GRENOBLE, France, July 14, 2003 -- Like almost all players in the French nano and MEMS industries, Tronic's Microsystems SA is based in the east of France, near the future site of Minatec Center for Innovation in Micro and Nanotechnology. And like most players there, the company is a spinoff from CEA-LETI, one of the largest MEMS R&D centers in Europe.
But Tronic's does not intend to remain at the research stage. The company announced in May a new MEMS production facility, with big numbers attached to it: 7,000 square feet for the production area, including 4,300 square feet of clean room space. The facility, due to be completed in July, will be entirely dedicated to the production of high-end MEMS-based custom components, with a capacity of 10,000 wafers per year.
Prior to this announcement, Tronic's had closed two rounds of funding for a total of more than $12 million, and appointed Peter Pfluger, a veteran of the microelectronics industry, as its chief executive.
"One of our goals is to increase our market presence in the U.S. and Asia. An active marketing action is being conducted to reach that objective," Pfluger said.
He said the company "handles the co-design, development, and industrialization of customer specific MEMS components" and ensures their volume production. "This year, about 50 percent of our revenues will be made from the instrumentation market, 20 percent from the medical, 20 percent from the defense and aerospace industry and the final 10 percent from different sectors, including the telecoms," Pfluger said.
One example of MEMS currently produced by Tronic's is a wafer-level chip-size packaged capacitive accelerometer. The component will be used in pacemakers to measure patients' body movements and regulate the electrical pulses given to the heart (low pulse rate when sleeping, higher pulse rate when walking, for example).
Tronic's is focused on very specific products, a strategy that makes sense, according to one analyst. "They have customers with highly specialized needs, who subcontract them all their production," said Jean-Christophe Eloy, founder and manager of Yole Développement, an independent MEMS marketing consulting agency.
Eloy, who released recently a study on 366 MEMS fabs worldwide, said that the MEMS industry is close to a form of maturity. "The market is divided between a few big players, able to produce huge amounts of generic components, such as inkjet heads for printers or sensors for automobiles, and many smaller companies trying to focus on very specific products, such as Tronic's.
The consultant seems to be confident in the future, despite the MEMS casualties left on the ground. "The market is growing and consolidating itself," Eloy said. "Some manufacturers produce single low-cost products for many customers, while others develop many specific added-value components for one customer. Finally, MEMS have become a real industrial sector."
Pfluger agreed, and added that customers have now been properly educated about MEMS. "The capabilities of MEMS technologies and their leveraging effect on systems is now well-recognized by the industry," he said, adding that "the battle will not be here on prices and automation but on designing and positioning products to provide the best added-value systems."
Tronic's Microsystems SA
55 rue du Pré de l'Horme
38926 CROLLES Cedex
Tronic's was spun off from European research laboratory CEA-LETI in May 1997, taking with it key technologies involving SOI (silicon-on-insulator) MEMS. In June 2002, the two organizations signed a three-year R&D agreement that ensures future collaboration on these technologies.
Design, development and manufacture of MEMS devices
Small tech-related products and services
Tronic's Microsystems aids in the custom design, development and manufacture of MEMS components including, but not limited to:
In May 2000, Tronic's garnered roughly $865,000 in a round led by CDC Innovation 2000 FCPR. In July 2001 CDC once again participated in a funding round, this time for $11.9 million. Additional participants included Sercel Holding, Crédit Lyonnais Venture Capital, Schneider Electric Ventures and an angel investor.
Selected strategic partners and customers
In October 2002 Tronic's announced the signing of distribution deals with Japanese firms Marubeni Solutions Corp. and Seika Corp.
Why they're in small tech
"Because there is a real market which is still largely uncovered," said CEO Peter Pfluger. "As new product developments are being finalized in research centers, we'll be ready to industrialize and produce the devices with our new production facility."
What keeps them up at night
"Starting up the new fab and ramping up production in this facility," Pfluger said.
Recent news and publications
-- Research by Gretchen McNeely