What kind of growth are we seeing for MEMS technology?
The latest forecast from the Yole Development research firm is that total sales in the MEMS market will reach $5.4 billion this year and will grow to more than $7 billion in 2007. That's a healthy 15 percent annual growth, and some new areas of growth may not yet be reflected in this forecast.
Which sectors of MEMS are driving this growth?
Some of the biggest sellers on the market are inertial devices. Applications range from stabilization and navigation to steering and traction control. Also very significant are micromirrors, such as those produced by Texas Instruments, which are used in projection devices and flat-screen TVs. For traditional MEMS devices, such as pressure sensors, we will see big growth in tire-pressure monitor applications. RF applications are still another area to watch. Beyond the scope of current forecasts are new uses of MEMS as monitoring devices in medical care, as well as in analytical instruments for industry. MEMS devices will move the central analytical lab to the point of use. Such applications depend on the cost, size, and ease-of-use advantages inherent in MEMS.
What new applications particularly impress you?
A good example of MEMS' potential to put high performance in a small form factor is atomic clocks, which have wide applications in communications and positioning systems. I'm also impressed with the ability of MEMS to put very sophisticated instruments on a chip, such as gas chromatographs, mass spectrometers and so on. Then you have implantable medical devices. You will see MEMS in neural probes, artificial organs, and in pressure sensors for devices that treat heart disease. MEMS will be a great enabler for pervasive monitoring in all sorts of applications. Before long, you will have cell phones with MEMS pressure sensors and magnetic sensors for location, orientation, and altitude. The phone will even measure your pulse and your glucose level.
With the top 10 MEMS suppliers accounting for 90 percent of sales, isn't it very difficult for start-up firms?
The MEMS Industry Group (MIG) is working this problem from many angles. Having an adequately trained workforce is key. You don't want to create an industry relying only on Ph.D.s. MEMS education programs below the Ph.D. level are being created in many universities. MIG, working with DARPA, also has done research on the costs and time required to bring a new MEMS device to market—as well as estimates on prices for MEMS products. The goal is to share that information with existing small companies and potential start-ups so they can develop sound business plans.
To what extent are design engineers aware of the potential benefits of MEMS?
The level of awareness has increased significantly in recent years. Within my own company, I see a greater dialogue between marketing people and the engineers and scientists who develop MEMS technology. The MEMS Industry group has created a very well received DVD, which demonstrates the successes and benefits from MEMS (http://rbi.ims.ca/4417-554).
How will the boom in nanoscale research affect MEMS?
Nanotechnology research will be a fantastic enabler for MEMS and help it reach full potential. Work in nanatechnology will yield new materials that will foster development of new chemical and biological sensors—two areas with tremendous opportunity for growth. You will also see new light sources integrated with MEMS devices as another byproduct of nanotechnology. As a result, I'm convinced that the next 20 years will bring many more exciting developments in MEMS than we've seen in the past 20 years.