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MEMS Are Having a Moment

As technology continues to evolve, MEMS are playing an increasingly important role in both business and consumer electronics.

As the tiny elements that drive everything from pressure sensors to infrared detectors to ink jet printer heads, microelectromechanical systems or “MEMS” tend to get a lot of attention in the electronics world.

A technology that in its most general form can be defined as miniaturized mechanical and electro-mechanical elements (i.e., devices and structures) that are made using the techniques of microfabrication, MEMS comprise miniaturized structures, sensors, actuators, and microelectronics.   

Double-Digit Growth
According to a new report, the global MEMS market is expected to grow with the CAGR of approximately 11.3% over the next five years, with the major growth factors being technological advancements, rapid growth in the Internet of Things (IoT) market, increasing demand for industrial applications, and high adoption of consumer electronic devices like smartphones and tablets.

“The increasing use of MEMS into mobile devices, primarily in tablets and smartphones, is boosting the demand for MEMS devices as well as the growth of new applications such as wearables that integrate MEMS,” Research and Markets reports.

In addition, the introduction of connected homes, connected cars, smart watches and others are all “providing new horizons in the growth of MEMS technology.” Beyond the potential growth in consumer electronics, the healthcare and automotive sectors are also expected to grow on the MEMS front, the company reports.

Sensors Get Smarter
MEMS also play an important role in the development of smart sensors, which contain certain processing capabilities integrated with the raw sensors. In its recent report on the smart sensor market, Zion Research notes that rising demand from both the automobile manufacturing and consumer electronics markets are escalating the global market in North America.

Made by companies like Analog Devices, ABB Ltd., Emerson Process Management, Eaton Corp, and NXP Semiconductors N.V., these sensors receive input from the physical environment and use built-in computer resources to perform predefined functions upon detection of specific input and then process data before passing it on.

Comprising temperature and humidity sensors, pressure sensors, image sensors, flow sensors, turbidity sensors, and touch sensors, to name just a few, the global smart sensor market includes CMOS-based smart sensors, MEMS-based smart sensors, microsystem technology, optical spectroscopy, IC-compatible 3D micro-structuring, integrated smart sensors, and others, according to Zion Research.

The Applications Abound
The healthcare sector, where a growing number of handheld medical devices are being used to diagnose and monitor patients, is also helping to drive growth in the MEMS market. In the automotive sector, where more and more sensors are being integrated into both conventional and self-driving vehicles, demand for MEMS-based technology is also high.

Other industries are also experimenting with and/or benefitting from MEMS-based technology. On the gaming front, for example, AdHawk Microsystems recently developed a chip that is smaller than a grain of rice. The chip’s tiny size, low cost, and minimal power consumption is expected to “revolutionize the next generation of VR/AR headsets,” according to blooloop.

Currently, bulky camera-based sensors make AR/VR products heavy and oversized, the publication reports, while AdHawk’s eye-tracking sensors are created from MEMS. “Previous eye-tracking systems have had to rely on cameras tethered to a computer. In contrast, the AdHawk system is embedded in AR/VR headsets or glasses and captures thousands of data points per second.”

This, in turn, creates a more immersive AR/VR experience as games can increase the element of “surprise” by providing content in anticipation of the gamer’s next move. According to blooloop, the device also has potential for use in healthcare and training.

MEMS Rise to the Top
In another example of MEMS’ role in commercialized technology, Boston Semi Equipment (BSE) recently announced a new project for tire pressure monitoring manufacture, which will be using the firm’s Zeus gravity test handling system to improve higher throughput with its own products.

“This order demonstrates how our innovative MEMS solution is being recognized by the market as a superior alternative for its pressure MEMS testing needs,” Mike Kerrigan, VP of sales for BSE, said in a press release. “Our solution dramatically improves throughput by achieving our customers’ desired pressure set points faster and more accurately than others, which in turn makes Zeus’ pressure test handler for MEMS devices a winning investment.”

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