Micralyne is a manufacturer of microfabricated and MEMS-based products which include sensors, lab-on-a-chip devices, and optical switch systems. We spoke with Chris Lumb, the CEO of Micralyne.
MEMS Investor Journal: Micralyne is in the MEMS foundry business and, as a result, works with many kinds of companies and applications. In your experience, what are the main challenges with fabrication of MEMS devices today?
Chris Lumb: Because MEMS is an enabling technology every MEMS device is unique: designers take advantage of the ability of MEMS to make devices that can't be made any other way. This uniqueness, while offering design advantages, sometimes doesn't allow designers to take advantage of standard manufacturing processes. So every device is manufactured differently, which means that it can be difficult to achieve manufacturing economies of scale. Because we've been in business a number of years, and we manufacture a broad range of products, we've invested significantly in standardizing manufacturing processes. This allows our engineers to pick from a variety of standard processes when developing a part for our clients, and this reduces both cost and time to market. Companies putting MEMS parts in their products should consider this when choosing a MEMS supplier and select one that has demonstrated capability in manufacturing parts similar to theirs.
MIJ: There has been much discussion about RF MEMS recently. How close do you think we are to having RF MEMS actually implemented in high volume applications?
CL: RF MEMS, like many application areas, will continue to see steady growth in a variety of application niches. Whether RF MEMS will be the next so-called killer-app remains to be seen. I've been in the industry long enough to see other application areas not fulfill their promise: two of these were DNA sequencing and optical telecom. My belief is that too much hype about killer-apps in advance of their reality is bad for the industry. Failed promises turn off investors for many years to come; they also scare away customers of MEMS. Those of us in the industry need to continue to demonstrate the reality of MEMS by actually delivering what we promise. At Micralyne we've done exactly that and as a result we've steadily grown our business over the years, by delivering real applications in realistic volumes and helping our customers generate revenues and profits, not just promises to their investors.
MIJ: Besides RF MEMS, which other applications do you see coming into mainstream over the next year or two?
CL: There are so many new applications of MEMS it's hard to list them all. Some of the big new ones are optical diagnostic devices for health care, drug delivery devices, sensors for bioterrorism defense, semiconductor test devices, as well as a range of new automotive sensing applications. One of the biggest growth areas we're seeing this year is optical telecom: demand is growing rapidly and telecom carriers are now specifying capability that requires MEMS devices in all major RFPs. The other big area of growth we're seeing is in MEMS microphones: these will likely be widely deployed within several years in phones, computers, and additional automotive applications. So right now we see MEMS taking major steps forward in fulfilling it's promise to create a world of smaller, faster, and cheaper devices. It's a good time to be in this industry.