The company's NEMS based sensors are made using standard CMOS processes and mask techniques. In the Nanusens process, the inter metal dielectric (IMD) is etched away through the pad openings in the passivation layer using vapor HF (vHF) to create the nano-sensor structures. The holes are then sealed and the chip packaged as necessary. Because only standard CMOS processes are used, and the sensors can be directly integrated with active circuitry as required, the sensors can potentially have high yields similar to CMOS devices. Nanusens claims that its process also results in nano-scale devices that overcome a major problem of MEMS inertial sensors, stiction, by two orders of magnitude by reducing the sensor size by an order of magnitude into the nano-realm. We recently spoke with Josep Montanyà i Silvestre, the CEO of Nanusens.
MEMS Journal: What are you working on and why?
Josep Montanyà i Silvestre: We are working on inertial sensors. Our technology allows us to build many different types of MEMS devices in CMOS. We chose to go for inertial sensors initially because of two reasons. One is that there was a work done at UPC (Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya) on inertial sensors, based on previous Baolab Microsystems research, which we could reuse and move forward from there. The other is that we realized that being almost a commodity, it was a very clear market opportunity if we could provide what the customers were asking for: lower cost or better performance. And we are working on these two directions. The fastest one to be developed is lower cost, which is the first one that we will put in the market. Later we will focus on better performance. And from there we will develop other products beyond inertial sensors. So essentially, we have applied our technology to build MEMS in CMOS, to build the product that will allow us to be faster in the market.
MEMS Journal: Where did your technology come from?
Josep Montanyà i Silvestre: Our technology comes from all the research that was done at Boalab Microsystems during more than 10 years. The company shut down in 2014 because of some wrong strategic decisions. The key members of the team then founded Nanusens.
Nanusens CMOS NEMS fabrication process. Image courtesy of Nanusens.
MEMS Journal: How much funding have you raised and from whom?
Josep Montanyà i Silvestre: At Nanusens we have raised $2.1 million. Lead investors are Inveready (https://inveready.com/venture-capital) and Caixa Capital Risc (https://www.caixacapitalrisc.es/en), both based in Barcelona. A third minority investor is Dieco Capital (https://www.dieco-capital.com/home) in The Netherlands.
However, as I mentioned before, Nanusens benefits from all the research that was done previously at Baolab Microsystems, which had raised a total investment of $12 million (taking into account investment from funds and public grants).
MEMS Journal: What are the main challenges that you are currently working through?
Josep Montanyà i Silvestre: Our main challenge is to get the funding required to completely develop our products and to be quickly in the market. Our current investors do give us all their support, and we have gone recently through a new investment round. However, they are seed investment funds and so they have some limits on the amount they can invest. We do have now the funds required to reach the market with our first product. We are looking for additional investment to accelerate the development of this and other products, and also to take into account potential delays.
MEMS Journal: What’s your vision for the company? Where do you see Nanusens in 5-10 years?
Josep Montanyà i Silvestre: Our vision for the company is to set a new standard for many MEMS sensors. They need to move from MEMS to NEMS, that from micro to nano sensors, which will allow an increase in performance and reliability. And also they need to move from many proprietary processes to the CMOS standard processing, to get the cost advantages in production, fast time to market for new products, and high volume production capability and second sourcing. That is what we are doing at Nanusens.
MEMS Journal: What’s on your roadmap for this year? What are the main milestones for 2018?
Josep Montanyà i Silvestre: Our number one milestone for 2018 is to hit the market with our first inertial sensor product, which we will do by Q2 2018. Besides that we would like to close a funding round before the end of this year 2017 or at the latest by early 2018, as this would help in accelerating development, and also reduce risk in case of potential delays.
MEMS Journal: Are you currently looking for any industry partners? If so, what types of partners?
Josep Montanyà i Silvestre: We are a fabless semiconductor company and we have our supply chain very well defined, starting with GLOBALFOUNDRIES, that provides the CMOS wafers, and ending with distributors such as EDOM in China, all of them top class.
Nevertheless, given that our technology has so many uses and applications, we keep exploring options to partner with other semiconductor companies willing to use our technology for some specific applications, in exchange of a strategic investment, or setting up some sort of a JDA. Our nano-sensors, being manufactured in CMOS, can be embedded into any CMOS IC. This opens up many options, that we would not be able to address alone.
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