The BioMEMS market is becoming increasingly diverse, encompassing gas and pressure sensors, ultrasound, specialized biomedical sensors, and other types of MEMS and microfluidic chips used for drug delivery and analytical applications. The BioMEMS market is growing steadily: Research firm Yole Développement predicts that BioMEMS will grow at 14.9% CAGR from 2017-2023, reaching US$6.9B by 2023.
As a high-value market, BioMEMS is worth pursuing as long as you can manage the complexities of manufacturing, including a sometimes-fragmented supply chain. Fortunately, the MEMS manufacturing ecosystem is evolving to accommodate the needs of companies that are in the process of commercializing BioMEMS-enabled products. Understanding the ecosystem’s shifting dynamics will help BioMEMS to flourish in this promising while often-challenging market segment.
MEMS – Unique Product, Unique Process
In the world of semiconductor manufacturing, it is routine for a fab to manufacture hundreds of different device designs using just a handful of process nodes. Semiconductor foundries share their design rules with customers, who then develop the mask set accordingly, literally adapting their designs to fit the rules for manufacturing on one of the foundries’ process nodes.
In stark contrast, most MEMS devices cannot conform to the level of standardized manufacturing processes that work so well for semiconductors. Rather, MEMS challenges us to develop individualized processes for each device. It’s individualized-one product, one process.
New BioMEMS designs generally emerge from either corporate R&D or academia, two groups that approach specialized MEMS foundries such as ours when they’re entering pilot or low-volume production. Today successful commercialization depends on open, accurate communication and close collaboration.
MEMS foundries must work side-by-side with designers to ensure that designs are based on real-world manufacturing process technologies. This highly customized manufacturing model makes it very difficult to support future demand for the groundswell of diverse BioMEMS devices that are in development. If we want to handle this upward trajectory of BioMEMS, we’ll need to adapt.
Change MEMS Model Towards Specialization
While most existing MEMS foundries currently support a wide variety of devices types, I predict that market forces will cause our foundries to move toward specialization. Some companies will specialize in what they already do best, e.g., inertial sensors for the automotive industry. Others might choose to develop their foundry business around a purpose-built facility, which, for example, only manufactures microfluidics or magnetic devices. Larger enterprises might opt to build captive foundries that are designed to serve their specific needs.
Get Creative: Combine, Collaborate
Satisfying the thriving market for BioMEMS will require creativity. One idea: combine different disciplines of the manufacturing process at the same foundry. For example, we could have a biochemistry fab and a MEMS fab under the same roof, or we could have a MEMS fab and a packaging facility in one building. While these approaches may not yet exist outside of academia, necessity may drive them to fruition.
“It will also require heightened strategic collaboration, a process that has already begun. To support both large volumes and greater diversity of devices, some MEMS foundries are building cooperative relationships with former competitors. Think of it as a restructuring of the supply chain.”
Challenges in BioMEMS Manufacturing
Embracing the special challenges of BioMEMS manufacturing is worth our investment in time and resources. We need to step back, individually and collectively, to understand where each of the existing MEMS foundries fits into the new supply chain so we can leverage our strengths.
We can start by forging stronger alliances for tech transfer. Once we more freely share information as we engage in joint product development — involving technology teams who are more connected and less guarded — we will expedite tech transfer and manufacturability.
While we are unlikely to achieve the same level of standardization that has enabled the semiconductor industry to reach its great heights, as long as we evolve to meet demand, we will grow together and prosper.
World-Class Precision MEMS Foundry & Wafer Fab in Oregon
As founder and CEO of Rogue Valley Microdevices, Jessica Gomez has created a world-class precision MEMS foundry and wafer fab in the heart of Southern Oregon. Integral to her role as CEO, Ms. Gomez practices a business philosophy of offering custom design, best-in-class process technology and R&D expertise to customers, to help them achieve the highest quality and reliability in their products.