Micrel, an IC and MEMS foundry services provider based in Silicon Valley, has recently made moves to expand its MEMS services offering. The decision seems to be appropriate and timely, because of the limited number of MEMS production sites in the US. Founded in 1978, Micrel has a long track record of sustained profitability -- the company says that it has been profitable in 33 of its 34 years of its existence. Micrel went public in 1994 and has reportedly generated positive cash flows since that time. We spoke with Guy Gandenberger, Vice President of Worldwide Operations and Foundry Business Unit, about the company's history, recent MEMS related moves, and plans for the future.
MEMS Journal: How long have you been in the fab business?
Guy Gandenberger: Micrel has been producing semiconductors for more than 32 years. Micrel purchased their first fab in 1981. In the early 90s, Micrel purchased their first 6-inch, fab right here in Silicon Valley, and has since made many investments enabling the fab to increase its technology capabilities, including most recently into MEMS.
MEMS Journal: What are your core strengths?
Guy Gandenberger: We are one of the few US based fabs in Silicon Valley and we operate around the clock. Micrel’s fabs performance and quality meet world class standards. For the customer, this reduces development time and provides the best possible production output and delivery. In addition, our flexibility and service are ingrained into our company culture; we strive to provide everything a MEMS developer and manufacturer wants for new process and new product development introductions.
We pride ourselves in having "Silicon made in Silicon Valley" and offering MEMS capabilities and IC fabrication under one roof. As part of our commitment to growth in MEMS, we continue to make investments in capacity and technical resources for volume devices and emerging technologies.
With our extensive wafer foundry history and experience, we have offered broad IC and MEMS production process portfolios. This ensures we retain a number of satisfied and long-term customers who can choose from a wide variety of process technologies including CMOS, BCD, MEMS and CMOS MEMS of both monolithic and hybrid integration. We want to be your one stop shop -- all fabricated under one roof with MEMS capabilities.
MEMS Journal: Why did you start offering MEMS capabilities?
Guy Gandenberger: It made sense to further utilize Micrel’s core competency in analog/mixed signal to support and grow with the MEMS industry. Many of our new customers demanded DRIE etching capability.
We did not know it at the time, but we had actually been producing MEMS products for our foundry customers for several years. Recently, we made a significant financial investment in our MEMS portfolio and have created several technical solutions for our MEMS customers.
MEMS Journal: What new MEMS technologies have been added or approved upon?
Guy Gandenberger: We have established a state-of-the-art DRIE (Pegasus) capability with 46:1 aspect ratio and front-to-back alignment capabilities and, most recently, integration of MEMS and ICs on one wafer. Recently in our 0.5/0.35 CMOS capability we have had a great deal of interest while integrating MEMS on to a single chip.
MEMS Journal: Will Micrel work with small batch engineering prototype wafers?
Guy Gandenberger: Certainly. Micrel has always supported new startup companies and we are not afraid of small batch requests. However, we have set aside 50,000 wafers per year of dedicated MEMS production capacity.
MEMS Journal: What type of technology or devices have you made that would be considered traditional MEMS?
Guy Gandenberger: That is quite an interesting question. Many of our long-term customers were making MEMS structures and initially, we did not even know it. After MEMS became a popular buzzword, we recognized that we have made accelerometers, microphones, ink jets, photovoltaic, microprobes, and sensors. More recently, we are seeing a lot of interest in the bioMEMS sector.
MEMS Journal: What are the thinnest wafers you can process?
Guy Gandenberger: Currently we are running 350µm DSP wafers in volume production. Engineering is currently experimenting with one of our customers with wafers as thin as 200 microns.
MEMS Journal: Can you handle double-sided polished wafers?
Guy Gandenberger: Yes. In fact, we have processed working circuits on both sides of the wafer.
MEMS Journal: So, what is your total capacity?
Guy Gandenberger: Micrel runs 7 days a week 24 hours per day. We have an installed capacity of 30,000 wafers per month but up to approximately 4,200 wafers per month specifically set aside for MEMS customers.
MEMS Journal: What is your future expansion or upgrade plans? Meaning, where do you see the future of your fab technology heading?
Guy Gandenberger: Capacity has basically been put in place and we are waiting for the customers to fill in. However, we are continually in conversations with on going customers who need special equipment. For example, we recently installed proximity aligners, thick resist capability as well as the DRIE capability.
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