Based in Santa Barbara, Innovative Micro Technology (IMT) is one of the leading MEMS foundries. We recently spoke with John Foster, the CEO of the company. In the interview, he talks about his company’s recent projects as well as some general trends in the MEMS industry.
MEMS Investor Journal: What's new at IMT? What exciting new projects have you been involved with recently?
John Foster: We do have a number of new exciting projects, and we are seeing an upswing in general of large companies and well-funded startups keen to have access to MEMS in order to help their businesses. One interesting thing: while I don’t want to dodge your question, I must. Most of our customers don’t even want their competition to know that MEMS is the answer. So, we keep these programs to ourselves. Of the programs we can discuss, I’m very excited about our fiber-to-the-premises product with Xponent and our infrared product with Ion Optics. Both these programs have legs, are a great use of MEMS technology, and are good partners for IMT.
MEMS Investor Journal: How was last year in terms of business and how is this year shaping
John Foster: We are growing, both in revenue, number of customers, and programs in production. We’re running 24x7 with 150 employees and climbing. Having said that, however, we are always wary about the future, and we are constantly looking to mitigate any downturn in one industry with possible upsides in other industries. One of the things that I’m most pleased about is that we have attained our goal of diversity in partnering with customers in a large array of businesses, from infrared to biomedical, electrical switching to optical.
MEMS Investor Journal: Some MEMS companies have looked for expansion in China. What are your activities and plans there?
John Foster: We believe our fab in Santa Barbara is the largest independent facility in our industry – 30,000 of active work area. We’re currently shipping more than a million MEMS switches every week and yet we can grow about 7 fold before outgrowing our shoes here. When we do need expansion, we will look for other fabs, but we certainly haven’t decided where. China is certainly one possibility.
MEMS Investor Journal: What are your thoughts on last year's announcement from TSMC about its plans to offer MEMS foundry services?
John Foster: This is great for our industry, and it is one more piece of evidence for MEMS growth on its way to becoming pervasive on our planet. Of course, we knew this would happen anyway and didn’t need TSMC evidence! Happily for us at IMT, we don’t compete in the TSMC class of MEMS, as none of our products could be made in that environment. We are the anti-CMOS MEMS company, and so won’t compete head-to-head with TSMC.
MEMS Investor Journal: What are the top three new MEMS products that are likely to be commercialized in the near future?
John Foster: I’m afraid you’ll have to forgive my huge biases! Of course I like the products that we are bringing out now and I’ve already mentioned. Outside that, I’m excited about some of the biomedical applications that are now coming to fruition in the marketplace. MEMS implantables and MEMS drug-infusion devices will make a difference in people’s lives in a substantial way, and in that sense will be “top” products. Farther out in time, we hope that our cell sorter technology will enable cell therapies in a cost-effective way for a wide range of diseases including certain cancers, auto-immune, coronary and ischemia maladies.
Dr. John S. Foster, CEO of IMT, was the COO of Applied Magnetics Corporation, Plant General Manager of Applied Magnetics Malaysia, IBM R&D manager, IBM product manager, and on the Stanford University faculty. Dr. Foster holds 20 U.S. Patents, is the co-inventor of near-contact recording for storage disk drives, made the first real-space observation of individual molecules, and the first measurement of zero-point motion amplification in Superfluid Helium-4. He received his PhD in Applied Physics from Stanford University.