Given the down turn in the semiconductor equipment market, suppliers are now focusing more intently on the compelling opportunity MEMS fabrication is presenting, according to In-Stat/MDR.

There are some 60 MEMS fab/foundries, several hundred start-ups (many of which have their own in-house prototyping and/or fabrication facilities), as well as countless universities and government labs worldwide researching MEMS technology. The high tech market research firm reports that continued unit growth and device diversity, as well as this large potential customer base, is making the MEMS sector a progressively more attractive market for semiconductor equipment manufacturers.

"Equipment for MEMS fabrication is now more available than ever before, ranging from dual purpose (for both semiconductor and MEMS processing steps) to purely MEMS-specific," says Marlene Bourne, a senior analyst with In-Stat/MDR.

One of the biggest competitive factors in the MEMS fabrication equipment market will come from the suppliers themselves - in the form of used equipment. While many start-ups may have funds to install in-house facilities, they often purchase used, rather than new, equipment. As a result, equipment suppliers are finding themselves buying their own old equipment to re-sell it to this particular market sector.

More semiconductor equipment manufacturers are involved in MEMS-specific equipment than would be expected. Several of the top suppliers now have divisions focused solely on MEMS solutions, and no doubt more will emerge in time. There are even several start-ups who have developed and are offering equipment specifically for the MEMS market. Toolsets range from those for deposition, lithography and etching, to wafer bonders, dryers and other equipment.