MEMS at the Gartner Semiconductor Briefing

Paul Werbaneth, Vice President Marketing & Applications, Tegal Corporation

I was fortunate to catch Jim Tully, VP, Distinguished Analyst, Semiconductor Research, Gartner, speaking on “Emerging Technologies in Semiconductors and Electronics” at the Gartner Semiconductor Briefing held at the Doubletree Hotel in San Jose on Thursday morning, October 15, 2009. (Wonderful breakfast, courtesy of Gartner, by the way, me sitting at random next to the very droll Chanan Greenberg from the company Model N; nothing like wry and dry British humor with your morning kippers.) The key issue for Jim on the (now cleared from breakfast) table: which technologies will drive growth in semiconductors over the next 5 – 10 years?

First, it’s 3D wafer stacking, which climbed and descended the formidable peak of inflated expectations, crossed the difficult trough of disillusionment, and now, with the risen sun steadily evaporating what remains of early dew, can be seen well up the slope of enlightenment, on its way to the plateau of productivity. Is 3D wafer stacking MEMS technology? It’s not a point Jim explicitly makes, but I want to make it for him – without the deep supply chain background of wafer bonding from MEMS, and silicon DRIE from MEMS, 3D wafer stacking would still be looking up at the summit ridge on Mt. Inflapectation, and probably be wanting to poke around one side or the other for easier ways to cross. Thanks to all those fixed routes left by MEMS parties, the best route now is direttissema.

And what else? Jim says there are MEMS mirror-based picoprojectors on his list. The underlying technology must be MEMS fabrication I think, since picoprojectors are a product, at least to me. “Biochips and electronics are merging” Jim says, showing as examples a bird flu Lab-on-chip detector from STMicroelectronics, as well as a scary looking neuron-on-silicon light sensing device from IMEC. MEMS-enabled SmartPills, MEMS-enabled cell phone handset HealthOMeters that sample sweat from a user’s hand and provide up-to-the-minute data on body chemistry and condition (and maybe are encoded to unlock stored-value payment accounts by responding only to the registered user’s DNA – trying cracking that safe Alexander Mundy).

To be sure, Jim thinks “further integration of MEMS, image sensors and wireless technology will open up new application areas in games, microphones and many other areas.”

And how to power these now and future wonders? “Micro fuel cells offer ten times the energy storage of lithium ion batteries. Energy scavenging schemes involve various technologies that convert energy in the environment into electricity. Micro turbines are a micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) technology that would implement a tiny internal combustion engine within a package about the size of a semiconductor chip.”

Jim, you’re a semiconductor guy, but you are most welcome at the MEMS Executive Congress next month. We couldn’t have been any better champions of MEMS commercialization than you were this Thursday at the Gartner Briefing. We’ll be discussing just about everything you identified and like about the MEMS-enabled future when we convene next month in Sonoma. See you there?

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