Sensor fusion opens MEMS supply chain to sensor management players

November 4, 2011 — Yole Développement’s new report, "Inertial Combo Sensors for Consumer & Automotive" shows that supply chains need to adapt to the "very large market opportunity" for inertial combo sensors. Inertial combo sensors will see 15% growth in consumer and automotive applications in 2011, hitting $2.6 billion.

Combination sensors are a marginal player now but expected to penetrate 40% of the $2.7 billion consumer inertial market and 12%+ of the $1.1 billion automotive inertial market by 2016. On the consumer side, added motion sensing capabilities in an increasing number of mobile devices are driving growth; for automotive, safety systems — better and in more cars globally — are the main impetus.

Figure. 2009-2016 consumer and automotive inertial sensor market. SOURCE: Inertial Combo Sensors for Consumer & Automotive Report, Yole Développement, October 2011.

Unit sales will continue to grow at double-digit rates in the future. However, price erosion and maturing markets herald a slow decline in revenues. One way to offset this is with more sophisticated sensor fusion that optimized multiple sensors with complex software.

Combo sensors allow device designers to reduce costs and product footprint. Lower-cost units combining multiple micro electro mechanical system (MEMS) sensors will see "healthy growth."  However, Yole warns that the benefits of combo sensors can be application specific, with the dynamism of the evolution of each individual sensor. The trend will start in the mature automotive sector, where cost benefits can be realized in electronic stability control (ESC) systems by combining the accelerometer and the gyroscope in one package with one ASIC. Consumer technologies change much more rapidly, and discrete device prices are still falling rapidly. Once the economics do become compelling for consumer adoption, around 2012-2013, market penetration will be faster and deeper than on the automotive side.

Yole forecasts that new players will enter the market, and sensor management expertise will be in demand.

Dropping prices and new market entrants will change the supply chain, Yole notes, as companies "figure out how best to compete and cooperate for the much bigger business of integrating the silicon sensors into useful functions." The cost of MEMS devices often lies much more in the ASIC, packaging, test, and calibration — as well as software development — than in die fabrication. This rule will only become more visible as companies adopt multisensory packages.

Combo sensors enable interaction between the multiple MEMS die that enhances their individual performance and creates new applications, a melding that is called sensor fusion. This requires much more sophisticated software controls. Players in the MEMS industry can compensate for price declines by selling high-value solutions that include more software content. This added value could benefit the sensor makers supplying the algorithms to combine and cross-calibrate the sensor data and do some standard applications as well as the software and chipset makers that supply higher-level specialty functions. Higher-value software calculations might require an MCU, not the usual ASIC. Makers of microcontrollers, software, and subsystems will start to take over more of the sensor management.

Laurent Robin is in charge of the MEMS & Sensors market research at Yole Developpement. He previously worked at image sensor company e2v Technologies (Grenoble, France). He holds a Physics Engineering degree from the National Institute of Applied Sciences in Toulouse, plus a Master Degree in Technology & Innovation Management from EM Lyon Business School, France.

Companies cited in the report:
Acutronic, Advanced Microsensors, Advancedmicrofab, Aichi Steel, AKM, Alps Electric, Amazon, AMS, Analog Devices, AP M, Apple, ASTRI, Atmel, Autoliv, Baolab, BMW, Bosch, Broadcom, BWI , BY D, Casio Micronics, CEA LETI , Chevrolet, Chrysler, Continental, CSR, Daesung, Dai Nippon Printing, Daihatsu, Dalsa, Deep Di Semiconductor, Delphi, Domintech, Eastman Kodak, EM Microelectronics, Epson Toyocom, Fairchild, Ford, Foxcon, Fraunhofer ISIT , Free / Iliad, Freescale, Fujitsu, FullPower, Futaba, Garmin, GE, Global Foundries, Google, Hana Microelectronics, HDK Kokuriku, Hillcrest Labs, Honeywell, HT C, IMU Solution, InvenSense, IT RI, Jyve, Keynetic, Kionix, Kyocera, Lancia, Lenovo, LG, Lingsen Precision Industries, Logitech, Mando Corp, Maxim, Mcube, Mediatek, Memsic, Memsmart, Memstech, Micro Infinity, Microchip, Microsoft, Mitsubishi, Mobius, Mio, Motorola, Movea, Murata, Navteq, Nike, Nintendo, Nissan, Nokia, NT DoCoMo, Nuvoton Technology, Pace, Pacific, Palm, Panasonic, Parrot, Pixart, PointInside, Prolific Technology, Qualtre, Renault, Ricoh, RIM, Rohm, Rood Microtec , Samsung, Schraeder, Seagate, Seiko Epson, Seiko NP C, Senodia, Sensitec, Sensonor, SensorDynamics, SensorPlatforms, Sharp, SiliconLabs, Sitronix Technology, Skyartec, SMK , Sony, Sony Ericsson, SPIL , SSS, ST Microelectronics, Sunrex, Systron Donner, Takata, Technitrol, TI , TMT, TomTom, Toshiba, Toyota, Tronics, Trusted Positioning, TRW, TSMC, Universal Electronics, Virtus Advanced Sensors, VTI, Wacoh, Western Digital, Wolfson, Wolkswagen, XSens, Yamaha, Yishay Sensor, ZillionTV , ZTE …

Yole Développement is a group of companies providing market research, technology analysis, strategy consulting, media in addition to finance services. Internet: www.yole.fr.

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