While some of the MEMS companies continue to face downward price pressures, there are many new products, devices and technologies that are in development. Many of these innovations will be launched in the marketplace in the coming months. One company that is contributing to this “new wave” of MEMS is Si-Ware Systems (SWS), based in Cairo, Egypt. We recently spoke with Dr. Hisham Haddara, SWS’ President and CEO, about his company’s origins, current activities and challenges, business threats and opportunities, and recent marketplace dynamics. Hisham also discusses their new products, such as the MEMS based single-chip spectrometer and the all-silicon oscillator, which are scheduled to hit the market in 2015.
MEMS Journal: When was Si-Ware Systems founded and what's the origin of the company? Where did the initial technology come from?
Hisham Haddara: We were founded back in 2004. The company started as a design services company with focus on analog, mixed-signal, and RF IC design and development. In 2009, SWS made a shift to being a product company, with its own IP and products. All SWS technology has been developed in-house.
MEMS Journal: How big is your company now, in terms of the number of employees and annual revenues?
Hisham Haddara: SWS has approximately 100 employees. The company has its headquarters in Cairo, Egypt where most of the design and development takes place. We also have a subsidiary in the United States, which is mainly a sales and marketing hub, and a small development operation in Paris, France.
MEMS Journal: What is your main focus? In other words, out of your 100 employees, how many focus on ASICs? How many on timing devices and how many on optical devices?
Hisham Haddara: Si-Ware is composed of three distinct independent divisions: ASICs solutions, timing devices, and optical devices. Each of these divisions have their own separate resources and separate P/L. About 45% of the resources are devoted to ASIC design and development, whereas 30% are dedicated to optical MEMS, and another 25% are devoted to timing products.
MEMS Journal: What's your long term vision for Si-Ware? How do you see the company in five years?
Hisham Haddara: Our vision is to grow SWS as a fabless semiconductor company into a world class provider of highly differentiated products with emphasis on sensors, miniature optical products, and timing technology.
MEMS Journal: What are your plans for 2015? What are the major milestones on the agenda? Are there some major new products that you will be introducing?
Hisham Haddara: In 2015, SWS will have two major product launches based on new, breakthrough IP the company has developed. The first launch will be of our MEMS based FT-IR spectrometer, which is the world’s first single-chip spectrometer. SWS’s spectrometer will bring about a paradigm shift in spectroscopy where analysis of materials can be made available on a truly handheld scale. At this year’s Photonics West conference, SWS’ spectrometer won the prestigious PRISM award.
The second launch will be SWS’ first all silicon clock oscillator that will offer a cost competitive solution to quartz and MEMS based oscillators.
And our ASIC solutions division continues to be focused on MEMS interface chips and will continue serving its customers requiring custom ASICs for inertial sensors and other types of sensors.
MEMS Journal: What have you guys been doing recently with your timing products?
Hisham Haddara: We are continuing to commercialize our all-silicon oscillator solution. We are close to having a stable product that we can launch into production. Our oscillator will be the lowest cost timing solution, as compared with quartz or MEMS based oscillators.
MEMS Journal: Companies such as SiTime have been shipping MEMS based timing products for a long time in volume production? What’s different about your timing products and how will you compete?
Hisham Haddara: Our timing products are not resonator based, neither MEMS nor quartz. We have an all-silicon solution that is standard CMOS, no special processing is needed. It is a single chip solution, as opposed to two-chip solutions, as quartz or MEMS based products are. Given it is a standard CMOS IC, it can be manufactured in high volume and at low cost. Essentially it is the lowest cost solution available for a clock oscillator.
It should be noted that there are other all silicon solutions in the market today, from companies such as IDT (who acquired Mobius) and Silicon Labs. SWS’ all-silicon oscillator is inherently different because we do not use a temperature sensor, nor a PLL for frequency compensation.
The SWS oscillator is still LC based, but the IP we have developed allows for us to operate it at a point where the frequency accuracy over temperature is more stable. This is why we call our oscillator “self-compensated”, as it is electrically compensated by design, much like a quartz resonator is mechanically compensated by the angle cut of the quartz.
Additionally, our oscillator does not require trimming and calibration over multiple temperature points, as MEMS based oscillators do. It can be trimmed and calibrated at room temperature. The simplicity of our oscillator lends it to a solution that can be integrated into SoCs directly.
