MEMS combo sensors bring price, size advantages to auto and consumer sectors


December 15, 2011 — Combo sensors, comprising micro electro mechanical system (MEMS) accelerometers, gyroscopes, or electronic compasses, are filling a need in consumer and automotive applications. These multi-sensor packages should see combined revenue from these sectors grow by a factor of 50 over 5 years, shows an IHS iSuppli MEMS market brief.

Combo sensor packages can vary in configuration, depending on the components contained in the package. In the consumer space, for instance, a 6 degree of freedom (DOF) compass module typically comprises a three-axis accelerometer plus a 3-axis compass; where inertial sensors are used, the device is called an inertial measurement unit (IMU). In comparison, a 9DOF is a combination of a 3-axis compass, 3-axis gyroscope and 3-axis accelerometer; while a 10DOF includes all of the components of the 9DOF along with a pressure sensor to measure altitude. Meanwhile, combo sensors in the form of 4DOF to 6DOF are emerging in automotive applications, principally in the form of IMUs without compasses.

Revenue for MEMS combo sensors saw $23.6 million in 2010, an estimated $70.9 million in 2011, and will approach $1.2 billion by 2015, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 120%. Triple-digit expansion percentages will occur 2011-2013.

Automotive applications saw $22.8 million in 2011 revenues, and should reach $131.8 million by 2015. Major combo sensor suppliers include Bosch (namely its stability control systems) and VTI Technologies (feeding Continental AG’s stability control systems).

Also read: 2012 sees automotive sensor market back to healthy growth track

The attraction of combo sensors in these applications comes from price and form factor advantages achieved when multiple MEMS are packaged together. Automotive safety systems, government-mandated in many countries, can be made smaller, more efficient, and less expensive in a combo format.

In 2011, consumer applications make up the majority of revenue ($48.1 million) and this trend is expected to continue through 2015 ($1.0 billion).

Also read: Sensor fusion drives mobile electronics’ future apps

In consumer applications, the majority of accelerometers are currently shipped as separate, discrete devices. These discrete devices are set to dominate in handsets during the next 4 years. Integration within a 6-axis IMU will take off starting in 2013, and will be the main format for combo sensors in 2015.

The same, however, cannot be said for integration within 6-axis compass modules, which will remain marginal because of diverging requirements for the location of the accelerometer and compass in handsets, leading to no obvious cost advantage. Here, a motion sensor needs to be near the center of the device, while a compass needs to be away from sources of disruptive electromagnetic interference.

Some 9-axis IMUs will appear among a few OEMs seduced by revenue opportunities for black-box solutions, but penetration will be limited because their large form factor is a disadvantage in handsets, where space for sensors and other semiconductors is at a premium.

Meanwhile, combo sensors are likely to be more prevalent in tablets because of the extra space that is available with a larger device. Here, 6-axis IMUs will dominate, with 6-axis compasses and 9-axis IMUs to be more popular in tablets than in handsets.

Other consumer applications for combo sensors include laptops, cameras, MP3 players and remote controllers.

So far, 6-axis compasses have been offered by Asahi Kasei Microdevices (AKM) Inc. and Aichi Steel Corp., STMicroelectronics, and Bosch Sensortec. 6-axis IMUs also are available from STMicroelectronics and from InvenSense Inc.

Worldwide MEMS combo sensor revenue forecast. SOURCE: IHS iSuppli Research, December 2011.

Access the IHS report, Combo Sensor: A Solution to Incessant Price Pressure, at

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