Emerging MEMS applications have one challenge in common with virtually all entrepreneurial technology companies: They must find a way across the chasm between the early adopters of new technology and the "early majority adopters." If they don't, they becomeat besta niche company or application.
Benedetto Vigna, manager of STMicroelectronics' MEMS Business Unit, drew that comparison with Geoffrey Moore's classic book on entrepreneurial business"Crossing the Chasm"at the MEMS Executive Forum sponsored by In-Stat. MDR in October.
Vigna also offered a formula for a MEMS companyor a MEMS division of a larger corporationto succeed:
- Look for a cash cow that will fund research and development of more MEMS-based products. In STMicro's case, the cash cow is its thermal ink jet nozzle for printers.
- Limit the number of fabrication processes. For STMicro, this means just two:
- For mechanical devices
- For micro-fluidic devices such as the ink jet module.
- Adopt a generic, flexible and modular product architecture.
- Switch from a product-centric marketing model to a market-centric one.
At a more practical and detailed level, Vigna offered his triage of MEMS applications: Those that have found marketed acceptance; those that may or may not cross the chasm; and those whose chances of commercial success in the next few years are doubtfulsometimes because although the product works well enough the market for it has not matured.
MEMS products that have already crossed the chasm between early adopters and majority early adopters include: pressure sensors, ink jet nozzles, accelerometers, and display mirrorsa product deployed by Texas Instruments' DLP (Digital Light Processing) division.
Applications that must meet the criteria necessary for gaining acceptance in the broad market include: EM variable capacitors, BAW (bulk acoustic wave) devices, microphones, bio-MEMS (lab on a chip for medical diagnostics and drug delivery), and atomic storage devices.
According to Vigna, three applications that will be waiting the wings for some time to come include: RF switches, HDD (hard-disk drive) actuators, and bubble switches for optical switches.
Vigna addressed the issue of which applications are likely to be most successful by separating applications into four quadrants divided by Products and Markets (Table 1).
- Pressure for Automotive
- BAW devices
- Atomic Storage
- Pressure for consumer and new applications
Table 1: Separating applications by products and markets
Not surprisingly in light of his "follow the market demand" philosophy, Vigna predicts that the most success will be achieved in the lower left hand quadrant, which is where proven technologies simply move into new application areas.
Although optimistic about MEMS's future, Vigna belives MEMS must overcome several uncertainties that are more business oriented than product oriented. "No 'right' strategy has been clearly identified," he said, "and different firms are groping with different approaches to product/marketing positioning, marketing as well as betting on different product configurations and production technologies."
About the Author
Contributing writer Jack Shandle is a former chief editor of both Electronic Design magazine and ChipCenter.com. He holds a BSEE degree and has written hundreds of articles on all aspects of the electronics OEM industry. Jack is president of eContentWorks, a consultancy that creates high-value content for publishers, eOEM corporations, and industry associations. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org