October 21, 2009 -- Frequency references and oscillators are essential components for a broad range of applications. They are central to all electronics, which is a big, fragmented market. Frequency generators are integral components of all electronics and systems that need to communicate data. Micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) oscillators are not only smaller than conventional oscillators, but also they can respond quicker and more accurately, because of the smaller distances in use. Moreover, producing them in large batches is inexpensive. The extension of lithography methods and development of new micromachining techniques have allowed the production of freely moving micromechanical parts.
According to a new market research study from Innovative Research and Products (iRAP) ET-109: Silicon MEMS Oscillators – A Global Technology, Industry and Market Analysis, the global market for MEMS oscillators is still small to the tune of $5.2 million in 2008. However, it is expected to grow at very fast pace to reach $217 million by 2013 with an average annual growth rate (AAGR) of over 100%. This industry is characterized by about a dozen companies and institutions involved as device developers and manufacturers.
Computers and networking will have the largest share in 2008 – as much as 60%. By 2013, consumer and communications products will take over the lead, at a 55% share of the market, because of the segment’s large growth rate, as much as 125% AAGR from 2008 to 2013.
MEMS resonator companies will become time module companies, taking market share from quartz manufacturers and silicon timing device manufacturers. They will target applications where the size and integration are key, leading to usage in almost all portable systems like PDAs, camcorders and MP3 players.
Integrating MEMS devices on the ASIC chip is one of the attractive features of silicon MEMS resonators. Since the 90's, much effort has been put toward integrating MEMS devices (mostly accelerometers and gyroscopes at that time) with CMOS wafers by either combining the MEMS and CMOS processes, building MEMS first and then CMOS, or building CMOS first and then MEMS, on the same wafer. All of the above approaches require very good process control, or the yield will suffer. However, hybrid integration in packages shows the advantage of process optimization for both MEMS and ASIC.
The basic idea of using MEMS technology is to be able to embed a resonator (using MEMS manufacturing technologies) and adapt the frequency of resonance to the situation. The resonator is a fundamental building block. When based on a MEMS process, the resonator can be very small, and the manufacturing process allows a complete integration of devices and linked passive elements in a single chip.
The potential for smaller footprint components and resistance to electromagnetic interference also supports new cell phone designs, for example. Moreover, MEMS oscillators meet price points set by crystal oscillators by leveraging established high-volume silicon manufacturing processes. This combination of size, performance, functionality and low cost is highly desirable for OEMs and consumers alike.
From a cost point of view, present manufacturers of MEMS oscillators are using existing IC or MEMS manufacturing facilities, thus lowering the capital equipment investment, and, more to the point, allowing delivery of complete timing solutions in the medium term.