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Fairchild foresees trillion sensors MEMS market: Part 2

Posted: 14 Nov 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Fairchild Semiconductor? MEMS? manufacturing? ASIC?

Janusz Bryzek, VP of MEMS and sensor solutions at Fairchild Semiconductor, has identified the motivation for companies, including Fairchild, to enter the MEMS market and provided insights into why MEMS sensors shipments will possibly hit a trillion units per year within the next ten years. An additional factor that is likely to help MEMS sensor growth is increasing maturity in manufacturing.

"For many years the MEMS industry struggled with one device, one process, one package, one test system. Then Analog Devices followed by STMicroelectronics started moving towards process platforms that could build multiple products. Now InvenSense is a fabless MEMS company that is opening its standard processes to others and has had several multiproject wafer runs," noted Bryzek.

With foundries such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd and Globalfoundries Inc. entering into MEMS manufacturing there is the potential for the fabless-foundry business model to develop along similar lines to those followed in conventional ICs, albeit with multiple manufacturing platforms, rather than a single dominant CMOS offering.

However at the same time Bryzek thinks that novel materials and manufacturing methods will also be significant in the future of MEMS. "This could involve 3D-printing of semiconductor sensors and packages. It may be possible to print VLSI sensor arrays, batteries and energy scavangers using roll-to-roll manufacturing."

There is no doubt a trillion sensors per year would be enough volume to persuade companies to build dedicated facilities rather than just repurpose older 200mm wafer fabs.

Bryzek estimates that one trillion sensors in silicon would require 130 million 200mm diameter ASIC wafers and 260 million 200mm MEMS wafer. If they were constructed using 3D printing methods using a 12 x 25mm strip one trillion sensors would require 300 million square meters of substrates.

So what could prevent Bryzek's vision of an abundant MEMS-enabled future?

"Energy is a challenge. To power trillions of sensors requires energy and per unit it will have to be reduced from today's levels. It will need to be derived from light, vibration, thermal energy scavangers. Particularly we need to reduce the energy to power radios by a factor of 100 to allow them to be powered by scavenging," he said.

But radio communication is also likely to be a challenge. "There is not enough bandwidth to support a trillion discrete radios. The wireless center at University of California Berkely is working on next-generation wireless technology but many technologies will resist quick development." And then there is the data processing that a trillion sensors implies.

However, overall Bryzek feels the biggest challenges may come from legal and moral issues and public resistance to what could be massive social change but a change that may be required to provide the necessities of life to all on this planet. Bryzek said there would clearly be privacy issues where sensor swarms could detect brainwaves and other cues to extract information about a subject's mood.

Bryzek states that one purpose of the Trillion Sensor Summit was to develop a roadmap for MEMS and sensor development to try and guide cooperation and development.

"I invited visionary speakers to attend. The next step is for us to create working groups to identify technology platforms that support multiple applications and to work out what needs to be done to ease the path to volume commercialization. We will then publish that as a book to stimulate development and funding."

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