MEMS Mantras at Yole MEMS CTO Meeting

Contributed by Paul Werbaneth, VP – Marketing & Applications, Tegal Corporation

From window seat 2D on the flight down from SFO to SNA Sunday evening 20 June 2010 there’s a stunning view of one of my favorite sights along the long and varied California coast.  It’s a tableau composed of sunset, ocean, and the California Channel Islands, visible for me starting from up near Santa Barbara and continuing on, uninterrupted, south to Santa Catalina Island before we bank away and start our approach into the John Wayne – Orange County airport.  Sounds of “Avalon” (the Roxy Music song and the Benny Goodman Quartet jazz piece) compete for my attention in the soundtrack assembled by my resident musicologist, with Benny Goodman ultimately winning the Battle of the Bands, if only because I later find a good jazz station on the radio for the short drive up to Anaheim and my hotel.

I’m on my way to the Yole Developpement MEMS CTO Meeting, the first one ever, a meeting Yole have assembled together with the help of AM Fitzgerald and Associates, and Chipworks, partners with Yole as hosts for the event.

The great flight down bodes well; I know there are promising things to come.

Another sign, early, it’s sure to be a lively meeting: the Sunday evening fireworks show Yole arranged, starting just after dinner near the convention center hotels.  Great job Sandrine, great job Jeff!  (Oh, wait, those are Disneyland’s regular evening fireworks.  Never mind …. Still doesn’t spoil the fun of summer fireworks though, or my appreciation for the organizers.)

What do you get when you assemble 50 MEMS CTOs (and fellow travelers) in the same room at 8:15am on the first Monday of Summer?  Well, you get over 1000 years of combined MEMS experience, for one thing, and you get a flock of rare birds ready to share unguarded opinions and thoughts and make short time of this, the longest day of the year.

I know immediately what a great job Yole, AM Fitzgerald, and Chipworks have done crafting this program when Aaron Partridge, CSO, SiTime, starts the day telling us about “The MEMS CTO:  who is this person?”  (Who is he not?  He is “not an appendix.”  He is “not a fool or a liar.” He’s not the VP of Engineering: “If you have to have a staff you’re not a CTO – you are a VP of Engineering.”)

Aaron says the MEMS CTO is “Hard to find, and hard to fire.”  The MEMS CTO sets performance bars – bars that should be higher than the competition, set higher than you and the team think it’s possible for you to do.  The MEMS CTO knows that “Failure happens when people don’t want what we build.”  The MEMS CTO recognizes on the fly the signs of a good patent, and also the worthlessness of a bad one, because the MEMS CTO is often the chief IP officer too, and needs to mind the value of his IP.

The MEMS CTO is waiting in the wings to rescue the company from disastrous technical miscues and misfires, should they ever occur.

And this MEMS CTO has a mantra.

(Do you have a mantra?  I have a mantra – it goes like this:

Let it go – the past is gone and can’t be changed.

Life is good.

Be happy now.)

Aaron Partridge’s MEMS CTO mantra goes like this:

Be wise.

Work always for the betterment of humanity.

Accept grace in other people’s successes.

That, and hard work, gets you 85% market share in the MEMS-based timing market.  Nicely done Aaron.

From John Carlisle, CTO, Advanced Diamond Technologies, I learn “How to say no is more important than how to say yes.” (Applicable in the case of too little bandwidth chasing too many opportunities resulting from exposure to gee-whiz ultra-smooth nanocrystalline diamond deposition technology.)

(My other mantra:

Just relax.

Take a deep breath.


Pete Hartwell (whom I later race to a photo-finish tie from the Anaheim Convention Center to the United check-in counter Monday evening) says “Be very careful with your market analysis for disruptive technologies.”  (Some painful lesson learned there I think.)

Pete also says “Thank God someone in China thinks screwing computers together is a good business,” which is a kind of world-is-flat message that echoes.”

Thank God someone (STMicro, Benedetto Vigna) thinks making MEMS accelerometers and gyroscopes is a good business, because, with the multiplier effect of added value accumulating up the food chain, the $1.50 ASP MEMS accelerometer from STMicro in your smartphone of choice ends up as $1,500 in revenue for AT&T, according to Pete’s calculations.  Which is the same reasoning that creates a $300B market (not all for HP) by 2013 in hardware and services fed off the data stream arising from one trillion MEMS sensors deployed, and chirping, in the wild.

Think 18 months from new design to market with 95% device yield is a routine deliverable courtesy of CMOS IC state-of-the-art EDA tools today?  Willing to settle for 5 years design-to-market with a device yield surprise waiting for you at the end?  No?  Well neither is Alissa Fitzgerald, AM Fitzgerald and Associates:  “From idea to prototype:  the journey begins.”  I like travel stories.  (I brought along Paul Theroux’s “Ghost Train to the Eastern Star” for this trip.  Not having read the New York Times review first. Ouch!)

Like all good travelers sharing hard-won tales Alissa invites participation from around the campfire once she gets us started, and what I hear is “When you’re in the fab environment it’s really great to go ahead and start running wafers,” which could quickly become a vicious cycle of “Escalating, unknowable development costs leading to soured investors and premature death.”

Not a good thing.

What’s hard about MEMS design?  “MEMS is a 2 dimensional problem – we vary the device design and we vary the fabrication process.”  By contrast, IC design has only a single dimension – the fabrication process is constant, and only the device design varies.  And that, along with mature EDA tools, is what gets you 95% yield 18 months down the road in CMOS IC.  You can bank on it.

Seiko is one of those many Japanese homonyms that sometimes makes the Japanese language hard for us English speakers (or that adds to the richness of Japanese – your choice).  Depending on which Chinese characters are used, you are talking either about “precision” or about “success.”  Seikowave (Dan Bellis) wants you to think it’s both.  He also wants you to think there are markets for very high speed MEMS micromirror-based systems that can measure an unconscious patient’s lung capacity (Plethysmography), measure a dentist’s progress drilling cavities, or measure the path of a bullet in flight.  My takeaway from Dan’s talk is his observation that “A common symptom of loss of commitment by an engineering team is missed deliverables.”  Deliverables missed by a day or two, by a week or two, by a month or two – catch at an early stage, or miss at your peril.  Sound familiar?

You’ve got to admire the passion of a guy who would put his own money into the MEMS operations of a multi-billion publically traded multi-national corporation.  And you’ve got to admire him even more when he succeeds.  If there is a single “Beating Heart” behind STMicroelectronics’ success in MEMS it is Benedetto Vigna’s.  Bravo, Maestro.

And so we come to the close of this first ever Yole MEMS CTO Meeting with a speaker who needs no introduction, in a day of speakers needing no introduction.  Kurt Petersen, time and time again, has successfully connected MEMS technology to the market.  Converted money into technology, and then converted technology back into money again (hopefully with a multiplier greater than unity).  Kurt literally wrote the book (“Silicon as a Mechanical Material”) on MEMS, founded some of the notable successes in the MEMS business space (Cepheid, SiTime), and kept a good sense of humor along the way.

Life is a business without simple rules, but when Kurt says “Immature technologies can’t be forced into the market” I think you need to listen, simple as this powerful message seems.

Maybe make it your manta?  It seems to work for Kurt.

From Anaheim, CA, thanks for reading.

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