Portland, Ore. Discera Inc. will announce Monday (Feb. 26) that its CMOS oscillatorsquartz-crystal alternatives based on microelectromechanical systems (MEMS)are in volume production at its Canadian and Austrian fabs, with a capacity of 1 million parts per month.
Discera (San Jose, Calif.) claims it has two mainstream customers in the final stages of qualifying its first product, the MOS-1. The family of pin-for-pin replacements for Epson's 8002 quartz crystal ranges in frequency from 1 to 125 MHz.
"This is an important announcement for Discera," said Marlene Bourne, president and principal analyst at Bourne Research LLC (Scottsdale, Ariz.). "These are real products, ready for sale today--not engineering samples or products that are still under development."
MEMS accelerometers have already replaced mechanical switches as automotive air bag triggers, and MEMS sensors for gauging tire and manifold pres- sure are widely used. Now MEMS devices are finding their first design slots in consumer applications. Nintendo's Wii video- game controller, for example, uses an accelerometer from Analog Devices Inc., and MEMS microphones are finding acceptance in cell phones.
"MEMS seems to be making progress at long last. Accelerometers and microphones are very real, and now oscillators seem about to become real too," said Stephen Cullen, a contributing analyst at In-Stat Inc. The long-term winners are able to integrate with silicon, he said.
All in the packaging
MEMS oscillators are offered by Discera and by competitor SiTime Corp. Traditional, quartz-crystal oscillators require that the piezoelectric material be housed in an expensive, hermetically sealed ceramic package with an ASIC (which converts the resonance of the crystal into a rock-solid oscillation frequency) along with a phase-locked loop and conditioning circuitry. MEMS oscillators do the same job, but with a tiny mechanical resonator that is bonded to the ASIC, then put in an inexpensive, nonhermetic ceramic package or even a highly cost-sensitive plastic package.
"We are ready for volume production of two standard-footprint MEMS oscillator packages, one plastic and one ceramic, both measuring 3.2 x 5 [x 1] milli- meters--a footprint that is already in use today by set-top boxes, hard-disk drives, PCs and their peripherals, camcorders and digital cameras," said Venkat Bahl, vice president of marketing at Discera. "For all these products, our oscillator is a drop-in replacement."
Although Discera is a startup announcing its first product, its MEMS technology has been under development since 2001 and has undergone intensive design-for-manufacturability and testing-ease evaluations, according to the company. And although Discera won't divulge its promised mainstream customers for a couple months yet, Bahl announced that it has signed on high-precision quartz-crystal maker manufacturer Vectron International Inc. (Hudson, N.H.) to sell the MOS-1 parts under the Vectron brand.
The Vectron-branded MEMS oscillators will sell "at a lower price than their current quartz-crystal parts," Bahl said.
Analysts had once predicted that the mature quartz-crystal industry would slash prices to undercut the MEMS oscillator startups, relegating the newcomers' design wins to niche markets where MEMS' wider temperature range and increased durability could demand a premium. Now they are predicting that MEMS oscillators will rapidly replace quartz crystals in mainstream apps.
Next, Discera aims to fit its oscillators into smaller packages later this year.