The MEMS Industry: Looking Back at the Last 20 Years of Innovation and Growth

This market research report was originally published at the Yole Group’s website. It is reprinted here with the permission of the Yole Group.

Overcoming a global economic downturn, the MEMS market is set to grow to US$20 billion by 2028 as MEMS allow OEMs in the consumer, automotive, and other industries to optimize the cost, size, and performance of their systems.

In today’s article, Pierre Delbos and Pierre-Marie Visse from Yole Intelligence and Khrystyna Kruk from Yole SystemPlus reflect on the last 20 years of the MEMS market, highlighting the evolving drivers, the most significant MEMS innovations, and the future areas set to drive MEMS demand.

This analysis forms part of the report, Status of the MEMS Industry 2023, along with related reverse engineering & costing analyses, including:

These products are fully based on Yole Group’s 20 years of expertise in the MEMS market and technologies.

Yole Intelligence and Yole SystemPlus are part of Yole Group.

Increased market readiness of emerging devices will drive the MEMS market of the future

In addition to the market being driven by a growing number of devices and increased MEMS-enabled functionality, we expect to see a rise in market adoption of other devices that will fuel additional demand in the near future.

For example, MEMS microspeakers offer potential for their very small footprint but have typically not performed as well as legacy technology at low frequencies. As microspeaker companies start to improve the performance and achieve design wins – such as within TWS headphones and hearing aids – the volumes could push down the price such that they can compete with traditional speakers.

Furthermore, as emerging systems edge closer to mass adoption, we expect to see greater MEMS adoption.

For example, with the high-volume arrival of AR glasses in 2030, Yole Group expects MEMS micromirrors for LBS microprojection to act as a stop-gap solution (competing with LCoS) before microLEDs become viable.

“While MEMS gas sensors traditionally have performed worse than other sensors, we expect them to find a place within low-cost, low-power-consumption applications with space constraints and commoditization of consumer apps. Applications such as monitoring indoor air quality, where there is renewed interest following the COVID-19 pandemic, could help drive penetration in this market.”
Pierre-Marie Visse
Technology and Market Analyst, Sensing and Actuating, Yole Intelligence (part of the Yole Group)

Another noticeable trend is the transition from 8 to 12-inch MEMS manufacturing. While this involves a significant investment for MEMS players, it allows for better integration with 12-inch CMOS wafers and supports optimal equipment performance, such as for lithography and DRIE steps.

Though this report has existed in various iterations for 20 years now, the MEMS industry is still bringing disruptive technologies and applications to the table. To succeed in this industry, it is necessary to meet the market’s requirements: a growing total accessible market, a technology with an actual added value for specific applications, and enough funding and support to sustain fierce competition against an established industry. But with all these new players, technologies, and megatrends, the future of the MEMS industry looks bright!

Back to the future: How MEMS market drivers have evolved in 20 years

The success of MEMS technologies is indisputable, and MEMS devices continue to be increasingly adopted in almost all markets.

“With the ongoing global demand for sensorization and data-driven applications, the past 20 years during which we have analyzed the MEMS industry have shown continuous innovation and even opened new product perspectives. Over the years, various market drivers, successive crises, and ecosystem changes shaped the US$14 billion MEMS industry of today.”
Pierre Delbos
Technology and Market Analyst, Sensing and Actuating, Yole Intelligence (part of the Yole Group)

In 2003, automotive was a major driver as more advanced safety features started to be incorporated into vehicles. Accelerometers used in airbags, gyroscopes for ESP systems, and the early adoption of pressure sensors for tire pressure monitoring were some of the first automotive applications for MEMS.

MEMS inkjet printheads from HP created significant demand around this time, surpassing automotive in terms of volume and sales: around US$1 billion, compared to US $800 million for automotive. However, one of the most symbolic MEMS devices in the early 2000s was Texas Instruments’ DLP for projection applications that created significant sales, about US$300 million, and Texas Instruments became an early market leader along with HP.

The arrival of the iPhone in 2007 and subsequent widespread adoption of smartphones caused a surge in MEMS demand in the consumer sector, which is the largest market today. Automatic screen rotation created early demand for accelerometers, and the introduction of more advanced smartphone features such as navigation assistance, step counting, and gaming further fueled the demand for inertial sensors. MEMS microphones also started to be used in smartphones – the Motorola Razr was one of the first adopters – and ended up as one of the most shipped MEMS devices in the industry. Microphones were the perfect example of how MEMS’ small size and low power consumption matched smartphone requirements.

