PORTLAND, Ore. Micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) chips continue to be integrated into diverse consumer applications, according to the MEMS Executive Congress, hosted by the MEMS Industry Group Nov. 5-7 in Monterey, Calif. As a result, analysts at the conference predicted, the MEMS consumer market will grow 4 percent to 5.5 percent in 2008, to about $7 billion. But as consumer spending slows, they said, the overall MEMS market will slow—and may even contract in 2009.
"In 2009, the MEMS market could face negative growth for the first time," said analyst Marlene Bourne of Bourne Research. "There will likely be at least 18 months of slow consumer growth. The killer app during the slowdown over the next 18 to 24 months will be specific to individual companies—those that succeed will be the ones that identify a significant need and provide a solution."
Handheld media players and cell phones will all come in MEMS-enabled versions in 2009, and by 2012 nearly all consumer devices will include at least one MEMS chip, according to an analyst panel at the conference. MEMS also will pioneer application areas—for instance, drastically cutting power requirements and increasing brightness and color accuracy of flat-panel displays, starting in 2010.
The most novel MEMS application demonstrated at the confab came from Pixtronix. Using a MEMS shutter to meter light from a light-emitting diode (LED) backlight, the Pixtronix' display combines ultra-low power (75 percent less than LCD) with ultra-wide color gamut (105 percent of NTSC).
The MEMS shutter is integrated onto the inside of a flat-panel display using the same fabrication lines in conventional LCD displays. The shutter layer is then bonded to the LED backlight substrate without the need for polarizers or color filters. The company claims its digital MEMS shutter is 10 times brighter than regular LCDs, because it lets 60 to 80 percent of the LED light out through the shutter, compared with just 6 to 8 percent from a conventional LCD flat-panels.
"Our digital micro-shutter can be run on the same lines that make LCD displays today, but at about a 10 percent cost savings," said Richard Payne, vice president of microfabrication at Pixtronix.