SilMach revolutionizes watchmaking with the introduction of the first hybrid MEMS micromotor. With the launch of the first watch powered by MEMS, Jérôme Mouly, Director, Photonic & Sensing Division and Pierre-Marie Visse, Technology & Market Analysts at Yole Intelligence, along with Pierre-François Louvigné, co-CEO at SilMach, take a look at this technology – which should continue to make headlines in the years to come.
This article is based on the Status of the MEMS Industry report. Yole Intelligence is a Yole Group company.
MEMS: an ever-changing market
With well-established products mostly targeting the consumer segment, the MEMS market has gained a certain level of maturity. Nevertheless, it will still exhibit relatively dynamic growth, with a CAGR2022-2028 in revenue forecasted to reach +5%. This growth is driven by both techno-push and market-pull approaches that foster the replacement of conventional technologies with MEMS in existing products, as well as the development of new MEMS-based applications.
In addition to areas in constant technological evolution (e.g., automotive with the ADAS and vehicle electrification boost; industry and datacom/telecom with the advent of industry 4.0 and 5G…), MEMS address very specific innovative devices that are still at a low maturity level but could enter a ramp-up phase in the coming years. In fact, this innovative device sub-segment is expected to reach a fairly significant growth in revenue of +12% (CAGR2022-2028), according to the Status of the MEMS Industry report, 2023 edition.
The increasing penetration rate of this technology in innovative devices can be illustrated by a few examples. For instance, the microspeaker from xMEMS, already integrated in TWS (true wireless stereo) earbuds, enables better size and cost optimization, better integration with SMT assembly, and the possibility to be waterproof and dustproof, compared to the traditional technology. Meanwhile, the Menlo Micro ideal switch aims to replace electromechanical relays with better linearity, lower power consumption, longer life, and higher switching speed. Another example is the efficiency of the active cooling device from Frore Systems, which enables a fan-less notebook to operate at its full CPU capacities while keeping the computer quiet. What all these examples have in common is the use of advanced MEMS technologies to solve system size, cost, and certain performance issues. The right match between further development for improved performance and market adoption could lead these devices from design wins to mass production.
Focus on SilMach’s hybrid MEMS electrostatic micromotor
The silicon micromotor developed by SilMach also reflects this dynamic. It moves beyond mere technological prowess to reveal its full potential at the heart of a watch called “The TimeChanger”. This hybrid micromotor embeds MEMS as well as traditional watch components. Within the miniaturized package (footprint of 77.9 mm2 and thickness of just 1.1mm) reside a monolithic actuator and a rotor, both made of silicon. An axis connects the rotor to a mechanical part – either the minute or hour hands, in the case of the watch.
The TimeChanger takes full advantage of the intrinsic features of MEMS and stands apart from the current Lavet motor with its compactness, accuracy, immunity to magnetic fields, and energy efficiency. The component has been designed as an electronic chip that is SMT (surface-mount technology)-assembly compatible. This strongly simplifies system architecture and provides greater integration flexibility, enabling a wider range of possible functions.
The TimeChanger is the result of development work spanning 20 years, partially built on a long-standing partnership with Timex Group and its French subsidiary, micro-precision parts manufacturer Fralsen. More generally, new MEMS are now capitalizing on past developments to reduce the time between R&D and product launch. From the first pressure sensors commercialized in the 1990s to the first MEMS microspeakers, this time has been nearly divided by 2. MEMS industry capitalize on the lessons learnt in past development, reducing R&D and development steps, but the ramp-up to high volumes is always taking time.
Widening the sphere of possibilities
Like SilMach, an increasing number of innovative MEMS companies are exhibiting a certain degree of financial stability – confirming that, despite its relative high level of maturity in some market segments, the evolution of MEMS technology has not yet run its course.
SilMach plans to continue pursuing the maturation of its hybrid technology through a broader range of watches, thereby further demonstrating the capabilities of its micromotor in a product used in everyday life. The design could evolve from two motors placed side by side to a stacked assembly that would operate both hands. Whatever form it takes, the watch industry is just the tip of the iceberg. The company already sees the extent of the possibilities that this technological building block – which combines microelectronics and micromechanics – can offer. For instance, MEMS features could reach their full potential in wearable and implantable medical devices such as micropumps, microvalves, or micromachines for very localized surgeries in which reliability, miniaturization, non-magnetic properties, and long lifecycle are sought.
About the authors
A physicist by training, with a combined postgraduate degree in Materials Science and Engineering as well as an MBA, Pierre-François Louvigné worked for 23 years in the French Defence Procurement Agency where he had various responsibilities in connection with innovation and armaments programmes. At the same time Pierre-François managed a small family business dedicated to the manufacture and sale of fashion items in Paris for 13 years. In 2001 he created the role of “Mr Titanium”, a role he pursued until 2021, advising ministers and major industrial groups on public policy and procurement strategy in respect of this high-tech metal. He joined SilMach in 2015 in the position of Sales Director to assist Patrice Minotti in the company’s economic development and launch of its industrial transformation. Jean-Baptiste Carnet has a Masters degree in Finance and has pursued a career initially orientated to market finance and asset management. After a short period in Luxembourg, Jean-Baptiste spent three years as an analyst and joint manager of several funds at a Parisian company geared towards innovation and industrialisation in European SMEs and mid-tier firms. At the start of 2019 he returned to corporate finance, rejoining SilMach to assist Patrice Minotti, the Chairman and founder of SilMach, in administrative and financial matters. Since October 2021, Patrice Minotti has retired from his role as General Manager, which is now shared by Jean-Baptiste and Pierre-François. Patrice Minotti, the founder of SilMach, now holds the position of Chair of the Executive Board of SilMach in a non-executive capacity.
Pierre-Marie Visse is a Technology and Market analyst at Yole Intelligence, part of Yole Group, working with the Photonics and Sensing division. He’s a member of Yole Intelligence’s Sensing and Actuating team and contributes daily to the technical, marketing, and strategic analysis on various MEMS and sensing technologies.
Prior to Yole, Pierre-Marie served as an R&D project manager at eLichens, specializing in the detection of environmental gases, for 2.5 years. His primary focus was the development of gas sensors and IoT for gas detection.
Previously, Pierre-Marie worked at TDK-Tronics for more than ten years as an inertial MEMS designer for custom sensors, accelerometers, and gyroscopes. He then worked as an R&D project manager for the navigation, industrial, and watchmaking industries.
Pierre-Marie graduated from ESIEE-Engineering (France) in 2010, specializing in microsystems.
Jérôme Mouly is Director of the Photonics & Sensing Division at Yole Intelligence, part of Yole Group.
Jérôme manages the expansion of the technical expertise and market know-how of the team. In addition, Jerome’s mission focusses on the management of business relationships with company leaders and the development of market research and strategy consulting activities.
He has conducted more than 100 marketing and technological analyses for industrial groups, start-ups, and institutes in the field of MEMS and sensing technologies.
Jérôme has been also deeply engaged in Yole’s finance activities with a dedicated focus on the commercial exploitation of smart system technologies and access to funding opportunities.
Jérôme is regularly involved in international conferences, with presentations and keynotes.