Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) technology has the unique capability to integrate the mechanical elements with electronics components on a silicon substrate using microfabrication technology. They were first commercialized in the 1980s and were used in the cartridges of inkjet printers. MEMS technology is used in various automotive applications including antilock braking system and airbag deployment. They are also used in consumer electronics applications such as smartphones, TVs, laptops, Pico projectors, and tablets. In smartphones, they are used in various components such as accelerometer, gyroscope, electronic compass, pressure sensor, BAW filters, TCXO oscillators, and CMOS image sensors among others.
MEMS technology is one of the rapidly changing fields, growing significantly in the past few years due to its expanding range of applications in the field of seismology, telecommunications, environmental monitoring, and biomedical engineering. The advent of silicon Direct Wafer Bonding (DWB) technology has opened up new avenues for the growth of MEMS devices due to its compact in size, increased diaphragm thickness control, and excellent stopping capabilities.
MEMS devices that first came into the industry were produced using bulk micromachining, however, using this process will result in increased wafer thickness, thereby preventing the process of miniaturization. This resulted in the development of surface micromachining during 1990s. MEMS devices are used to measure physical and chemical quantities of a system and hence are a part of sensing systems. They tend to sense the environmental conditions and provide input to the electronic control systems. These devices are extremely small in size and helpful in making the systems react in a much faster and efficient way than humans. MEMS devices consist of silicon substrate that has three times lower thermal expansion when compared to steel, and four times higher yield strength making it suitable for usage in the consumer electronics industry.
MEMS based sensors are increasingly being used in consumer electronics, particularly for mobile handsets where there is a need to sense the orientation of the device for display as well as for step counting. They are used in accelerometers found in the automotive industry. Accelerometers are used for applications such as airbags and wheel speed sensors in vehicles. Some of the applications of MEMS devices are gyroscopes, magnetometers, orientation sensors, barometric pressure sensors, eCompass, and microphones.
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Some of the major companies manufacturing MEMS devices are Robert Bosch GmbH, ST Microelectronics, Texas Instruments, Broadcom, Hewlett Packard, Qorvo, and Knowles Electronics among others. These companies are heavily investing in the R&D activities to develop MEMS-based devices and reduce its size in line with the miniaturization of other electrical components, such as printed circuit boards. The advent of 5G technology is expected to significantly boost the demand for MEMS devices as they are extensively used in the Bulk Acoustic Wave (BAW) filters in the near future.
The first sensor better than human senses was created with the help of MEMS and the capabilities of these sensors is anticipated to further develop in the next few years with the addition of ultrasonic and radio frequency identification capabilities. The top players in this industry continue to change among companies such as Broadcom, Robert Bosch GmbH, and Texas Instruments rapidly as the MEMS devices are extremely diverse and majorly driven by a wide range of diverse factors. Various major MEMS manufacturing companies operate in different fields such as Broadcom, which is heavily invested in the telecommunication sector. Similarly, Knowles is limited to the MEMS microphone industry and is facing tough competition from its rivals operating in this field.
- The Japanese company, TDK Corporation, completed the acquisition of InvenSense in 2017 with a value of $1.3 billion. InvenSense provides MEMS based sensor platforms and hence this deal is expected to strengthen the presence of TDK Corporation in the MEMS industry.
- Cerium Technology, a venture capital firm has recently invested an undisclosed amount in the North American MEMS manufacturer, Innovative Micro Technology (IMT). According to IMT, this investment will be diverted towards the R&D department of the company in order to upgrade the existing equipment.
- A MEMS based startup, ACEINNA, has recently raised $50m in order to develop Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) sensing technology for high volume applications, such as autonomous vehicles.
Robert Bosch GmbH has been recently granted a patent on Feb 09, 2019 for a device to seal two spaces filled with different fluids in a MEMS sensor arrangement. Similarly, Samsung Electronics has received a patent for providing a MEMS element for a terahertz oscillator. Due to the enormous scope for the applications of MEMS-based devices, companies are significantly investing in the R&D departments in order to manufacture a MEMS device that is necessary for specific applications.
Despite the huge number of MEMS dependant applications and significant investment by the companies, the industry still faces numerous challenges, such as access to fabrication and packaging. The resources required for understanding, designing, and manufacturing these MEMS based devices is scarce. Only a select few organizations are able to build their respective fabrication facilities due to the significantly higher costs. The packaging of these MEMS devices also require special effort and can be time-consuming. The companies operating in the field have to find alternative ways to bypass these issues and only then will the MEMS based devices witness significant growth in the near future.
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