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World’s first ‘Lab-in-fab’ for piezo-MEMS technology to set up shop in Singapore

Ng Qi Siang
Ng Qi Siang10/28/2020 05:09 PM GMT+08  • 3 min read
World’s first ‘Lab-in-fab’ for piezo-MEMS technology to set up shop in Singapore
First wafers are expected to roll out in 2Q2021 and volume production at the end of 2022.
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In a world first, US-listed global semiconductor and Micro-Electromechanical Systems (MEMS) technology leader ST Microelectronics has announced a collaboration with A*Star’s IME research institute and leading Japanese manufacturing-tool vendor ULVAC to jointly establish an 8-inch (200 mm) R&D line focused on Piezo MEMS technology within ST’s existing manufacturing facility in Singapore.

Piezo-based components are widely used to build actuators or sensors out of bulk piezo materials. Innovations in process technologies have allowed the MEMS industry to design and manufacture wafer-level products using thin piezo films. The development of such technology promises to drive the miniaturisation of actuators while driving performance improvements and cost reduction at the same time.

The new initiative will synergise the three partners’ state-of-the-art and complementary competencies in Piezo materials, Piezo-MEMS technologies, and wafer-fab tools. The partnership is intended to boost innovation, as well as accelerate the development of new materials, process technologies and ultimately new products for industry customers. Benedetto Vigna, President, Analog, MEMS and Sensors Group at STMicroelectronics, sees this collaboration as crucial in scaling up piezo-MEMs production and improving yields on a shorter timescale.

“The public-private partnership between IME, ST and ULVAC has led to the creation of a unique R&D line, which will bring about novel products using piezo materials, and boost the competitiveness of our partners. says IME executive director Prof. Dim-Lee Kwong. He cites the new initiative as proof that Singapore continues to be an attractive environment for industry leaders to innovate and grow their businesses.

“We are proud of being a “Lab-in-Fab” partner of ST and IME in developing advanced Piezo-MEMS for numerous promising future applications. This is also a strong proof of ULVAC’s leadership in providing manufacturing technology solutions to the Piezo-MEMS industry,” says Dr. Koukou Suu, Executive Officer and Senior Fellow of ULVAC. He says that the aim of the three partners is to become a world-class manufacturer of innovative piezo-MEMS technology, which has in the past proven very difficult to develop.

The “Lab-in-Fab” is expected to enhance ST Singapore’s existing manufacturing portfolio and speed up the adoption of Piezo MEMs actuators in new fields. Prominent use cases include MEMS Mirrors for Smart Glasses, AR Headsets and LIDAR systems, Piezoelectric Micromachined Ultrasonic Transducers (PMUT) for emerging medical applications, and Piezo Heads for Commercial and industrial 3-D Printing. Suu hopes that new startups and SMEs will use the “Lab-in-Fab” as a platform to bring innovative new products to market.

The new partnership comes a year after ST opened a new 8-inch (200mm) wafer fabrication facility (SG8E) in Singapore during its 50th anniversary year in 2019. It comprises a new cleanroom area at ST’s Ang Mo Kio campus and hosts tools and dedicated resources from the three parties, including MEMS technology R&D as well as process scientists and engineers. These will be fully embedded into ST’s Manufacturing Infrastructure, says Vigna.

IME’s role is to provide a knowledge base and industrial drive in the design, process integration and system integration of piezo-MEMS devices. It will also contribute cutting edge tools to ensure seamless product flow through to production on-site, leveraging existing ST resources to benefit from the economies of scale of ST’s wafer fabs at its Ang Mo Kio campus.

The lab-in-fab is seen to be operational with first wafers in 2Q2021 and volume production at the end of 2022. “We are bringing the next generation of MEMs in Singapore,” proclaims Vigna.

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