If the Internet of Things (IoT) is going to drive the next round of electronics industry growth, it will depend in large part on the MEMS and sensor technology that will enable all those smart objects to interact with the real world. But the ramp of new MEMS designs to volume production may take too long and cost too much to meet IoT market expectations, unless the industry figures out ways to accelerate MEMS development.
New applications for existing MEMS devices are driving healthy 12% annual growth in the MEMS sector, but the difficulty of ramping disruptive new products to volume production may slow down growth unless the sector figures out how to smooth the translation of mechanical devices to silicon, suggests Jean-Christophe Eloy, CEO and president of Yole Développement, who will speak on the future of MEMS at Semicon West 2015 in San Francisco on July 14.
Incremental innovation in smaller, higher performance, lower-cost devices has continued to spur strong growth both in the sensors and the systems they enable, by ever-wider adoption of established MEMS devices into more applications. Fastest MEMS growth last year came at Avago and Qorvo (formerly Triquint), as the wide adoption of LTE created big demand for BAW filters for multimode mobile phones. Similarly, strong demand for MEMS microphones and inertial sensors in more applications helped propel more sensor suppliers into the $200-$300 million revenue range for critical mass.
“This is really important because we now have multiple players that have the potential to grow into billion dollar companies,” Eloy said.
However, there may be a limit to how long new applications of existing types of devices can sustain double-digit growth of an $11 billion business. “A challenge is that the last totally innovative product was the Knowles microphone in 2003,” said Eloy. “Everything since then is incremental innovation in integration, better packaging, and the like. That’s very important innovation, but it’s not breakthrough new products. We’re still waiting for MEMS switches, autofocus, and speakers to make the hard transition into high volume production.”
The IC industry has found ways to collaborate on pre-competitive research, and has a well-developed commercial support infrastructure that has supported continued growth, he noted. “Some things need to happen in the MEMS industry to simplify and speed the process of design and ramp to volume.”