Section 1

MEMS and Microsystems in Europe: Summary of Findings


MCC (Microelectronics and Computer Technology Consortium), a North American-based research-and-development consortium located in Austin, Texas, organized and conducted a survey and assessment of activity in MEMS (micro-electro mechanical systems) and microsystems technologies in Europe during first and second quarters of 1999. A central element of the assessment sequence was a two-week MCC Strategic Technology Tour conducted in north central Europe. The assessment of MEMS and microsystems in Europe was co-sponsored and partly funded through WTEC (World Technology Evaluation Center) at Loyola College, under its National Science Foundation funding. See Appendix 2 for further information on the structure and objectives of the MCC Strategic Technology Tour program.

The MCC/WTEC Strategic Technology Tour (STT) to Europe in MEMS and Microsystems took place March 21 to April 1, 1999. Represented on the STT team were MCC member companies Hewlett Packard, Honeywell, HRL, Kodak, Nortel Networks, and Texas Instruments.

During the two weeks of the STT benchmarking and assessment work in Europe, the MCC team conducted site visits at universities, research institutes, and private-sector firms in Germany (Munich), Switzerland (Neuchatel and Lausanne), France (Grenoble, Valence, and Paris), Belgium (Leuven), and the Netherlands (Eindhoven and Enschede.) In addition, team members met with representatives of several professional societies and consulting firms who provided their perspectives on technology and business developments related to MEMS and microsystems.

The organizations our group visited and conducted discussions with were as follows:

Universities and Associated Research Institutes

National Research Institutes and Laboratories

Private Firms

Professional Societies and Consultancies

This document summarizes the observations and findings of the MCC Strategic Technology Tour. Details of the findings about MEMS and microsystems in Europe are found in the following chapters of this report.

For further information, contact Howard Curtis, MCC Global Technology Services (Tel. 512-338-3792; Fax 512-338-3898; E-mail:

Summary of Findings

Definition of MEMS and Microsystems in Europe

The term MEMS (micro-electro mechanical systems) is heard frequently in Europe, but most of the organizations our group visited prefer “microsystems” (or the acronym MST — microsystems technology) to define the domain of interest. MST has a significantly broader meaning than MEMS. While devices fabricated with IC technology that include moving or moveable parts for actuation or sensing are of course included, so are other categories of very compact device types where shape is critical to functionality, including both passive and active devices. The field of MST also includes work that seeks to incorporate such devices into highly compact systems.1

A useful operative definition of the scope of MST as understood in Europe was developed by a NEXUS task force in 1998 (see below for a brief description of NEXUS):

“Microstructure products have structures in the micron range and have their technical function provided by the shape of the microstructure. Microsystems combine several microcomponents, optimized as an entire system, to provide one or several specific functions, in many cases including microelectronics.” (Market Analysis for Microsystems, NEXUS Task Force, p. 24)

As evidenced by this definition, microsystems in Europe do not necessarily include integrated circuits, nor are they always monolithically integrated. As this report will show, the European technical community envisions numerous types and varieties of devices and applications for future microsystems in Europe, making them a pervasive influence in many product sectors ranging from automotive and domestic electronics to the medical and pharmaceutical sector.

European Microsystems Programs

Pan-European Microsystems Programs

The European Commission’s science and technology funding programs made a major commitment to the MST domain beginning with the EC’s Fourth Framework Program (1994-98.) On the order of 100 million ECU in EC funding was invested over this four-year period in the MST domain through ESPRIT in information technology and Brite-Euram in industrial technology and materials. Given the fifty-percent industry matching contribution required of industry participants in most Fourth Framework projects, the overall investment can be estimated at 50 million ECU per year. EC funding supported individual pre-competitive R&D projects, but also the development of several important cross-cutting infrastructure programs, such as Europractice and NEXUS.

Fig. 1.1. NEXUS—Organizational Structure

(Source: NEXUS).