A second wave in the consumer electronics industry started in 2016 and saw increased adoption of wearable devices, such as smartwatches and TWS headphones, which also boosted the MEMS industry. In addition to microphones that allow beamforming, inertial sensors were used in TWS headphones for bone conduction sensing, allowing perfect voice pick-up and 3D audio functionalities. This second consumer wave and subsequent surge in demand for inertial MEMS sensors allowed STMicroelectronics and Bosch to take the leading market positions from early leaders such as TI and HP, with revenues surpassing US$1 billion (STMicroelectronics) and nearly US$2 billion (Bosch) today.

Pierre Delbos adds: “As we wait for the consumer market to breathe new life following the recent fall in smartphone demand, the automotive market is now leading growth in the MEMS industry. Automotive is being propelled by the electrification of cars and the introduction of autonomous driving, leading to the complete sensorization of vehicles.”

Indeed, even though more pressure sensors were used in an ICE car than in an electric vehicle, we expect other car domains to undergo massive transformation and reshuffle the needs for MEMS. Autonomous automotive functions are driving the adoption of MEMS inertial sensors, micromirrors, magnetometers, and more. MEMS oscillators are also increasingly being used to support the exchange of the ever-growing amount of data in the automotive sector and within telecommunications, particularly with the arrival of 5G.

Technology outlook: mature, but innovation ongoing across the entire value chain

MEMS technologies are well established in their target markets. But despite the maturity of MEMS components such as pressure sensors, inertial sensors, and microphones, notable innovation is taking place, allowing OEMs to optimize cost, size, and performance, further driving demand.

“Innovations are occurring across the entire MEMS manufacturing process, from the choice of material all the way to the final integration of dies in the package, while noticeable technology trends have developed.”
Khrystyna Kruck
Technology and Cost Analyst, Yole SystemPlus (part of the Yole Group)

From the design and material standpoint, MEMS players are innovating to improve the performance of their devices. For example, Infineon Technologies sealed dual-membrane technology within Goertek’s MEMS microphone in Apple Airpods Pro significantly improves SNR performance.

By moving away from its single-back (2010) and dual-back (2014) designs to a sealed dual-membrane (2019) structure, water and dust are prevented from being trapped between the membrane and the backplate, enabling practically noise-free audio signal capturing (68-75dB(A)). In addition, Vesper’s mono-membrane design inside its MEMS piezoelectric microphone represents a radical technology shift, improving water- and dustproofing for better performance in applications that require high robustness and reliability. This possibly explains why the start-up seduced the 3rd biggest MEMS player, Qualcomm.

But MEMS leaders are also innovating on the integration side. From 2015 to 2018, Bosch’s pressure sensors in the Apple iPhone moved from LGA packaging to an o-ring waterproof package, allowing Apple to improve durability. During this period, Bosch more than halved the size of the MEMS die, from 0.8mm2 to 0.35mm2, following an industry pattern to miniaturize. And from 2018 to 2023, iPhone pressure sensors had the same footprint but were packaged differently. Bosch’s 2023 BMPxxx v2 MEMS pressure sensor die in the latest iPhones, for example, is glued with an adhesive on the ASIC die, which is then glued onto the ceramic substrate, with the electrical connections using wire bondings. Previous versions used flip-chip bonding for the ASIC integration inside the package.

Bosch even came out with a new manufacturing technique! Its new laser reseal process significantly reduces pressure variation to maximize the performance of inertial sensors within the iPhone 14 Pro. While the process is three times more expensive than previous processes, it allows MEMS gyroscopes and accelerometers to be integrated onto the same die, thus enabling further miniaturization of the sensor and better control of the vacuum level inside the cavity.

Stay tuned on yolegroup.com!

Yole Group will attend the MEMS & Imaging Sensors Forum, powered by SEMI. Analysts will be pleased to present key results of the annual MEMS report with a dedicated presentation on Sep. 20, “Future of the MEMS Technology” session. Yole Group’s speaker, Pierre-Marie Visse, will explore the latest and future MEMS trends for a smarter world…

Analysts are glad to meet Yole Group’s customers and business partners, establish new contacts, and help drive business forward during the show.

Come and meet them and look through the latest market, technology, reverse engineering and reverse costing analyses. Ask for a meeting at Yole Group’s booth: [email protected].

Here you’ll find a wealth of practical technical insights and expert advice to help you bring AI and visual intelligence into your products without flying blind.



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