Silex Microsystems, the world's largest pure-play MEMS foundry, announced this week that it has joined an international European Union-funded program aimed at developing a new technology platform for advanced RF solutions for 4G base stations and mobile handsets. The program, "Energy-efficient piezo MEMS tunable RF front-end antenna systems for mobile devices," or EPAMO, is developing new technologies to realize future high performance RF systems, energy efficient mobile communication systems, highly miniaturized and integrated RF components, and cost efficient solutions to the mobile phone industry. Silex's contributions in this effort include high performance metal through-silicon vias (TSVs) for RF applications, PZT piezoelectric thin film technologies for actuator manufacture, and advanced integrated passive devices utilizing through-wafer processing and advanced materials development.
"Silex, as a part of EPAMO, will leverage its expertise in 3D through-wafer processing to develop new MEMS capabilities," says Dr. Thorbjörn Ebefors, Chief Technologist at Silex Microsystems. "These new techniques will be used to fabricate high-density integrated inductors, resistors and capacitors for new classes of devices. As the only pure-play foundry involved in EPAMO, Silex is the best positioned foundry to offer these capabilities out to future customers."
EPAMO will develop new advanced wafer materials and RF component designs, combining new thin film materials and thin film technologies with CMOS solutions and advanced 3D packaging technologies. Silex's contributions include piezo-MEMS wafer processing using PZT materials, advanced RF through-silicon vias, and through-wafer integrated passive devices.
Silex said that technologies developed by through EPAMO can be applied to a wide range of MEMS devices and applications, including sensors, actuators, energy harvesting, and innovative RF MEMS devices. Integrated passives have a wide range of applications, from increased functionality for MEMS devices to functional wafer capping for CMOS devices, to highly integrated silicon interposers for advanced 2.5D/3D packaging.
According to the company, the use of PZT will make Silex the world’s first high volume MEMS foundry to offer this advanced piezo material in volume production. PZT, or lead zirconate titanate, is seen as one of the leading materials for piezo-effect based MEMS devices. The RF TSVs are rigid 300 µm wafer TSVs being developed for high density needs, with sub 150 µm via pitch capability. Thick wafer TSVs are also critical for the integrated passive devices to be developed, as Silex will use the TSV through the full wafer thickness in addition to magnetic core electroplating approach to develop embedded inductors and MIM capacitors with high component value per unit area.
Rapid increases in wireless traffic will congest global data transfer systems. To support the surge in demand for wireless data, the telecommunications industry is increasing the number of frequency bands and developing advanced mobile phone standards supporting high data rates. EPAMO will explore and implement a number of process and testing technologies to realize an adaptive 4G radio front-end system for mobile phones. With the availability of adaptive RF tuning in mobile handsets, mobile phone power levels can be reduced by up to 50% without any loss in signal strength or integrity. Base station power can also be conserved, with at least 10% power savings achievable. Overall, this technology will realize a savings of 1640 MW per year in 4G base stations and handsets, an amount more than the power generation capacity of the latest nuclear power plants under construction in Finland and France.
Silex Microsystems AB is one of the eleven top-tier industrial and four leading research partners from Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden forming the EPAMO partnership. A total of €13.3 million is to be spent on this program, from a combination of ENIAC funds, a public-private partnership, member country national budgets, and the participating companies.
EPAMO is coordinated by Dr. Thomas Metzger of EPCOS AG of Germany. EPCOS is a maker of RF filters and global number two on module solutions for the RF front-end of mobile phones. EPCOS Netherlands N.V. hosts the development and business development of several RF system solutions like antenna tuners, tunable power amplifiers and smart RF front-ends for EPCOS.
EPAMO participants include AAC Microtec (metal TSV technology), AixACCT Systems, Boschman Technologies, Christian-Albrechts University of Kiel, EPCOS, EPCOS Netherlands, Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration, Fraunhofer Institute for Silicon Technology (some aspects of device manufacturing), Landshut Silicon Foundry (no longer participating and Silex has taken over most of their activities), MASER Engineering, Okmetic, Picosun (ALD capabilities for TSV manufacture), Plan Optik, Silex Microsystems, SolMateS (PZT technology and machines), TNO Defence, Security and Safety, University of Twente, and VTT (device modeling and some manufacturing).
About ENIAC JU
ENIAC JU (European Technology Platform on Nanoelectronics Joint Undertaking), a public-private partnership between the European Commission, 21 European countries and various nanoelectronics actors funds €2.2 million of EPAMO budget. National public funding from the participating nations covers €5.5 million, and €5.6 million comes from EPAMO partners.
This article is a part of MEMS Investor Journal's ongoing market research project in the area of tunable RF devices and systems. If you would like to receive our comprehensive market research report on this topic, please contact Dr. Mike Pinelis at email@example.com for more information about rates and report contents.