Silicon microphones are among a broad range of devices known as micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), an emerging field in which various sensors and mechanical devices are constructed on a single wafer using processes developed for making integrated circuits (ICs). The chief advantage of micromachining silicon microphones is cost. Several sensors can be processed on a chip simultaneously and can be integrated with passive and active electronic devices.
According to a new market research study from Innovative Research and Products, or iRAP, titled MEMS Microphones – A Global Technology, Industry and Market Analysis (ET-118), silicon micro-machined microphones (also known as silicon microphones or MEMS microphones) have begun to emerge as a competitor technology to the electret condenser microphone (ECM). The global market for MEMS microphones has reached approximately $422 million in 2012. The market is predicted to increase to $865 million in 2017, with increasingly high uptake of MEMS microphones over alternatives for a variety of applications. Thanks to Apple Inc., which has spurred on this phenomenal growth by adopting MEMS microphones for their products, namely the iPhone, iPad and iTouch, hence paving the way for other smartphone and tablet manufactures to adopt the same.
MEMS microphones are more compact than traditional microphone systems, because they capture sound and convert it to a digital signal on the same chip. MEMS microphone solutions developed on the CMOS (complimentary metal oxide semiconductors) MEMS platform frees consumer electronic device designers and manufacturers from many of the problems associated with ECMs. CMOS MEMS microphones also integrate an analog-to-digital converter on the chip, creating a microphone with a robust digital output. Since the majority of portable applications will ultimately convert the analogue output of the microphone to a digital signal for processing, the system architecture can be made completely digital, removing noise-prone analogue signals from the circuit board and simplifying the overall design.
The new iRAP study has focused on MEMS microphones that can be used in mobile phones, digicams, camcorders, laptops, automotive hands-free calling and hearing aids. It provides market data about the size and growth of the MEMS microphones application segments, new developments including a detailed patent analysis, company profiles and industry trends. The report also covered the underlying economic issues driving the MEMS microphones business, as well as assessments of new advanced MEMS microphones that are being developed.
Manufacturers of MEMS microphones expect competition to persist and intensify in the future from a number of different sources. Microphones are facing competition in a new, rapidly evolving and highly competitive sector of the audio communication market. Increased competition could result in reduced prices and gross margins for microphone products and could require increased spending by research and development, sales and marketing and customer support.
Micro-machined microphone chips can match and extend the performance of existing devices, for instance, by using sensor arrays. Silicon microphones also offer advantages to the OEM in the form of improved manufacturing methods (reliability, yield, assembly cost) combined with robustness. They also offer additional functionality, such as the ability to incorporate multiple microphones into portable electronic devices for noise suppression and beam forming.
The potential for smaller footprint components and resistance to electromagnetic interference also supports new cell phone designs. Moreover, MEMS microphones meet price points set by electret microphones by leveraging established high-volume silicon manufacturing processes. This combination of size, performance and functionality, and low cost are highly desirable for OEMs and consumers alike.
Many of these new “miniature” silicon microphones for consumer and computer communication devices are approximately one-half the size and operate on just one-third the power of conventional microphones.
The range of possible applications of these microphones derives from their important advantages as compared to conventional ECM technologies. Based on silicon MEMS technology, the new microphone achieves the same acoustic and electrical properties as conventional microphones, but is more rugged and exhibits higher heat resistance. These properties offer designers of a wide range of products greater flexibility and new opportunities to integrate microphones.
Major findings of this report are:
- The MEMS microphones market is an attractive, and still growing, 100s of million-dollar market characterized by very high production volumes of MEMS microphones that are extremely reliable and low in cost.
- Mobile phones would consistently have the largest share through 2017, followed by laptops and tablets, camcorders, hearing aids, headphones and automotive.
- From 2012 to 2017, hearing aids will have the highest growth rate with AAGR at 27.46%, followed by headphones at 25% AAGR.
- Regionally, North America had about 25.3% of the market in 2012, followed by Europe at 19.7 %, Japan at 15.7% and the rest of world at 39.5%.
- In 2012, More than ten companies and institutions worldwide are active in the field of MEMS microphones, which can be divided in two different technological concepts – single-chip and two-chip. The number of active market participants is expected to double by 2017.
- By 2017, MEMS microphones will achieve penetrations of 92% in the mobile phone market segment and 95% in PDAs, digicams and camcorders market.
- In terms of technology, the largest share will be for two-chip integration.