MEMS Journal: How is your ASIC business doing? Which industry and application segments are growing? Which industry segments are you pursuing more actively? Why?
Hisham Haddara: Our ASIC business has developed a solid position as a leader in ASICs for MEMS. The MEMS inertial sensor market continues to grow for both the high performance and consumer segments. We are seeing a number of new entrants to the inertial sensing market and they need good electronics tools such as what SWS offers to move quickly and be competitive.
We are also branching out into other sensing areas, such as pressure sensors offering ASICs and ASSPs.
In addition, we are looking at wireless sensors and solutions for wearables, and the combination of controlling multiple sensors with a single ASIC.
MEMS Journal: What are some of the main reasons that your ASIC technology and products are better than the competition? For which applications are your ASIC products a better fit? For which applications are you guys not the best fit?
Hisham Haddara: We’ve developed a platform approach for working with MEMS devices. With a platform approach, we use programmable and configurable electronics that allow us to match up to various MEMS devices and bring them up and running in a short period of time. This allows for our customers to characterize and evaluate their MEMS devices with high performance electronics and to show a proof of concept and even prototypes of a MEMS module.
With our platform approach, we can also characterize and model MEMS devices in early stages of development to define the optimum architecture for customized ASICs. All of this allows for a significant reduction in development time from having a MEMS prototype to having a production MEMS module.
MEMS Journal: There’s been lots of excitement about wearables lately. What have you been doing with your ASIC to address the unique aspects of the wearable electronics applications?
Hisham Haddara: We have expertise and silicon proven IP in a couple of areas that fit wearable applications. We have experience with all types of sensor interfaces, from capacitive MEMS, to piezo, to resistive bridge based sensors. We are also developing multi-sensor interfaces that can control and process information from different sensors that may be incorporated in wearable devices. Low power technology is also an area where we’ve proven to have good position. A number of the interface ASICs we have created have “best in class” power consumption, in addition to having various modes of operation to save power. Low power technology is essential in wearables.
MEMS Journal: What are the main industry shifts that you are seeing around the business of ASICs for MEMS applications?
Hisham Haddara: There is a growing demand for more intelligence in the ASIC. Customers are asking for the addition of an MCU for more control capability in the MEMS module. We have already started integrating MCUs into some of our ASICs. Additionally, we see a growing demand for wireless transmitting capability as companies focus more on wireless sensors. We have a strong design background in RF and wireless, and as such are well positioned to “marry” the integration of wireless with MEMS signal conditioning.
MEMS Journal: MEMS sensors for consumer electronics applications are rapidly getting commoditized, with some 3-axis accelerometers selling for as little as $0.20-$0.25, and this includes the MEMS chip and the ASIC. Plus, sensor makers are increasingly moving toward system-on-chip approaches with their own integrated sensor signal conditioners. How does Si-Ware make money in this environment?
Hisham Haddara: We have already done a number of ASICs for the consumer inertial sensor market, including a 6-axis ASIC (a 3-axis accelerometer and a 3-axis gyro), as well as a 2-axis gyro ASIC for an optical image stabilization (OIS) application. In both cases, we were able to develop a solution that allowed our customers to offer cost competitive solutions.
MEMS Journal: What's new with your optical MEMS development platform and products?
Hisham Haddara: We are currently focused on launching our first product based on our optical MEMS fabrication platform, which is its single-chip spectrometer. We are sampling an evaluation module and will be launching the final product in the coming months.
MEMS Journal: What's the main threat to Si-Ware right now? What are your main challenges?
Hisham Haddara: We are in an exciting, but critical stage. We need to deliver on launching our new, disruptive technologies with the single-chip spectrometer and the “self-compensated” oscillator.
MEMS Journal: What are some of the key industry initiatives or groups that Si-Ware is a part of?
Hisham Haddara: We have been a member of the MEMS Industry Group for 3 years. And this year we joined the Global Semiconductor Alliance (GSA).
MEMS Journal: Which industry events did you personally attend in the past year? Which one was your favorite and why?
Hisham Haddara: I attended several events in the past 12 months, the most interesting was the GSA Executive Forum in Munich which focused on wearables and the Internet of Things.
This article is a part of MEMS Journal's ongoing market research project in the area of emerging MEMS devices and technologies. If you would like to receive our comprehensive market research report on this topic, please contact Dr. Mike Pinelis at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about rates and report contents.
Copyright 2014 MEMS Journal, Inc.