APM is a leader in providing MEMS solutions
APM is a pure-play MEMS wafer foundry founded in 2001. It is one of the leading MEMS wafer foundry service providers with a 27,000 square foot 6-inch MEMS fab comprised of a broad range of MEMS fabrication capabilities. This combination of automotive grade quality, competitive price and high volume capacity makes APM especially attractive to both the automotive and consumer electronics industries. The company is affiliated with the UMC group, the 2nd largest IC foundry in the world.
Yole Développement: APM is one of the famous MEMS pure play foundry for the Asia Pacific area. Could you give us some information on your company and organization?
Yu Hsian Tsai: APM has been in MEMS industry since 2001. It owns a 6” MEMS fab in HsinChuSciencePark in Taiwan. In 2007, APM turned into a pure-play MEMS foundry from an IDM company, and has been focusing on the fabrication of MEMS elements since then. Currently, APM’s wafer output has reached an all time high of over 8000 wafers per month. Among them are different kinds of sensors, passive elements, and actuators, which are used in consumer, automotive, industrial, and biomedical applications. APM has flat organization structure, which greatly enhances corporate communication. This helps to shorten the decision making process, and therefore lead to quick response on diversified product demands. Another important fact of APM is its composition of two groups of people -- one is the semiconductor manufacturing group from APM’s acquisition of an IC foundry when company first established; the other is the MEMS developing group which APM has been building since 9 years ago. With CMOS foundry discipline and MEMS technology expertise, APM is very capable of accommodating various MEMS devices in one single fab from development to production.
YD: What type of product and technology you are offering to customers?
YHT: APM fabricates devices on silicon, glass, SOI, and cavity SOI substrates. With its complete MEMS process modules, multiple platforms are built. APM can consequently achieve fast prototyping or production transferring for various MEMS devices by utilizing its process modules as building blocks. In addition to the “standard” MEMS process, APM comes up with special techniques, such as single side wet etching and special substrate handling, to ease the process complexity and therefore raise the device yield. Post process on CMOS wafers is also one of APM’s fortes. It makes our customers’integrated MEMS successful.
YD: What is APM’s main knowledge and technical added value?
YHT: APM has been focusing on production for MEMS devices since day one. It has applied Taiwan’s semiconductor experience to build up its own MEMS production know-how such as using real time lot tracking system and real time SPC system to maintain precise process control and monitoring. Under its IC fab-like production discipline, APM has accumulated massive production experience, and therefore can assure short cycle time and high quality in both production and development stage. In its almost 10 years of production experience, APM is used to collaborating with customers on design verification and process modification, and this early engagement assists in smooth transition from the prototype to mass production.
YD: Could you give us example of success story?
YHT: APM recently announced its shipment of 2 million pressure sensor elements to automotive industry. For the last several years, APM has devoted time and efforts in production quality control and it paid off when working with the automotive customers where quality is always the first requirement. Not only serving as their production foundry partner, APM also collaborated with customers on the development of newgeneration products. APM has proved itself being able to offer both high-quality manufacture and competitive price at the same time. APM has ample experiences in working with startup companies, too. By leveraging APM’s production knowledge, startup companies can tune its preliminary designs to a high level of manufacturability in short time. APM has been helping startup companies in optical and biomedical applications, for example, from prototype to production ready within 3 months. It also works with many companies in consumer electronics industry, such as sensors for portable devices, to continuously release their MEMS devices to market from generations to generations.
YD: APM is part of the UMC group. What is the benefit between both companies and customers?
YHT: As an affiliated company of UMC, APM gains a worldwide exposure for its MEMS foundry service. Its financial backup also guarantees APM’s long term business continuity. With different business strategies and targeted customers, both companies can refer potential customers to each other and help to find a better match. In the manufacturing aspect, UMC’s supports on possible material and capacity shortage can be essential, not to mention UMC’s frontend CMOS process--a great match for APM’s post CMOS process as the integrated MEMS solution. On the other hand, APM’s MEMS knowledge makes it a precursor to UMC’s MEMS activities, and may also bring over the business opportunities on the CMOS counterpart for UMC. For volume concern from specific customers, one possible working model would be “development in APM’s 6” facility, and production in UMC’s 8” facility”. In this way, it could save enormous development expense for customers in the early stage, and still preserve the options for a high volume demand in the future.
YD: APM unveiled a good increase of about 17% in USD in 2008 compared to the previous year. What is growth for 2009? What are you expecting for 2010?
YHT: Year 2009 overall has only slight growth compared with 2008 due to the economic downturn in the first half. From the second half, we started to see steady growth, and by the end of 2009, the demand was strongly picking up in both consumer and automotive markets. For 2010, APM is currently ahead of the business plan, and is being very optimistic. This is not only due to an exciting revenue increase in the first quarter of 2010, but also a balanced product portfolio.
YD: How do you explain these changes?
YHT: During the downturn in 2009, APM, instead of cutting labor force, maintained its size and dedicated the engineering power in process stability and product quality improvement. When economy reversed, APM quickly responded to customer needs, and further released the capacity bottleneck by product allocation, yield improvement, and cycle time reduction. These are all continuous efforts, and can not be achieved in short period of time. In the mean time, our long-term incubated customers and their products start to shine in the markets, and APM gets the chances to grow with them.
YD: What is your point of view about MEMS pure-play foundry business model?
YHT: In my point of view, there are three major business models regarding MEMS manufacturing; they are IDM, contract manufacturer (CM), and pure-play foundry. Among them, in my opinion, the pure-play foundry has the highest entry barrier due to its distinct product mix. However, it is also the one having tightest bonds with customers, and may be most fruitful in the years to come. APM expects the “one device, one process, one package” MEMS rule remain prevailed, and may induce huge financial burden to MEMS product companies, especially those in small to medium size. It makes great sense for them to collaborate with pure-play foundry to avoid capital investment and share the development cost with other fabless companies. These companies then can focus on what they can do best such as design, packaging, testing, or even sales and marketing. Moreover, pure-play foundry also has no conflict of interests with their customers. APM has proved to be able to embrace versatile devices concurrently in production mode. It is now working hard on expanding product portfolio from sensors and actuators to micro structures and packaging techniques, such as LED submount, TSV substrate, and wafer level packaging. With its pure-play foundry business model, APM aims to open up a broader MEMS field, and hedge against economic cycles at the same time.
(This Interview is also published on the MEMS April 2010.)