MIG at SEMICON WEST 2010 – Day One

Contributed by Karen Lightman, Managing Director, MEMS Industry Group

“Happy days are here again” is probably too rosy of a theme song for this year’s SEMICON West show, but it sure felt a lot different than last year’s. While overall attendance was higher than SEMI has seen in a while(if you include the mob scene over at the Solar show in Moscone West), I’d say that there were less exhibitors than I saw in 2008 (perhaps this is because many folks had to confirm their 2010 spots during the still-recessionary times of the summer of 2009?).

BUT what I did see was a lot of interest and a lot of excitement in MEMS, as the standing room only space at the “Extreme Electronics” floor demonstrated. On day one of the show the folks at SEMI (namely Paula Doe and Agnes Cobar) organized an impressive line-up of speakers. Jean-Christophe Eloy of Yole Development who nicely and succinctly summarized the state of the MEMS industry. I was pleased to see the rosy numbers and predictions and his statement that there are more than 30 MEMS startups in development now. I also was pleased to hear JC talk about sensor fusion as that is a key theme of MIG’s fall executive conference, MEMS Executive Congress.

Next up was Jay Esfandyari of ST Microelectronics overviewed the future of MEMS applications. Given that the new iPhone 4 boasts several ST Micro MEMS chips, hearing Jay talk about how MEMS is getting “smaller faster and cheaper” was no big surprise. What will be interesting to see is how ST Micro holds onto its dominance in this increasingly competitive market.

Which is a great lead in to Steve Nasiri, CEO and founder of InvenSense. I haven’t heard one of Steve’s presentations in a while and it was definitely worth the wait.  InvenSense recently announced their IPO and Steve was clearly ready to talk about their phenomenal growth (nearly 60% increase in sales in one year) and how they are working to reduce costs by 5-10% each year. But the number one hindrance to reducing costs is really still no surprise: back-end packaging that can be about 50% of total cost. Clearly MEMS testing is tricky/funky but I see an opportunity to REDUCE testing costs by creating some testing protocols.

Steve’s key message was that “delivering a complete solution to customers is key” and I totally agree, as this is a clear sign of the maturity of the sensor market in MEMS.  Lessons learned: 1. Go for a breakthrough solution; 2. Develop multiple foundries; and 3. Back-end costs first! Yup.

Peter Hartwell of HP gave a presentation about their complete sensor solution – i.e. HP’s plans for MEMS sensors (made by HP of course) to rule the world. I’ve renamed this strategy as “MEMS sensors frickin’ everywhere” – catchy, no?

Following the keynotes, it was time for some fun. It was my delight and pleasure to be the moderator for the MEMS Supply chain panel featuring all MIG members entitled “Optimizing Manufacturing for Future MEMS Growth.” Panelists were: Asif Chowdhury of Analog Devices, Yan Loke of Micralyne, John Foster of IMT and John McKillop of Tekton Consulting (though he’s recently joined the team of WiSpry). I had a ton of fun moderating the panel – where we discussed the challenges to getting to high volume, testing protocols (the first step in tackling MEMS standards – the “s” word) and what keeps them all up at night = reducing cost! Thank you to my great panelists who made my job so easy.

I had a chance to see a few more presentations during the day including that of Raffaella Borzi of IMEC (whom I interviewed later asking her to highlight her presentation) and Rob Andosca of MicroGen. Rob showed an AWESOME video that demonstrated the genesis of MicroGen’s technology – he promised to send me more in the near future. I can’t wait!

The rest of the day was filled with reunions with old (and some new) friends in the industry – but the highlight of the day was definitely the EV Group 30th birthday party (where I sang happy birthday to EVG; videoed by Francois van Trapp) and the opportunity to interview Steve Dwyer to talk about the great work that EVG’s done in its 30 years. I really enjoye the awesome networking event at Impress PR’s soirée hosted at the “B” restaurant – I had my photo taken with Larry Hagman who is apparently a big fan of solar technology. Wicked cool.

More to come from SEMICON West – day two will highlight more encounters including MIG’s fourth annual member happy hour…

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