year STIMESI program, which MEMSCAP, Qinetiq, Tronics, Sensonor, and IMEC have all been involved with, by providing free training courses to EU students on these varied MPW technologies. Many of these students know little to nothing about MEMS. We can see the wheels turning when we present the technology to them. By showing them that there are “standard processes” to jump right into chip design gives them an easy, natural entry point to the technology and demonstrates the value of the “think process first” long-term strategy to get consistent results at a fraction of the cost of a non-standard or custom run approach.

    MEMSCAP has always touted and marketed our “standard process” portfolio despite the whiners’ disbelief and you could make an argument either way whether or not MUMPs or its “modules” are truly “standard” or not(quotation marks are getting a workout!); however it was interesting to me to see a competitor recently announce it’s new, novel “standard module manufacturing approach”. Maybe the standards are coming around?

    To leverage your baseball movie lede, maybe “if we build it, they will come”?

  3. SEMI is developing MEMS standards.


    …and search on mems. The MS documents are standards from the MEMS Technical Committee. (Win Baylies and I co-chair this committee)

    You may view the standards free for 30 days at:

    There is a growing voice for process standards and there are potentially some publicly available processes that should be adopted as standards. We have considered a working group for process standards in the past yet details on processes are non existent. The current mixture of standards participants are not directly involved with managing standard cmos mems processes.

    As far as the, “If you build it, they will come” scenario…no guarantees, but having a pro-active advertising effort is sensible.

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