MEMS in the Changing Automobile
March 29, 2012, Sensors in Design, San Jose, CA—Karen Lightman from the MEMS Industry Group described the organization's functions and organization. MIG functions include standards development, reliability studies, and sharing of information among its 140 members.
The semiconductor industry has had its leaders change many times over the decades. Now the top 30 suppliers are lead by TI, HP ST and Bosch. The number of suppliers are constantly changing. One of the latest entrants into the party is Invensense at $100 M in annual revenues due mostly to the inclusions of motion sensors into mobile platforms.
The industry is growing from about $8 B last year to a projected $12 by '15, which represents a 20 percent year-to-year growth from the base years of '10-11. The major markets are in consumer and mobile products. At the same time, everyone must keep in mind that all MEMS are not sensors.
Other products areas for MEMS are oscillators, RF, microfluidics, and displays. The number and types of sensors in automobiles are increasing to help in the growing automation of car functions. The functions in cars are for energy and harvesting, tire pressure, safety, and anti-roll over. Engine functions use other types of sensors.
One issue for all of the vendors is that all of the sensors are in need of major amounts of software. Some of the knowledge needed to develop the sensors is necessary to operate the sensors. Therefore, many of the vendors have to supply detailed code to allow their users to access the full functionality of the sensors. The other issue is the lack of designer experience in the use of the sensors and their data.
The increase in sensors allows functionality to migrate from the top-end cars to the lower-end ones as the sensor costs drop with the volumes. Driver assist features and safety functions rapidly migrate, pushed by regulations and user demands. However, the innovations needed to bring new functionality into the markets is constrained by the lack of funding available in the smaller companies and the need for short-term profitability in the larger ones.
The MEMS industry has to address the usual price erosion issues of the larger semiconductor industry and find business models that allow for a range of manufacturing options. High volume products can be manufactured in-house, mid-range might use a hybrid of in-house and out sourcing, while low volume production need a foundry model. Companies have to change their business models with the product volume and find software companies that can enhance their product with other software.
Commercial MEMS are continuing to improve performance and accuracy and continue to approach mil/aero levels of operation. The availability of software libraries will help in proliferating MEMS into new markets and applications.