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Industry experts ponder trends in car MEMS

Posted: 21 Mar 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Freescale  MEMS  sensor  automotive industry 

Presently, the automotive industry is the largest market for MEMS manufacturers. However, the segment is experiencing substantial changes. All things considered, how will the relationship between MEMS and automotive value chain develop over the foreseeable future?

At the MEMS industry panel this week in Munich, an expert panel fathomed out which factors would have which kind of effects. The panel was populated by seasoned experts: Richard Dixon, principal analyst MEMS and sensors for market research company IHS, Frank Schaefer, senior manager product management automotive MEMS from Bosch and Christoph Wagner, product marketing manager from Analog Devices. The panel was moderated by another well-known semiconductor expert with a long history in automotive electronics: Marc Osajda, director of Freescale's pressure sensor business unit.

Ten years ago, the automotive industry was clearly a driver for the MEMS technology, said Bosch's Schaefer. Today, the scenario has changed a bit; consumer business with its fast design cycles is setting the pace now. Nevertheless, automotive applications are still among the drivers for MEMS development, albeit with different requirements. Schaefer mentioned in particular vibration robustness and resilience at high temperatures and aggressive gases like the ones encountered, for instance, in diesel particulate filters. In that sense, the requirements for automotive customers and for the consumer electronics industry are drifting away from each other.

Christoph Wagner from ADI highlighted tire pressure monitoring systems as an example for automotive technology still driving MEMS technology. Putting the pressure sensor into the tire itself instead into the rim, one could implement additional measurements, for example the tire's contact to the street as a key parameter for any tire. In such an intelligent TPMS, MEMS could serve as an energy harvester and replace the battery. He added that at least two tier two companies are currently working on such an 'intelligent tire'. And not only does the automotive industry drive MEMS development, the story also works the other way around. "MEMS is still an enabler for automotive," Wagner said. "Whenever we reduce size, increase integration or we come up with new sensor types there is an application in automotive that benefits from it."

But it is not only technology that currently puts challenges to automotive, and with it, automotive electronics markets. Huge regional shifts in demand and production are about to change the face of the global automotive industry. The question is how these shifts will affect design and demand for electronic components, in particular MEMS. Their weight in international markets cannot be overestimated. China will buy some 20 million vehicles within the next ten years, noted Dixon. "This means that in 2025 almost half the vehicles built globally will be sold in countries where cars have low electronics content," he said. This however might turn out to be more an opportunity than a challenge: "There is a huge opportunity to fill electronic content." In the more mature markets in Europe and North America, the value of the electronics in a car is estimated to about 18 per cent while in China and similar emerging markets, this share amounts to only 10-12 per cent. Given the safety and emission legislation to be expected in these geographies, it is likely that the electronics content in BRIC market vehicles will rise.

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