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executive interview Tronics’ Langlois makes moves in MEMS By Peter Clarke Pascal Langlois has ben CEO at Tronics for nine months. He discusses plans for the company and directions for the complex and diverse MEMS technology sector. Tronics Microsystems SA (Grenoble, France) was formed in 1997 as a spin out from the French government owned CEALeti research laboratories to commercialize customer-specific MEMS manufacturing technology. In September 2013, the company appointed semiconductor veteran Pascal Langlois as CEO and there are signs that Langlois now plans to move things along; introducing new technologies, pushing into new application sectors and taking the company to an initial public offering (IPO) of shares. Langlois had previously been chief sales and marketing at ST-Ericsson, the ill-fated mobile processor joint venture. Before that Langlois had served NXP Semiconductors as sales and marketing senior vice president. Before that he had come to Philips Semiconductors along with its acquisition of VLSI Technology Inc. in 1999. But with a history in traditional CMOS integrated circuits Langlois has had to adapt. A MEMS foundry is not the same as a conventional CMOS logic foundry. It is much smaller in terms of wafer throughput – because MEMS elements themselves are so small – and much more diverse. Each product can require a unique twist on a more generic MEMS manufacturing process and the work Tronics does often extends into custom packaging Pascal Langlois, Tronics’ CEO “We have plans to move to 8-inch wafers when necessary, within 2 or 3 years”. and IP creation alongside its customers, which are more like partners. It even sees Tronics making some products under its own name, something that is frowned upon in the CMOS domain because of issues of competing with customers. “We are doing a few things under our own name. High performance inertial accelerometers and gyroscopes are some of them. There are special reasons behind for that,” said Langlois. This is mainly where Tronics is manufacturing for military customers who wish the MEMS to be manufactured in continental Europe for strategic supply-chain reasons. “But foundry is the main part of our business with operations in Grenoble and Dallas with 70 and 20 people at those locations, respectively. About 70 percent of our revenue is foundry and the rest in other business,” Langlois told EE Times Europe. To date Tronics has not generally tried to compete in the lower accuracy, fast moving consumer business. It prefers to build engineering relationships with customers and create high value add MEMS sensors. This is reflected in the breakdown of sales which is about 70 percent in industrial sector, 15 percent in aerospace, military and security and about 10 percent in life-sciences by way of so-called bioMEMS. “We have small percentage in the consumer sector,” said Langlois. But Langlois’ background is in mobile and consumer electronics. Could that small percentage in consumer be about to change? The company manufactures using a breadth of conventional MEMS technologies as well as developing new ones. “We are characterized by a great number and type of projects,” said Langlois. “We make inertial accelerometers, gyroscopes, also RF-MEMS switches, MEMS for blood diagnostics, for medical DNA, micro-mirror and optical MEMS technologies. We are a broadline foundry,” he said. As well as offering diverse manufacturing processes, Tronics strives to maintain a diverse client base. “Some are fabless – we are supporting DelfMEMS in RF-MEMS for example; we have a number of fabless customers in consumer and things like disposable medical. But we also have OEMs that want to add miniaturization to their products and we have high volume semiconductor IDMs that want to outsource production,” said Langlois. Is there a trend towards fabless customers as MEMS moves towards a fabless/ foundry business model? It’s not as simple as that Langlois said. “There are many new customers getting interested in MEMS in all categories; fabless, OEMs, IDMs. Many are coming to us for our micromachining toolset to do things beyond classical MEMS; micropackaging, integration of optics and electronics, metal deposition and so forth.” Piezoresistive M&NEMS Tronics has 6-inch wafer fabs in Grenoble and Dallas. The first is capable of 10k wafers per year and the second 50k wafers per year. And for some consumer MEMS production Tronics outsources production to a 200mm wafer fab in Asia. Could that partner be Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd., Globalfoundries or United Microelectronics Corp. all of which have initiatives to get into MEMS production? Langlois declined to say who the manufacturing partner is, or to share information about Tronics’ own manufacturing capacity utilization. For now the manufacturing resources are enough he said. “We have plans to move to 8-inch wafers when necessary, within 2 or 3 years. Much of the equipment is already 200mm capable.” How soon that upgrade takes place may depend on whether a particular technology being introduced by Tronics finds favor in the industry. In 2013 Tronics announced that had taken a license to industrialize CEA-Leti’s Micro and Nano Electromechanical Systems technology (M&NEMS), which is based on piezoresistive nanowires, rather than capacitive detection of moving mass. The promise was that the technology would allow inertial MEMS for accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometer and pressure sensors to be built on one manufacturing platform with a much smaller die area than conventional methods. The high-levels of integration and commonality should also simplify the control and readout circuitry resulting in smaller, lower cost, lower power consumption inertial MEMS sensors. In February 2014 Tronics announced it had developed 6-degrees-of-freedom (6DOF) MEMS chips based on the 16 Electronic Engineering Times Europe September 2014 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE SEP 2014
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