The EC’s Fifth Framework Program (1998 – 2002) is similar in scale to the Fourth Framework but somewhat different in the way that it groups funding categories for research and development in information technology. The Fifth Framework will support R&D in MEMS and MST under a “Key Action” called Essential Technologies and Infrastructures, which falls within the Information Society Technologies Program. Given that the EC concluded its first call for proposals for the Fifth Framework as of June 1999, definitive data on the level of funding that will be allocated to MEMS and MST was not available at the time of this report. However, observers anticipate support approximately equivalent to that provided during the Fourth Framework, or 100 million ECU per year.

National-Level Microsystems Programs in Europe

Among nationally funded European R&D programs in MEMS and MST, which exist in parallel with the EC-level activities, the strongest are in Germany, Switzerland, and France. Germany’s investment in MEMS/MST R&D for 1998 has been estimated at $60 million, with an additional $90 million over five years for nanotechnology work. While the mission of the national research institute CEA in France was orginally tied to defense and the nuclear power industry, researchers in microelectronics and MST at CEA-LETI have established strong ties to the electronics industry (LETI was uniformly acknowledged by members of our assessment team to be a center of excellence in MEMS and MST research.) In Switzerland, which invests approximately $9 million per year in microsystems R&D through a national program called MINAST, CSEM — which is subsidized by the Swiss government — plays a major role in commercializing MEMS and MST technology.

While the major EC funding initiatives have a unifying effect, considerable variation remains among individual European countries in the particulars and points of emphasis of R&D in MEMS and MST. Germany, for instance, demonstrates a strong emphasis on automotive and medical applications, with a relatively decentralized approach. In France, there is a greater sense of centralized direction in the nationally funded R&D program, with the strong program at CEA-LETI as a critical piece of the overall R&D and commercialization strategy. The direction of microsystems work in Switzerland, on the other hand, is clearly influenced by the capabilities of the Swiss watch industry.

In providing input to the high-level findings of this Strategic Technology Tour, several members of the MCC team commented that Europe, through both EC-funded and national efforts, was growing “very organized” in MEMS and MST and that the U.S. needs to take notice.

MEMS/Microsystems Infrastructure: Universities and Research Institutes

When the MCC team planned the itinerary for the Strategic Technology Tour in MEMS and Microsystems, we decided to favor site visits to industry players over those to universities. We did, however, visit with university research groups at EPFL (Lausanne, Switzerland), TIMA (Grenoble, France), and the Mesa Research Institute (Leuven, Belgium.) As it turned out, the university visits were extremely valuable and informative, both from the standpoint of the research under way at the universities and from the perspective that these visits gave our group on activity in European industry. Among our primary observations were:

MEMS/Microsystems Infrastructure: Technical

Prior to the conduct of the STT, our team identified design and modeling tools, testing and reliability, and packaging for MEMS and MST as three of the primary infrastructure areas we wanted to investigate. Information on these topics was relatively scant, but sufficient to support several high-level observations, as follows.

MEMS/Microsystems Device and Process Technologies: The State of the Art

On a worldwide basis, MEMS devices or microsystems which have successfully established high-volume commercial markets include accelerometers and pressure sensors for automotive applications, inkjet print heads, and digital micro-mirrors for image projection. The automotive MEMS supplier group has strong European representation by companies such as Bosch, TEMIC, SensoNor, and VTI-Hamlin, all of which are major players in this market. The other two device classes are mostly supplied by U.S. and Japanese companies.

In addition to major industry players, our team visited with research institutes, government laboratories, and universities pursuing new and emerging technologies and applications, in order to find out about the future of MEMS and microsystems in Europe.

In summary, the focus in the European microsystems community is on device and system miniaturization using the processes and materials that fulfill particular application requirements. The device domains receiving the greatest attention in Europe appear to be those that are relatively simple, and that have limited requirements for movement. The push is toward simple miniaturized devices which provide incremental performance advantages over their traditional counterparts, not revolutionary new concepts and break-through applications. There is a large amount of work going on in the micro-fluidics area with medical, biological, and chemical applications targeted as the next area where microsystems will move into commercial markets.

