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Physical sensors drive MEMS consumerization wave (Part 2)

Posted: 08 Nov 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:accelerometers? MEMS? pressure sensors? micromachining? SiP?

Recently, ST patented a special package, holed land grid array (HLGA), to exploit all the manufacturing assets already installed for the motion sensors and to offer consumer customers very small and thin packages. Figure 8 below show a 3mm x 3mm x 1mm HLGA package with sensing element stand-alone (left) and a 5mm x 5mm x1mm HLGA package including two chips inside, the sensing membrane and the related electronic chip.

This solution is also high shock mechanical compliant and thus it's able to withstand all the potential mechanical shocks that the sensor could experience in a portable device, like a mobile phone or personal navigation device.

Emerging apps
Previous section describes only well identified consumer applications while many others are still on the horizon. MEMS suppliers must focus on miniaturization and multi sensor clustering to address properly customer requests. On one side STMicroelectronics is pursuing device miniaturization as shown in Figure 3, on the other side it structured it's technology platform and device roadmap to enable sensor fusion in custom and standard packages (Figure 9). In this direction, HLGA and classical LGA packages are fully compatible and they are fully compatible.

Figure 9: Multi sensor module comprising 3-axis accelerometers, 3-axis gyroscopes, pressure sensors, magnetic sensors and other technologies. Block diagram (left) and an example of sensor module in MMC format (right).

Moreover, many companies and research centers are actively working in the field of Wireless Sensor Networks [7]. It's hard to predict the market success of these applications since some technological hurdles still exist for a big volume take-off. However, it's clear that all the applications could benefit from the tiny and low power micro-machined sensors that companies are developing now for the consumer market. The MEMS of the "Consumerization Wave" with these new applications could literally generate a "MEMS Tsunami".

Figure 10: Miniaturized wireless sensor node from IMEC Research Center.

This is already the case of the tire pressure monitoring system, a simple 5-nodes wireless sensor network. The system is already on the market, and it relies on a micro-machined pressure sensor and acceleration switch. Other "motes" - wireless sensor modules consisting of some combination of a sensor, controller, receiver, battery and antennaare now yielding commercial results (Figure 10). The potential market for motes is limited only by the imagination. Once certain technical challenges are overcome, motes will ultimately become a regular part of our lives. They could, for example, find many applications in consumer markets, with solutions ranging from security and bio-detection to building and home automation, industrial control, pollution monitoring and agriculture. Also, rising concerns for safety, convenience, entertainment and efficiency factors, coupled with worldwide government mandates, could boost sensor usage to unprecedented levels, although not all of them necessarily silicon micromachined.

In fact, motes will have to measure real-world variables like pressure, temperature, heat, flow, force, vibration, acceleration, shock, torque, humidity, strain and images. Some of them will use micro-machined solutions while others will use conventional sensors that have been available for decades. MEMS suppliers must be ready to integrate different technologies in a modular format and that's the reason why ST invested in 8-inch state of the art fab and it setup manufacturing process platforms aimed to enable the high volume manufacturability of Motes.

View Physical sensors drive MEMS consumerization wave (Part 1) here.

About the author
Benedetto Vigna
is general manager of the MEMS product division of STMicroelectronics.

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