Saturday, November 28th, 2015

Growth Opportunities in MEMS


July 11, 2013, Motion Tracking Developers' Conference, San Francisco—Jean-Christophe Eloy from Yole Development presented the trends in MEMS and their applications. The mobile space and many consumer devices are now including MEMS.

The mobile space, while requiring a full set of sensors, is looking for greater differentiation in their products. This push is driving the inclusion of more sensors and actuators in arrays in these smart products. See figure 1. Smart phones include various MEMS devices including magnetometers, microphones, combo motion sensing, pressure sensor, antenna tuner, BAW filters and duplexers, and some others.

The various trends for sensors and actuators versus the calls for differentiation are shown as a grid, but there are many overlaps.

In '18, the complement of MEMS in a smart phone will increase to include a pressure-temperature-humidity chip, auto-focus for the imagers, DLP for a pico-projector, timing controls, and the possibility for a joystick, energy harvesting, UV, ultrasonic, radiation, and LIDAR. The MEMS may even take over the touchscreen functions.

Most of the MEMS are technologically mature, so development efforts are in improving performance and reducing costs. The types and functions of the sensors that are integrated into a single package will change for better integration of devices and software. The new devices will have higher levels of integration and will address new parts of the environment.

The value proposition for the new devices will be in improved communications performance, better sound quality, and more responsive navigation and environmental monitoring. The changes in chip functions will enhance the visual user experience, lengthen battery life, and provide tactile feedback for some functions.

All of the functions will have superior specifications to today's chips with lower power consumption and higher accuracy. RF functions will increase from $388M today to $1.16B in '18, whle sound chips will double from $438M, improved visuals will go from $11M to $1.14B, navigation and environmental sensing will go from $492M to $1.69B. Some of the newer functions are hard to predict, since they don't exist today.

The various market suppliers are all in different areas, and the leader in any segment may only be in one other segment. Over 15 categories are emerging just for the mobile markets. Total MEMS revenue is projected to be $6.6B in '18, rising from the $2.16B last year, representing a 18 percent CAGR. Unit volume is expected to grow from 4.5B devices to 17.5B in that timeframe.

Motion sensors will remain the largest segment, but are maturing quickly. Overall CAGR is expected to be about 4 percent. RF MEMS will grow much faster at 22 percent. Pressure and humidity sensors will explode at 45 percent CAGR. Most of the segments will increase over time, except that the single function devices will be displaced by multi-function chips. As a result, the product categories will change over time with both new functions and replacement of other functions with MEMS. See figure 2.

The market forecasts for various sensor categories shows the growth of multiple sensor arrays and the corresponding decrease in single function devices.

The supply chain is still fragmented, but is evolving. The suppliers are splitting the added value through various sources of differentiation and have multiple business models. The one-stop suppliers are preferred especially for the combo sensors and the software needed for those sensors. Cost reduction strategies vary across the board, with the big players like ST working to fill the fab and are betting on volume. Some like Bosch are finding synergy at the manufacturing level with other business lines. And others like Invensense encouraging competition between suppliers.

The MEMS industry is moving to more fabless models as the R&D and software dominate other considerations for manufacturing and value. The innovations differ depending upon the various domain expertise. Some companies are creating novel front-end technologies for better integration, others use the synergy with other processing, while algorithms, software, and other value-added functions fill out the industry.

Sensor and data fusion have become key for some device manufacturers. The software is key as ever more complex signal processing is needed for best performance and functionality. In addition, sensor hubs with integrated processing are emerging with sensor fusion at the silicon level starting this year.

The first commercial solutions for sophisticated functions like context awareness and indoor navigation will appear soon. These solutions are a combination of sensors, APIs, and embedded software. The value chain for software is changing and these IP companies are making new business models that may make them viable. All of these changes are driving the smart phone to become the platform and hub for all sensing.

As a result, mobile and wearable devices are expected to see strong growth. The phone will be the compute hub for new tracking functions, and remote sensors will connect to the phone hub for connections to the cloud for additional compute processing. These remote sensors will monitor activity, posture, physical therapy, balance, environment, etc.

Sensors increase the local knowledge, and soon biological, chemical, and gas sensors will enable other capabilities. One new requirement for these types of sensors is disposability, especially for those in direct contact with body functions. Making the interfaces wireless or through something like USB will allow the sensors to be easily disconnected from the phone hub. Energy harvesting for mobile devices is unlikely, as the power requirements far exceed the potential energy available from scavenging.

Beyond cell phones and tablets, MEMS are appearing in many medical and healthcare apps. The developments in bioMEMs is enabling a technology shift to more home care as portable and implantable devices provide a combination of diagnostic and treatment capabilities. Many apps are in development to see the advent of personalized medicine. The work is in all areas of healthcare and will change the medical industry.

Already there are add-on modules for biology and various care functions that can send data to the doctor for evaluation. The ability to monitor, diagnose, and prevent medical issues will increase significantly by '18. The proliferation of sensors will generate new apps and increase the utility of wearable devices, while new architectures and different sensor fusion modes will deliver better life experiences. The trend for higher performance, lower power sensors at high volume will continue as will the need for the high performance, expensive devices.

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