MEMS/Microsystems Market Forecasts and Commercialization Trends

NEXUS Market Estimates and Forecasts

NEXUS concluded a major market study for MEMS/MST in fall 1998, which has been released under the title Market Analysis for Microsystems: 1996-2002. Among the salient findings and predictions are:

Table 1.1.
MST Markets for Established Product Types—
Predicted Market Segment Sizes for 1996 and 2002 ($millions): Established Product Types
Product Types 1996   2002  
  Units $ Units $
  (millions) (millions) (millions) (millions)
HDD heads 530 4500 1500 12000
Inkjet printheads 100 4400 500 10000
Heart pacemakers 0.5 1000 0.8 3700
In vitro diagnostics 700 450 4000 2800
Hearing aids 4 1150 7 2000
Pressure sensors 115 600 309 1300
Chemical sensors 100 300 400 800
Infrared imagers 0.01 220 0.4 800
Accelerometers 24 240 90- 430
Gyroscopes 6 150 30 360
Magnetoresistive sensors 15 20 60 60
Microspectrometers 0.006 3 0.15 40
TOTALS 1595 $13,033 6807 $34,290
NOTE: Figures are for world markets (Source: NEXUS 1998).
Table 1.2.
MST Markets by Product and Application—2002—
Predicted Market Segment Sizes for 2002 ($millions): Existing and Future Products


IT Peripherals Medical and Biochemical Industry and Automation Telecommunication Automotive Product Environmental Monitoring Total Turnover per Product
Read/write heads 12000           12000
Inkjet printheads 900     1000     10000
Hearing airds   2000         2000
Heart pacemakers   3700         3700
Pressure sensors   200 600   500   1300
In vitro diagnostics   2800         2800
Chemical sensors           800 800
Accelerometers     130   300   430
IR imagers     800       800
Gyroscopes 240   60   60   360
Optical switches       1000     1000
Drug delivery systems   1000         1000
Lab on chip   1000         1000
Magneto-optical heads 500           500
Miscellaneous             810
Total turnover per application $21,740 $10,700 $1,590 $2,000 $860 $800 $38,500
NOTE: Figures are for world market (Source: NEXUS 1998).
Table 1.3.
MST Markets for Emerging Product Types
Predicted Market Segment Sizes for 1996 and 2002 ($millions): Emerging Product Types
Product Types 1996   2002  
  Units $ Units $
  (millions) (millions) (millions) (millions)
Drug delivery systems 1 10 100 1000
Optical switches 1 50 40 1000
Lab on ship (DNA, HPLCE) 0 0 100 1000
Magneto optical heads 0.01 1 100 500
Projection valves 0.1 10 1 300
Coil on chip 20 10 600 100
Micro relays   0.1 50 100
Micromotors 0.1 5 2 80
Inclinometers 1 10 20 70
Injection nozzles 10 10 30 30
Anti-collision sensors 0.01 0.5 2 20
Electronic noses 0.001 0.1 0.05 5
TOTALS 33 $107 1045 $4,205
NOTE: Figures are for world markets (Source: NEXUS 1998).

It should be noted that the NEXUS market study was undertaken by a group of influential industry figures in MEMS/MST, with little external representation. To some degree, the findings may reflect the inherent optimism of these players.

MEMS/MST Application and Commercialization Trends in Europe

As in North America, the commercial evolution of MEMS and microsystems technology has reached something of a plateau. Initial commercialization in certain application domains such as IT peripherals (particularly inkjet printers and hard disk drive read-write heads), automotive (accelerometers for air bag activation), and medicine (pacemakers and hearing aids) are well established. New applications are forecast, but in many instances are being held back by competition with existing technology regimes, or by inadequate infrastructure, in areas such as testing and reliability methods and metrics. There is a sense that a new “big hit” is needed, but little agreement on where it will emerge.

Published: January 2000; WTEC Hyper-Librarian