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SEMI expands standards push for MEMS to Asia

Posted: 19 Sep 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:semi? microelectromechanical systems? mems device?

Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI) is approaching Asia-Pacific designers and manufacturers of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), hoping to corral support for a global standards-setting process that would unite the fast growing but fragmented industry.

The effort will begin when a member of SEMI's International MEMS Steering Group (IMSG) meets with a group of Taiwanese firms to gauge interest in the project this week. Early next year, during SEMI Korea, a similar poll will take place.

Both meetings will complement ongoing committee work in Japan, which has already set up an advisory working group and standards committee but has not yet determined specific issues to tackle.

With a widening of potential uses, from car tires and hearing aids to optical switches and microdisplays, interest in MEMS has gained considerable steam worldwide in the past year or two. Design shops and MEMS fabs have been popping up everywhere, triggering a capacity glut in an industry barely off its training wheels.

The Asia-Pacific region is especially active, with startups in China, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan all pursuing the technology. Everyone is chasing a market expected by some estimates to hit $9.6 billion by 2006, up from about $4.7 billion in 2002.

The standards subcommittee's of IMSG is looking to bring all of this activity under one umbrella. The North American and European regions have already launched into the nitty-gritty details of drafting guidelines for materials testing, wafer processing, I/O interfaces, and packaging. Similar work will soon begin in Japan.

"We are trying to reduce the cacophony that goes on. Everybody has their own way and that is fine. What we hope to do is make it easier for the MEMS producers to make their products by standardizing certain aspects ... of the non-secret stuff," said Winthrop Baylies, president of BayTech Group and a member of the IMSG executive committee.

Microfluidics, for example, is a technology that has a range of applications but it also has certain elements that are common. The same can be said for the materials and tools used in wafer bonding, if not for the process through which they are bonded.

It is within these shared areas that IMSG will look to set standards, which should help tool makers design common platforms and MEMS designers seek second sources of production with the confidence of getting a similar product from different fabs.

At least 20 companies focusing on MEMS devices have set up shop in Taiwan during the past two years, and more will likely emerge.

The activity stems in part from a government drive to seed the MEMS industry here by setting up academic centers for R&D and by incubating design houses. The government is also encouraging the establishment of foundries, and within the past two years the private sector has built a handful of them.

At the same time, one of the government's leading research groups, ITRI, has been trying to serve as an ad-hoc source for standards. IMSG will be working with ITRI to expand that effort, and there seems to be interest in linking to a global organization. "We need an organization to handle this, not just a few companies," said J.H. Wen, deputy manager of technology development at Antek Semiconductor Corp., a MEMS foundry.

However, he noted that the process needs to accommodate the range of manufacturing processes and applications of MEMS. "In general, we should have a standard for MEMS, but if the product is very specific then we should find some modulized foundry. For example, in IC foundries we have an epi layer module. Something like that would be very suitable," he said.

- Mike Clendenin

EE Times





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