MEMS Technology's True Potential

Two recent market studies quantify the market for MEMS technology very differently. But both predict strong growth. And neither seems to touch on what I view as the true potential for MEMS.

Business Communications Co. Inc. says the global market for MEMS devices and production equipment was worth about $5 billion in 2005, and will increase to $12.5 billion through 2010, an average annual growth rate (AAGR) of more than 20%. The European group NEXUS says the MEMS market was at $12 billion in 2004 and will grow to $25 billion in 2009, a combined annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16%.

While you may scratch your head, wondering what's behind the discrepancy in defining the MEMS market, you'll no doubt be impressed by the predicted growth-at least 16% and possibly more than 20%.

But, Is This Enough?
In his most recent "report card" on the MEMS industry, observer Roger Grace points out that, following a half-century of MEMS research, design, and development, many are asking why it's taken so long for MEMS to realize its potential and reach expected volumes. My question is, do the BCC and Nexus projections point to the realization of MEMS technology's potential?

I don't think so. The BCC report says that microfluidic devices comprised the largest segment of the MEMS market in 2004 (this reflects the preponderance of MEMS in printer inkjet heads), and that life sciences applications dominated that year with more than 46% of the market (automotive and consumer product applications accounted for most of the rest of the market with shares of 27% and 17% respectively). While the life sciences arena is a natural for MEMS, I doubt it's the holy grail for this versatile technology.

1 + 1 + 1 = More
I think MEMS's potential won't be realized for at least another 5 years—beyond the projections of these studies—because the technology will find new application thanks to wireless sensor data communications and advances in power (both battery-supplied and "batteryless"). Wireless sensing and innovation in power options are nascent endeavors that are poised to revolutionize sensing because they will allow sensors to go places they've never gone before. These technologies are primed to exploit of the low cost and small size advantages of MEMS.

As Grace says in his report, "When MEMS provides value such as Pentium processors or when packaging and testing can be brought down to a few pennies, the cost/value hurdle will be removed and the floodgates will open for MEMS." The packaging and testing question is not a small one, but while much work remains to be done, I believe wireless applications are the keys to MEMS technology's potential.