According to analysts, SoftMEMS is pioneering a category of design software. The success of that software could in turn drive the proliferation of MEMS chips in the marketplace. If MEMS chips become more common, more software vendors will likely enter the field, forging their development efforts along a path already pioneered by the EDA industry.
"The MEMS-specific software in- dustry is still in its embryonic and de-velopment stage," said analyst Walker. "SoftMEMS is one of the first companies to support MEMS co-design for electronic applications. But this emerging MEMS software market may run a parallel track to the MEMS hardware market, in a manner similar to how the EDA market follows the semiconductor market."
In addition to targeting design, SoftMEMS is beginning to diversify its capabilities by offering some of the analysis tools commonly found in EDA environments, such as the ability to perform cost analysis, create reusable libraries and ask "what ifs" aimed at improving yields.
"In the very beginning, most MEMS chips were being created by designers who had a very deep knowledge of silicon and who were used to a very long time-to-market," said Maher. "With so many MEMS chips out there now, and with engineers beginning to understand their basic capabilities, our customers are asking us how they can increase yields and shorten time-to-market--the same questions EDA vendors have to address."
EDA vendors themselves have not added MEMS capabilities, according to Akkaraju of IntelliSense, because MEMS solutions must work in mixed energy domains, including mechanical, electronic, thermal, magnetic and optical. MEMS design requires a collaborative multidisciplinary team that co-designs in all those domains simultaneously, thereby forcing electrical, packaging, test and materials engineers to share tools with domain experts like biologists.
"The tools available in all these domains vary in maturity," said Maher. "In some of these areas, methods and tools are mature, but in other areas you have to do research just to get them to work with each other. Also, packaging has special problems EEs don't often face, such as having a package that is open to the environment--that can create a real challenge to packaging MEMS chips."
SoftMEMS is also adding capabilities that will permit EEs to evaluate MEMS chips made by other companies for possible inclusion in their system. The feature will let them do so from within the EDA tool that they are already using to create the electronics for their design.
See related chart