TSMC Announces CMOS MEMS Microphones

Buried on page 3 of this EE Times article on Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC) on their 10nM prep & 16 nM tuning, we find this throwaway sentence: In addition, it will expand its capabilities in CMOS MEMS to include MEMS microphones, gas and biometric sensors.1 This is backed up in TSMC’s annual report in the R&D Future Major Project Summary where we find Special SoC technology (including new NVM, MEMS, RF, analog) and 5nm transistors.2

2014_MEMS_MIC_Market-Share

2014 MEMS microphone share. Note Sonion is in the “All others” share, Akustica is owned by Bosch, and Invensense bought Analog Devices MEMS microphone business in 2013. Also, many second tier manufacturers purchase their dies from Infineon, Omron or MEMSense
Click photo to go to June 2014 EE Times article

The MEMS (Micro Electrical-Mechanical System) microphone, also known as a silicon microphone or a microphone chip. A pressure-sensitive diaphragm is etched directly into a silicon wafer by MEMS processing techniques, and when used with hearing aids & CI’s it has an integrated preamp; and some MEMS mics also have an integrated A/D converter. As you can see from this 2014 graph,3, 4 Knowles is the big player in the industry, and Sonion is in the “all others” category.

According to EE Times:3, 4

MEMS microphone makers worldwide are cashing in on a market that will top $1 billion in sales in 2014 according to IHS Inc. (Englewood, Colo.). The majority of the die inside these MEMS microphones come from just a few suppliers:

  • Knowles Corp. (Itasca, Ill.) makes its own dies;
  • Infineon Technologies AG (Neubiberg, Germany) supplies dies to AAC Technologies Holdings Inc. (Shenzhen, China), Goertek Inc. (Shandong, China), Best Sound Electronics, BSE Co. Ltd. (Seoul, Korea), Hosiden Corp. (Osaka, Japan), Gettop Acoustic Co. Ltd. (ShanDong, China) and others;
  • Invensense Inc. (San Jose, Calif.), who bought Analog Devices unique single-chip CMOS MEMS microphone business in 2013, uses TSMC foundry;
  • While always using its own interface device STMicroelectronics (Geneva, Switzerland) sources the mechanical chip for some of its MEMS microphones from Omron Corp. (Kyoto, Japan);
  • A handful of others also make their own proprietary MEMS microphone dies, notably Akustica (manufactured by parent company Robert Bosch GmbH, Stuttgart, Germany), Wolfson Microelectronics pic, Edinburgh U.K. (acquired by Cirrus Logic, Inc., Austin, Texas) is believed by IHS to be using a Teledyne Dalsa Inc. (Waterloo, Canada) foundry;
  • Several Chinese and Japanese manufacturers are making MEMS microphone die, such as MEMSensing Microsystems Co., Ltd. (Suzhou, China) and New Japan Radio Co. (NJRC, Tokyo).

Knowles began its research in MEMS microphones early since it already had a successful hearing-aid microphone business, but it quickly readapted to the smartphone and tablet craze with the world’s first surface mounted microphone — the SiSonic Series, circa 2001. This series was one of the first to eliminate the cost of traditional electret condenser microphones (ECM) subassemblies. To date, Knowles has shipped over five billion SiSonic MEMS microphones.

The Knowles 1.1 square millimeter MEMS die has two bond pad connections to the top plate (perforated with holes) and bottom plate fashioned from a single layer of polysilicon, according to Chipworks. Image Source: Chipworks
Click image to go to associated EE Times page

The Akustica AKU2000 was its first, a digital MEMS microphone whose diaphragm was its formed using the etch and release of a serpentine pattern in the CMOS metallization layers, according to Chipworks. Image source: Chipworks.
Click image to go to associated EE Times page

References:

  1. TSMC Preps 10nm, Tunes 16nm (quote on page 3). EE Times, 9/17/2015, by Rick Merritt;
  2. Taiwan Semiconductor Annual Report (quote on page 42);
  3. MEMS Microphones Busting Out All Over. EE Times, 6/24/2014, by R Colin Johnson.
  4. MEMS Microphones Report – 2014. IHS Technology Report, 2/18/2014, by Marwan Boustany.
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About the author

Dan Schwartz

Electrical Engineer, via Georgia Tech

2 Comments

  1. Sean O'Brien
    September 25, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    Dan, can you explain in laymans terms what exactly this means? Thanks! LOVE your blog!!!


    • Dan Schwartz
      September 26, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      This basically means Knowles will have a new competitor; and that these upcoming Mics from Taiwan Semi may percolate into hearing aids.


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