In August of 2017, Lam Research completed the acquisition of Coventor, a MEMS modeling and simulation software company, for a total purchase consideration of $137.6 million. When asked about how Coventor fits into Lam’s portfolio, the company’s Executive VP and CFO Douglas Bettinger said that, potentially, there are benefits and synergies with Coventor’s software capability to model and simulate the actual output of Lam’s equipment. We recently spoke with Stephen Breit, Coventor’s Sr. Director of MEMS, and discussed the trends that he is seeing in the MEMS marketplace. Since Coventor works with many MEMS companies, we also asked Stephen about the notable startups and technologies.
MEMS Journal: Why did Lam acquire Coventor?
Stephen Breit: There is a strong synergy between Coventor’s modeling expertise and Lam’s desire to increase the advanced process and equipment control capability on its leading-edge systems. We believe that our combination will deliver significant value to our customers by improving their time to market. Together, Coventor and Lam can bring to bear full value of virtual processing that semiconductor and MEMS/IoT customers need.
MEMS Journal: What is Lam’s plan for the business?
Stephen Breit: From an organizational perspective, Coventor will continue to operate as a standalone business.
MEMS Journal: Will you continue to develop your MEMS modeling capabilities? What’s on your MEMS roadmap for next year?
Stephen Breit: We are making it easier to enter designs from 2D layout, adding advanced simulation capabilities such as noise analysis, and improving support for MEMS process design kits. We expect that manufacturing insights provided by Lam Research will help us provide solutions that reduce MEMS process development time and improve the manufacturability of designs.
MEMS Journal: What are some of the most interesting MEMS devices that you’ve seen recently?
Stephen Breit: We are seeing increasing activity in three areas: micromirrors, micro-ultrasound transducers (MUTs), and acoustic resonators for RF filters. Some of this activity is driven by increasing interest in autonomous vehicles, where MEMS micromirrors may be used in lower-cost LIDAR systems, and MUTs may be used for near-field ranging. MUTs also have application in robust fingerprint sensors. The market for acoustic resonators for RF, both BAW and SAW technologies, is projected to have very high growth in coming years, and that’s driving quite a bit of development activity worldwide.
MEMS Journal: What are the most challenging aspects of modeling and simulating MEMS devices?
Stephen Breit: We believe that there are two major challenges in modeling and simulating MEMS devices. First, modeling the integration of MEMS devices with their overall systems and circuitry can be quite challenging. The trend toward higher functioning, lower power, smaller, and less expensive sensors is requiring higher levels of MEMS and CMOS integration. Modeling device, die, and package level integration of MEMS devices can be difficult. Second, ensuring the manufacturability of a MEMS device, prior to submitting your design to a foundry, is also currently quite challenging. Design rule checking (DRC) and other aspects of physical design verification, common to CMOS design, is simply not common in MEMS device manufacturing.
MEMS Journal: What’s the most commonly requested feature that you don’t have yet?
Stephen Breit: The market is demanding sensors that are more accurate, with higher thermal stability and higher linearity. These demands require us to develop increasingly accurate simulation solutions. In recent years, for example, we’ve developed the capability to model thermal effects on capacitive inertial sensors with incredible precision. Our efforts in this direction are ongoing.
MEMS Journal: Besides your company, who do think provides the best MEMS simulation software and why?
Stephen Breit: Ansys and COMSOL provide excellent general-purpose finite element analysis software that is used to simulate MEMS devices. Coventor differentiates its offering from these competitors in multiple ways. First, we provide technology-aware design entry, tuned to MEMS manufacturing processes. Second, our software directly addresses simulation challenges that are specific to MEMS, including tutorials for a wide range of MEMS devices. Third, we offer the ability to create and simulate very compact device models. These compact models can also be included in the widely used MathWorks and Cadence environments, replacing the need to create and support the “custom-crafted” MEMS models that are needed to simulate MEMS devices within a larger circuit or system-level model.
MEMS Journal: Are cloud-based product offerings on your roadmap and do you plan to announce any cloud-based offerings in the near future? If yes, please provide details on what and when?
Stephen Breit: We are considering cloud-based offerings, but do not discuss roadmap plans beyond the next planned release. Together, we expect to provide more realistic modeling of MEMS manufacturing processes and enhancements in the Coventor MEMS design platform, through manufacturing insights provided by Lam Research.
MEMS Journal: Who are the most interesting MEMS and sensors startup companies that you’ve seen recently?
Stephen Breit: Without commenting on specific companies, we are seeing interesting MEMS startup companies in several areas, most relying on piezoelectric materials for transduction. One application area can be described as “active acoustic devices” and includes ultrasonic sensors for fingerprint sensing and near-field ranging, and micro-speakers operating in the audible frequency range. Another area is acoustic resonators such as FBARs for RF filtering. This application is projected to have very high growth, more than 30% CAGR, over the next 5 years and that’s attracting new entrants in addition to established players. We’re also seeing high activity around using piezoelectric and piezoresistive effects for inertial sensing, an application that is currently dominated by capacitive sensors. Applications of MEMS micromirrors to LIDAR for autonomous vehicles are very hot right now and we’re seeing activity there.
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