Even with the presence of the consumer electronics giant Samsung and a strong R&D community, Korea’s MEMS ecosystem remains quite small. Among the top MEMS makers, not a single one is based in Korea. However, because of Samsung’s increasingly strong presence in the consumer electronics business, as well as the country’s established high technology base, there may be compelling reasons for the Korean MEMS industry to grow in the near future. GMEMS, a small MEMS foundry, claims to be the only commercial production facility in Korea. We recently spoke with Dr. Scott Lee, the CEO of the company. In this interview, Dr. Lee presents an overview of some of the key MEMS companies and organizations in Korea, as well as the history, current status, and vision of his company.
MEMS Journal: How long have you been in the fab business? Why did you start offering MEMS foundry service capabilities?
Scott Lee: GMEMS was established in June 2011, but we were doing business since 2008. As a bit more history, the RFID USN Center (RUC) organized in 2006 by the Korean government and fab was started. The initial plan was that, after the government’s support for 5 years, RUC should be able to survive by itself. In 2007, the fab Construction was being completed and we began to set up equipment. By 2008, the foundry service started to operate by the Korean government. And in 2011, RUC privatized and became GMEMS because RUC failed to survive by itself and was running out of the money.
MEMS Journal: Besides GMEMS, what are some of the other important companies and organization in Korea’s MEMS ecosystem?
SL: The MEMS ecosystem is still quite small in Korea. Here are some of the relevant companies and organizations.
MEMS Journal: What is your financial situation right now? What is GMEMS’ annual revenue? Are you profitable? How many employees do you have?
SL: We currently have 29 employees and our average annual revenue is around $800,000. When we privatized we didn’t get much of foundry equipment, as we were focused on the development of packaging services. However, that strategy failed and we restarted the foundry service in July 2013. Thus, we are not profitable yet. Our financial status is not bad because government holds 49% of stocks, and ISC, our parent company, holds 41.4% of the stock. And, fortunately, the government doesn’t have an authority with company management.
MEMS Journal: Are you planning on expanding the team this year? If so, by how many people?
SL: Sure, in 2014 we have at least 2-3 customers in production, so we need to hire more people. We’ll probably hire 10 more people in 2014 and 2015.
MEMS Journal: What’s your vision for the company? How do you see GMEMS five year from now?
SL: GMEMS is a fundamental facility for the Korean MEMS industry which can provide R&D and production services in one place. For 3 to 5 years from now, I think GMEMS will keep its current role as a pure play foundry service in Korea.
MEMS Journal: What are your core strengths?
SL: We have newer equipment compared to many of the other MEMS foundries. We can support the customer from R&D to small volume production with an attractive price and delivery. Also, we have lots of experience with various types of MEMS devices.
MEMS Journal: Large IC foundries such as TSMC and GlobalFoundries, have been increasingly grabbing more MEMS foundry services business. What are your thoughts on this and how does this affect your business?
SL: I believe that all IC foundries will eventually offer MEMS foundry services. And I think they will focus on large volume production. However, we are not focused on large volume production. So I think the IC foundry trends will not affect GMEMS much.
MEMS Journal: What new MEMS process technologies have been added recently?
SL: We can now service cavity silicon-on-insulator (SOI) on the R&D level. Also, we can do wafer level packaging (WLP) with via feed-through electrical interconnection with various bonding technologies. We can also do epoxy bonding in pre-production levels. And also provide Si/Au eutectic bonding and Si/Si bonding in R&D modes.
MEMS Journal: What type of technology or devices have you made that would be considered traditional MEMS?
SL: We have lots of experience with various MEMS devices. For examples, we’ve fabricated MEMS based accelerometers, FBARs, optical mirrors, optical splitters, IR lenses, microbolometers, magnetometers, and microphone. We also work with various substrates such as silicon, SOI, glass, and quartz.
MEMS Journal: What are the thinnest wafers you can process?
SL: We can handle wafer thickness from 400µm up to 1mm. We can also work with double-sided polished wafers.
MEMS Journal: How many wafers do you current run per month? Are these all 8-inch wafers or are you including other sizes as well?
SL: It depends on the type of product and the process specifications. For example, the capacity of our photolithography equipment is more than 10,000 wafers per month. So, for example, with the IR lens device which has a 2-mask process, we can do more than 4,000 wafers per month. We are mostly on 8-inch equipment. We can also do 6-inch wafer services on three kinds of equipment: silicon DRIE, metal evaporation, and vaporized HF SiO2 etch.
MEMS Journal: What are your future expansion or upgrade plans? Meaning, where do you see the future of your fab technology heading?
SL: We don't have exact plans on the future with current facility, because the Korean MEMS industry is still small. However, I think we have to keep current facility as is for R&D and small volume production support. And we are also planning to set up a facility for R&D and small production of packaging of MEMS devices with ASICs.
MEMS Journal: Do you work with larger MEMS foundries in Korea and other countries? If so, which ones?
SL: We are the only one foundry in Korea for production with 8-inch wafer process capabilities. The other foundries in Korea are only for R&D projects. We are not yet working with any international foundries, but we are open to collaboration. We are also currently setting up sales representatives and our offices outside of Korea.
MEMS Journal: For your current customer base, what percentage is based in Korea? For those that are based outside of Korea, what are the main countries where the customers are based and what are the approximate percentages?
SL: With our current customers, 95% of them are based in Korea, and 5% in the United States. With our potential customers, 85% are based in Korea, 10% in the US, and 5% in Germany. We are trying to expand and win more business with international customers.
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