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.


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.