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Advances in Applications Are Made in MEMS, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

MEMS, or Micro Electro Mechanical Systems, are the miniaturized middle step between traditional devices and structures built on the nanoscale.  MEMS are also much further advanced as a technology than nanotech, having been around for decades.  The systems have roots going back to the late 1960s when Honeywell created the first silicon-based pressure sensors.  In the 1980s, the MEMS sector grew dramatically when MEMS were incorporated as sensing devices in automobile airbags.  By 2007, there were 200 to 300 companies manufacturing MEMS, including industry leaders Hewlett-Packard, Texas Instruments, Bosch, Epson and Lexmark.  Today, it is a highly advanced, global industry. 

Estimates of the size of the MEMS market vary.  Analysts at research firm Yole estimated the global market for MEMS devices at $15 billion for 2016, and $30 billion for 2020.  Research firm IHS forecasts substantial growth in demand for MEMS due to the expansion of remote wireless sensors and devices connected to the internet, often referred to as the Internet of Things or IOT.  This market could reach $340 million by 2018 in direct and indirect impact.  The main sectors fueling the projected rise are consumer electronics and mobile handsets.

Advances in MEMS technology continue.  A chip with MEMS on its surface may be coated with such tiny mechanical entities as mirrors, sensors, gears or ratchets (microengines), springs or clutches.  During MEMS manufacturing, ultra-thin films are deposited on the surface of a chip or wafer.  These films are then photo etched into complex mechanical entities.

Simply put, MEMS are machines built on the micrometer scale, or one millionth of a meter.  MEMS technology is also what makes nanotechnology possible in the first place.  Without it, there would be no scanning tunneling microscopes or vapor deposition devices, not to mention all the processes and standards that allow us to work accurately with small things.  And in many ways, MEMS are the mechanical reflection of integrated circuits (ICs), using similar manufacturing techniques and recruiting the ever-useful silicon for their manufacture.

The electronics industry has provided us with thousands of MEMS-type devices, mostly as auxiliary components in larger mechanical devices, such as sensors that measure gas pressure, optical switches in data networks, inkjet printer heads, gyroscopes, medical devices of many types and minute gear systems found in appliances and handheld devices.  Nintendo’s Wii game console uses MEMS sensors called accelerometers to sense players’ movements in three dimensions.  The same type of sensors are used in Apple’s iPhone to sense the unit’s position and rotate images on its video screen so that they are right-side-up at all times. 


Internet Research Tip:

1) See for easy to follow descriptions of MEMS devices, including photos.

2) See “What is MEMS Technology?” for in depth information on MEMS structures, fabrication and more.



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