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Home > Tech Reiews > Emerging Technology Report
Emerging Technology Report #45: February 20, 2003

IEEE MEMS2003 in Kyoto

- Conference Summary -

Global Emerging Technology Institute

LThe 16th IEEE Annual International Conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS2003) was held January 19-24, 2003 in Kyoto. The IEEE MEMS Conference series were developed subsequently from the IEEE MEMS Workshop that was initiated in 1987 as the Micro Robots and Tele-operators Workshop. This year, over 540 participants gathered to attend MEMS2003 at the Kyoto International Conference Center. The technical program for MEMS2003 consisted of three invited talks, 22 contributed oral presentations, three poster preview presentations, and 151 contributed posters.

Statistically, 500 abstracts were submitted from 25 countries, and 173 papers were accepted for oral and poster presentations at MEMS2003. The acceptance rate was about 34%, the same level as the previous IEEE MEMS conferences. By region, more than half of the abstracts came from Asia (253), followed by North America (167) and Europe (80). The gap between Asia and North America was smaller in terms of accepted papers: 83 papers from Asia compared to 72 papers from North America. There were 18 accepted papers from Europe. By country, the USA contributed most to the conference with 72 accepted papers, followed by Japan (46), Korea (21), Taiwan (10), Germany (5), and Switzerland (4). It is not surprising that there were many papers from Asian countries, because generally the location where the conference is hosted affects the numbers of papers submitted from each region. However, if we compare the figures for this year with those for MEMS2000 (held in Okinawa, Japan) it is noticeable that ex-Japan Asian countries now have a greater presence in the international MEMS community. Three years ago, Japan contributed 48 accepted papers and the other Asian countries (Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong/China, and Singapore) contributed 17. This year, while Japan had 46 accepted papers, the rest of Asia contributed 37 accepted papers. We must note that the total number of accepted papers increased by 35 compared to MEMS2000 and that the increase is mostly occupied by the US and ex-Japan Asia. By category, research interest concentrated in the biomedical and chemical fields with 44 accepted papers representing these areas. Fabrication and packaging also attracted attention with 35 accepted papers. There were 11 papers that discussed NEMS (nano electro mechanical systems) research. In general, it should be noted that a significant increase in MEMS research and development has occurred since MEMS2000 in Asia.

Mr. Sean Neylon, CEO of Colibrys, SA of Switzerland, gave a stimulating presentation on the importance of business models for the successful commercialization of silicon-based MEMS. In order to be commercialized, innovative concepts must be paired with effective business models. Mr. Neylon explained that successful business models should consist of a "timely alignment of economic and technical strategies" that are dependent on macro-economic forces. At present, macro-economic instabilities create short-term investment strategies and funding, making it difficult to finance new businesses and develop workable business models. Therefore, such models need to be revised and developed in order to be able to weather uncontrollable market risk. Silicon-based MEMS is today viewed as a subsection of the microelectronics industry, but this view needs correction because silicon MEMS are very different from ICs in many aspects, according to Mr. Neylon. For example, MEMS are truly three-dimensional in structure, while ICs are two-dimensional. In addition, the transistor is the key building block of ICs, and the high integration of transistors means performance improvements and cost reduction at the same time. On the other hand, MEMS is comprised of various heterogeneous elements. The transistor-based scaling effect that has driven the semiconductor industry does not apply to the MEMS field. This needs to be taken into account in pursuing MEMS business development. The same mind-set that has prevailed in the semiconductor business would not work in the MEMS industry, he suggested.

The existing business models for MEMS foundries can be categorized into 3 groups, according to Mr. Neylon. The first model is captive in-house fabrication employed by large firms. The second model is the captive supplier with added foundry option. This is the case where original equipment manufacturers develop and produce MEMS components for captive use and render part of the design and fabrication capabilities available for external customers. The main motivation here is to keep the production line busy for economic and quality assurance reasons. The third one is a "free-market (independent)" classical process foundry business model. In this case, process intellectual property rights (IPRs) are often owned by the foundry, while the design IPRs are owned by the customer. On top of these models, Mr. Neylon proposed a fourth model, which he referred to as the free-market hybrid foundry model. This model flexibly combines different business approaches to different market/application sectors. He concluded his talk by saying that alliances would be more likely than acquisitions for the successful exploitation of MEMS technology because of the diversity and the fragmented nature of the target market sectors.

Although not discussed in detail, it appears that Colibrys has been utilizing the fourth approach mentioned above. Founded in January 2001, Colibrys is a successful spin off from CSEM (Centre Suisse d'Electronique et de Microtechnique: Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology). Colibrys specializes in the production of innovative custom MEMS products including micro-magnetic MEMS chips for industrial printing presses; micro-optical components for the telecommunications and semiconductor equipment markets; and micro-mechanical accelerometers for inertial navigation applications. New product developments at Colibrys are focused on optical MEMS components for telecommunications; and radiation detectors for emerging medical imaging and biotech applications. The Swiss company currently employs 125 people and has an annual turnover of $70 million.

Mr. Neylon's talk was the only presentation that discussed commercialization issues surrounding MEMS technology at MEMS2003. The rest of the technical program clearly reflected recent trends in R&D initiatives supported by government agencies. Such trends include the shift towards nanotechnology and biomedical and chemical research, as suggested by the presentation statistics previously mentioned. There were also a few interesting papers illustrating emerging micro power generation technologies. As one participant put it, this year's MEMS conference was "very academic." While there are an increasing number of conferences and workshops that address more narrowly defined topics such as optical MEMS and micro total analysis system (μTAS), the IEEE MEMS continues to be one of the pre-eminent forums where truly creative new ideas are presented to an international audience.

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