PORTLAND, Ore. -- Micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) penetrated the mass market two decades ago, when they enabled air bags to trigger fast enough to catch passengers before they hit the steering wheel or windshield. MEMS chips gained a major business-market design-win a decade ago, when they began to be used to fabricate the high-precision ink-jet print-heads that displaced impact printers.
Now, MEMS chips are entering the consumer-electronics mainstream with the same invigorating effect. Most recently, we're seeing MEMS technology being used in Nintendo's Wii and Apple's iPhone, and this may just be the beginning. The real volume customers will be the mainstream consumer-electronics makers adding MEMS chips to their ubiquitous devices.
"We are at the edge of a mass market--today's MEMS applications are just the early adopters," said Bosch-Sensortec general manager and chief executive officer Frank Melzer. "The true mass-market adoption of MEMS will come when designers understand how a single MEMS sensor can have multiple uses in a single device, and when they learn how to use multiple sensors together to solve tough problems."
Bosch-Sensortec is the CE division of Robert Bosch GmbH, the world's largest MEMS chip maker, which spun off its consumer electronics division in 2005. Now, Bosch-Sensortec has seven MEMS chips available for consumer applications--two pressure sensors for altimeters and navigation; two gyroscopes for image-stabilization applications; and three accelerometers, including a second-generation three-axis unit, the SMB380, which was recently dissected by Chipworks (Ottawa, Canada).
"Bosch's decision to spin-out its Sensortec division, dedicated to consumer electronics, appears to be paying off," said St. John Dixon-Warren, head of Chipworks Technical Intelligence Process Engineering team. "When we opened their new digital accelerometer, the SMD380, we found the MEMS die next to the ASIC instead of on top of it like before--that's how they made it thinner, which is what consumer devices need. Plus, Bosch has shrunk both the MEMS die and the ASIC, which is also what they needed to do to meet price concessions to mass-market customers while still making a profit."
Together with its parent company Robert Bosch, Bosch-Sensortec had MEMS sales in excess of $370 million last year--more than any other MEMS chip maker, according to Wicht Technologie Consulting (WTC). STMicroelectronics and Freescale Semiconductor ranked second and third in WTC's ranking. Bosch intends to keep its lead, too; for instance, it just invested in a new 8-inch fab in Reutlingen, Germany, where up to thousand wafers containing up to one million chips per day will start being produced by 2009.