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SEMICON West 2012: Where Has the Love Gone?

Has the romance between the MEMS and semiconductor industries started to fizzle? Or is the real issue that for new equipment vendors, the appeal and shiny/sexy new-ness of MEMS has faded as they salivate in anticipation of a switch from 300 to 450mm (with all of that sexy, new and expensive semiconductor equipment)?

In 2011, I declared that it was the "the year of MEMS" at SEMICON West in my MEMSblog, because last year, MEMS was everywhere! This year, not so much…

Don’t get me wrong; I love going to SEMICON West. I keep coming back because it’s like homecoming. I can’t walk the halls of Moscone without bumping into dozens of colleagues and MEMS Industry Group (MIG) members. This year it was even more fun, because I was armed with hundreds of adorable MIG stickers that I emblazoned/bedazzled on every MIG member (and future member) I saw.

MEMS was definitely present at SEMICON West this year, and the MIG brand was stronger than ever. MIG had a fabulous MEMS Pavilion, with co-exhibitors IMT, IQE Silicon, n&k Technology, Oxford Instruments, and Xactix. The MIG member lounge inside the pavilion was always full of activity (and fun). The MEMS content on the first day – which I had the honor of moderating – "Taking MEMS to the Next Level: Transitioning to a Profitable High Volume Business" — was chock full of MIG member companies: Applied Materials, Coventor, Hillcrest Labs, NIST, Silex, Teledyne DALSA and Yole Developpement.

And I must humbly add that MIG’s fifth annual member happy hour at LuLu’s was THE BEST frickin’ party at SEMICON West this year. Our party was rockin’ and we have the Flickr photos to prove it. No need for caution in case you were worried:  the photos are all clean and involve no mechanical bulls (pause for the inside joke). It was the best party I attended, and if you think your party was better then you better invite me to your party next year so I can be the judge!

But, sadly, here’s where I must address the feeling I had during SEMICON West that "the love is gone." Much of the content presented at the off-site conferences and workshops I attended had little or no mention of MEMS. And while the underlying reasons may be otherwise, I do wonder, in my heart of hearts, if the growing disconnect between MEMS and the semiconductor industry stems from the latter’s embrace of the migration to 450mm.

To the delight of those who want to enter MEMS manufacturing — or for those who want to stay there — the move to 450mm is in no way a requirement. Companies can manufacture MEMS devices on 200mm wafers just fine, thank you. Does this explain why only a handful of stalwart MEMS device manufacturers were present? Is the zeal for 450mm on behalf of semiconductor equipment vendors (who dominate SEMICON West) responsible for the seemingly fair-weathered friendship between MEMS and the semiconductor industry at SEMICON West or is it an issue worldwide? Share your thoughts with me — and let’s keep this discussion going.

Email Karen Lightman at

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