In September of this year SEMI and MEMS & Sensors Industry Group (MSIG) announced that they will be joining together in a strategic partnership starting on January 1, 2017. SEMI has 2,000 member companies and connects more than 250,000 professionals worldwide to advance the science and business of electronics manufacturing. MSIG has nearly 200 companies and industry partners, and has been focused on MEMS and sensors. We spoke with Denny McGuirk, president and CEO of SEMI, and Karen Lightman, executive director of MSIG, about what this partnership means for the MEMS and sensors industry worldwide.
MEMS Journal: What are the main challenges for the MEMS and sensors industry today? How do you see these challenges evolve in the next few years?
Karen Lightman: The main challenges are keeping up with the new applications that are using MEMS and sensors to increase user interactivity, gather intelligent data via remote sensing, and actuator devices such as RF MEMS switches and MEMS micromirrors.
MEMS and sensors suppliers needs to scale in volume, cost, power size and functionality in order to fully support these markets. They also need to keep pace with algorithm development and machine learning in order to process all the data generated -- because in many cases, software capabilities still exceed the capabilities of the hardware. Taking full advantage of software algorithms and machine learning will allow MEMS and sensors suppliers to further differentiate their offerings, increasing their competitive position.
MEMS Journal: What about standards?
Karen Lightman: Standardization is another major challenge. We need standards to help the ecosystem scale, without getting bogged down by single proprietary solutions from individual companies.
MEMS Journal: Will MSIG continue working on MEMS and sensors standards? If so, which specific technologies and applications?
Karen Lightman: MSIG will continue to work on addressing MEMS and sensor supply chain challenges, and where standards are the appropriate solution, we will facilitate that process. More specifically, we are in the process of updating the IEEE 2700 specification for existing and new sensors. We are also working on new specifications for substrate parameters and DRIE test patterns, based on work coming out of our joint task force that we have co-led with SEMI for over a year now. We intend to keep addressing such issues within MSIG and in close cooperation with SEMI and the SEMI International Standards Program, too. In addition, we will continue to work with partners such as MIPI Alliance and IEEE SA.
MEMS Journal: Can you comment on the component versus system considerations?
Karen Lightman: In our industry, we have to remember that we are selling system solutions and not just “chips.” Solving power consumption challenges is also critically important to system solutions. MEMS and sensors suppliers need to look strategically at hardware integration and software algorithms as ways to decrease power consumption, particularly for battery-powered mobile devices. And energy harvesting still has massive potential to address the production challenges that we face, beginning with remote-sensing devices and mobile devices.
MEMS Journal: What are the main milestones on MSIG’s strategic roadmap for next year?
Karen Lightman: The four key pillars in MSIG’s 2020 strategic plan include: (1) continue to build membership, (2) expand MSIG presence globally, (3) increase and add new services for members, such as our MEMS and sensors marketplace, more advocacy, and grant projects, and (4) build a world-class organization to meet the needs of implementing the above three pillars.
These are the pre-SEMI SAP strategic roadmap initiatives -- announced at MEMS Executive Congress 2015. Based on this partnership announcement, we realized that the best way to achieve our strategic goals was through a relationship with SEMI -- so that is what we are doing. The SEMI Strategic Association Partnership will help tremendously with the execution of these four pillars.
MEMS Journal: What is the most exciting new type of sensing technology that you've seen come out of R&D in the past few years?
Karen Lightman: There are many. Autonomous vehicles, with their use of LIDAR, radar, and other sensors are very exciting. MEMS and sensors are the cornerstone of smart home, smart cities, and IoT applications of all flavors. MEMS microphones are clearly making inroads into new markets beyond just voice capture and audio recording, including wake-on-sound security applications and TV remote controllers, as well as ultrasonics.
MEMS and sensors are advancing the medical field in amazing ways. New sensors types based on optical MEMS (micromirrors) and environmental sensors are emerging. Microspectrometers are promoting greater agricultural and food safety.
We are also seeing RF MEMS as actuators in switches (that can turn off a drone mid-flight, for example). It is also interesting to see what sensors are doing in the flexible-hybrid and printed sector. And the integration of MEMS sensors and actuators in one system solution will conserve power and board space, and will make new functionality possible.
MEMS Journal: MEMS and sensors devices act as differentiating features in end-user devices, such as consumer electronics. However, most sensor makers cannot generate significant profits. Why do think this is the case and what do we need to do as an industry to solve this problem?
Karen Lightman: In successful industries that have seen explosive growth, prices decline eventually, and margins potentially get squeezed. I t is no different for MEMS and sensors. As in other industries, the key is to continue to deliver what customers want (focus on user cases!) and continue to innovate. We have seen this with combo sensors, sensor hubs and integrated algorithms, which sensor companies increasingly offer as well as a handful of algorithm providers. We have also seen traditional inertial sensor companies starting to add new sensor types such as pressure, environmental, heartrate, and sleep analysis functions. Others are moving into optical and gas sensors, too.
Beyond the hardware, it will be important for these companies to really understand machine learning and participate in the revenue produced from all the data generated from the sensors so that that revenue can be ploughed back into R&D for new classes of sensors.
Ultimately, in MEMS and sensors, it is not just about volume; it is about value and net profit. As we get ever more creative in integrating sensors for enhanced functionality and power savings, leveraging software algorithms and machine learning, using energy harvesting for power production, tapping related ecosystems for greater collaboration -- all while paying greater attention to security and privacy, our industry will continue to thrive and grow.
Denny McGuirk: MEMS and sensors address a broad and, in some sense, fragmented market. Challenges in developing complete solutions cost-effectively to take advantage of emerging market opportunities make initial profitability tough. However, with the rapid adoption of MEMS and sensors in consumer electronics, smart automotive and IoT applications, volumes are increasing, larger applications are becoming more standardized, and both factors will enable manufacturers to prosper.
MEMS Journal: How many members does SEMI currently have? How are these members distributed in terms of geography and company size?
Denny McGuirk: SEMI currently has more than 2,000 members worldwide. Please see charts for geographical and company size distribution.
MEMS Journal: What are the main milestones on SEMI’s strategic roadmap for next year?
Denny McGuirk: Our focus is to advance the interests of the global electronics supply chain through a free and open global marketplace. One of our main initiatives has been to develop and evolve member communities through cooperation, partnerships, and integration. Our Special Interest Group (SIG) ecosystem offers our members focused communities for specific discussions and collective action.
MEMS Journal: What will be the top challenges for the semiconductor industry in the next 12-18 months?
Denny McGuirk: There are multiple challenges in different segments of the supply chain. Packaging is experiencing a phase of disruptive innovation, including solutions for heterogeneous integration. Equipment suppliers, aided by already existing SEMI standards, embrace smart manufacturing in both front-end and back-end for additional efficiency gains and data acquisition.
IoT presents its own challenges for our members. With no clear a “killer app” emerging, industry stakeholders are looking to new forms of collaboration to leverage technology synergies for new product development. For example, the combination of flexible substrates with MEMS, sensors and ICs for IoT applications is a very compelling opportunity for quite a few of our members. We believe that through the integration of the FlexTech Alliance and now MSIG as Strategic Association Partners, our combined membership will be better positioned to capture value from these opportunities faster and at a global scale.
This article is a part of MEMS Journal's ongoing market research project in the area of MEMS and sensors industry trends. 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 2016 MEMS Journal, Inc.