Part 4: The transition era - MEMSIC

The growing market of MEMS motion sensors started way before 2006. In fact, transition occurs after 1993.  The transition happens mainly as the market shifts from automotive applications to consumer applications (consumer electronics, or CE).  For example, laptop computers are subject to fall and potential damages to hard drives hence accelerometers were capable of detecting an impending fall and stop the spinning hard disks, minimizing damages to the hard drive surfaces and thereby preserving data. (Interestingly, around 2010, as solid-state drives, SSD, start to become cheaper and bigger in capacity, traditional spinning-disk hard drives are phasing out. As a result, motion sensors for hard drive protection starts to decline.)

A second area of shift is the way MEMS are manufactured.  In the past, MEMS manufacturing is done by dedicated manufacturing facilities. For example, Analog Devices use internal resources and facilities to handle manufacturing. However, as the needs to reduce price keeps on mounting for consumer electronics devices, the custom foundry option proves to be increasingly difficult.  The semiconductor foundries, lead by the fabless fabrication model, proves to be a great success for reducing the cost of semiconductor electronics. Although the foundry model was never new, the success of TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp) proved the business model. (TSMC was founded in 1985 by Morris Chang, a 25 year veteran of TI, 1958-85). Naturally, MEMS companies seek to explore compatible fabrication processes with such foundries.

One of the companies that took advantage of this trend is MEMSIC. The company is founded by Dr. Yang Zhao, a veteran of ADI, along with four partners. Yang Zhao and ADI purchased a patent for building accelerometers without moving parts the acceleration sensing is done with the movement of a heated air pocket. The concept is extremely matched to the foundry model the entire chip is made just like a circuit. As a result, MEMSIC enjoyed large growth because of its ability to offer low cost products. The failure rate of the device is low, at less than 2 PPM (two per million) device. The company is located both in the US (Andover, MA) and in Wuxi, China. Since Yang Zhao founded the company in November 1999, the company enjoyed rapid growth. Between 2004-2007, the company enjoyed 77% annual growth  The company was listed in the US stock market in December 2007. At the time, the company has revenue of 150 million Chinese yuan and profit of 30 million Chinese yuan.

However, such products have much lower frequency response compared with devices with moving mass. It is also difficult to make multi-axis accelerometers using this technology. Although designs are possible, the process is not compatible with the foundry process and, as a result, would not enjoy as much financial advantage.

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