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Nov 7th, 2012
InvenSense opens its proprietary Nasiri fabrication process to other potential MEMS users
The fast growing fabless company says other users could cut time to market by 60% and costs by 30% by using its proprietary fabrication latform. It looks for access to new ideas and new business deals, as well as licensing revenues. deals, as well as licensing revenues.
Who would have thought that the first big push towards a standard MEMS process platform would come from a company whose innovative manufacturing technology has been key to its success? InvenSense has driven its 74% CAGR over the last few years to become the fourth largest consumer MEMS supplier at ~$150 million, according to Yole Développement, thanks in large part to its low cost gyroscopes enabled by its proprietary direct wafer-level eutectic bonding of the MEMS to CMOS die called the Nasiri Fabrication (NF) Platform. Now the company figures it will gain more by offering the technology to other users in the form of a shuttle than by keeping it 100% in house.
Initial users have primarily been university researchers. The company worked with select local MEMS and IC professors at institutions like U.C. Berkeley and Stanford on the first shuttle run, where resultant devices included an integrated MEMS resonator and a symmetrical-drive gyroscope for a DARPA program that worked on first silicon. Early interest has now expanded to a wider range of universities in the U.S. and abroad and to some small companies, both traditional MEMS players and some in entirely different areas. “Larger companies, some with their own captive fabs, are also showing more interest,” says Assaderaghi. The next two shuttle runs are in process, but openings remain on a fourth run slated for the first half of next year.
Diverse applications supported by the NF Platform - extending beyond inertial sensors (courtesy of InvenSense)
But the ultimate advantage, InvenSense argues, will be the smaller size, lower cost, and better performance enabled by connecting the MEMS and ASIC electrically and mechanically in a single step, with the company’s proprietary aluminum germanium eutectic bonding. Biggest beneficiaries of the NF Platform may be those applications that need the most intelligence, for significant calibration, or any close coupling and integration of the signals between the MEMS and the CMOS, as for example multiple sensor integration, says Martin Lim, co-founder and senior director of MEMS R&D, noting how the short interconnects speed transmission and reduce parasitics.
The company suggests there are few limitations to the kinds of MEMS structures that can be etched in its silicon-over-cavity platform. “The process is our own internal sandbox for new products as well,” says Assaderaghi. “And we think the platform is very versatile, analogous to a general purpose CMOS process supporting a broad range of applications.” Some applications may need further processing of the bonded wafers, such as opening a port to the environment, for example, for chemical sensing, optics, microfluidics, or pressure sensors. “We believe that the separate MEMS and CMOS model is obsolete, and that MEMS developers and CMOS foundries will both benefit greatly from this new model,” he adds. “Our additional MEMS steps are few and simple and can be viewed as a value add-on to the standard CMOS process, similar to high-voltage or embedded non-volatile memory modules. The lack of CMOS-MEMS integration is a business challenge for both the small MEMS specific foundries and the IDMs, as it erodes their initial advantage with their captive MEMS only fabs. Attempting to compete with standard CMOS foundries in manufacturing and standard semiconductor backend processes may ultimately challenge even the most established IDM players".
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