Tronics is changing the game of inertial sensing

The existing technologies used for inertial sensing (the comb drive structure) have been developed 27 years ago by CEA/LETI and have been adopted by most of the players, from high end inertial sensors to basic products used in consumer applications. But now, according to Yole Développement analysis Status of the MEMS Industry and New detection principles 2014, the comb drive structure is reaching its limit in term of miniaturization and capacity to decrease the manufacturing costs.

New technologies are under development and the one which is the most advanced is developed by Tronics, based on a technology created by CEA-LETI (again…). We have interviewed Pascal Langlois, CEO of Tronics, 6 months after its very successful IPO on the French stock market, in order to understand what’s happening now in the company and what the next steps of its development are.

Picture from Tronics’ courtesy

Yole Développement: Can you first introduce Tronics activities and involvements in the MEMS fields?

Pascal Langlois: Tronics has been involved in the MEMS industry since it was founded in 1997: we provide a full range of high added-value services thanks to a unique positioning covering the whole value chain of nano and microsystems, from engineering (design, simulation, processes development, specification, tests, characterization, etc.) to manufacturing.
With a library of reusable technology blocks and standardized platforms, protected by a portfolio of 25 families of patents, we enable a faster time to market to address strong growth applications such as aeronautics and defense (avionics, drones, etc.), industry, life sciences (analysis and diagnostic kits), or wearable devices, …
We provide our customers with specific products or packaged solutions (inertial sensors, optical microsystems, RF components, BioMEMS) in order to meet the challenges of cost and power savings, performance and integration. We also have a line of high performance standard products, well suited for system manufacturers with requirements for highly stable, high-performance inertial sensors.
Our “fablight” strategy offers high manufacturing flexibility with production units in Crolles, near Grenoble, France for medium to high volumes and Dallas, US for high volumes.
Since February this year, we are listed on the Paris Alternext market after a successful IPO, to execute our business plan and strengthen our technological leadership worldwide.

YD: First can you comment on the major 2014 events for Tronics?

PL: Beginning of 2014, we announced that we had successfully designed and manufactured the first batch of 6DOF MEMS chips (3 accelero + 3 gyros), which are now the smallest combo sensors of the industry on a single die. This achievement has been made possible by using the disruptive M&NEMS process technology platform, the only one currently able to combine all types of measurement on the same chip (accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, pressure sensors and over time, microphones). It represents a further step towards the integration of 3, 6, 7, 9 and up to 10 axis, paving the way to new application fields for Tronics, especially in the consumer market.
Later in the year, we have expanded our high performance MEMS inertial sensor product line, with two new high performance MEMS angular rate sensors: the GYPRO2300LD and GYPRO3300.These products, issued from a recognized know-how among a wide range of leading customers, offer the best combination of performance and features for the price.
This new milestone strengthens our roadmap and enables system manufacturers to better compete on key applications requiring high performance and high reliability, such as aircrafts, drones, robotics and other industrial systems. There is already a strong interest for the latest GYPRO3300 series, and we remain committed to meet the demand and capitalize on this momentum with the first chips sampling by 2Q15.
Beyond these 2 milestones, we have also recorded several business wins in 2014, with 13 new customers in 3 targeted sectors (industry, aeronautics and medical). This enabled us to increase the diversification of our customer portfolio.
This momentum led to revenue of €11.6M in 2014 (up 14% compared to 2013), and profitability.

Source: Status of the MEMS Industry May 2015 – Yole Développement

YD: Why and when has Tronics decided to develop a new technology platform for inertial and magnetic sensors in order to replace the comb-drive structure?

PL: Over the last 15 years, Tronics has developed and industrialized one of the most powerful capacitive MEMS technology platform for high performance inertial sensors, combining thick single crystalline mechanical structures, DRIE etched over cavity with vacuum hermetic wafer level capping and high density electrical feedthroughs.
Thanks to this capacitive MEMS platform, Tronics has manufactured and delivered, over the time, more than 1.5 million high performance inertial sensors, including the high performance gyrometer family GYPRO®.
This platform also has a strong potential to generate integrated 6 DOF inertial sensors, and Tronics has designed several integrated combo sensors, technically at the state of the art. Nevertheless, classical capacitive technologies have some intrinsic drawbacks in terms of miniaturization, due to the size of the comb drive structures. Moreover, this platform does not allow making magnetic sensors.
In its R&D activities, Tronics has followed the CEA-LETI’s works on the new M&NEMS technology since the beginning, and had first participated with them to an advanced research cooperative program, at the end of the 2000s. Then it has been decided to start a technology transfer at the end of 2011.
The reasons for that decision are quite obvious when you look at the huge potential of the M&NEMS technology:
– size reduction,
– high signal over noise ratio,
– low electrical consumption,
– simple electronic driver,
– feasibility of magnetic sensors.
Beside these features, the M&NEMS technology is the only one that enables the integration of a small 9 DOF chip on the same die; such a combo sensor represents one of the most expected solutions for consumer applications (mobile phones, tablets, wireless wearable devices) and the Internet of Things.

YD: What have been up to now the main steps of these developments?

PL: Tronics has first transferred the M&NEMS technology from CEA-LETI and then adapted it to its industrial manufacturing line: today the technology is well controlled. In a second step, Tronics has developed simulation and design models that have enabled to design the smallest 6 DOF MEMS chip of the market. New design optimizations and innovations are ongoing.

YD: In 2014, Tronics announced a 6DOF based on its M&NEMS technology and a 9DOF in development. Can you update on the status of these developments and future devices coming?

PL: The inertial 6 axis chip is now the smallest combo sensor of the industry on a single die (less than 4mm²): some improvements have been made in terms of size and cost reduction as well as power consumption. The ASIC has also been improved to better meet the industry requirements.
Last February, we made the disruptive M&NEMS process technology platform available to the industry by announcing a new licensing model for very high consumer volumes. With this strategy, we offer to key foundry players the unique opportunity to benefit from a fast and easy technology deployment. This is a pre-requisite to address the growing demand for wearable devices, smartphones and tablets, given the challenges in terms of cost and power savings, performance and integration.
The developments of the M&NEMS process technology continue and we will disclose more details in accordance with the progress made.

YD: When will the first M&NEMS product be released? For which application?

PL: Basically, the first M&NEMS product will use a 6 axis chip and will target consumer applications. The main technical hurdles have been overcome and the maturity of the prototypes is close to the final target.

YD: So far Bosch did a breakthrough in size reduction with the BMA355 release, one of the smallest 3A accelerometer WLCSP MEMS on the market. Can Tronics’ M&NEMS achieve better size reduction with more axis?

PL: This product is based on a previous MEMS capacitive technology, and the size reduction has been achieved by using Through Silicon Vias (TSV) at the ASIC level and monomass accelerometer design. Our M&NEMS technology is fully compatible with these improvements and will take benefit of them to achieve even smaller sizes. In parallel, we are continuing the integration with more axes like compass or barometer functions.

M&NEMS is ideal technology for low cost, small size devices for consumer applications. But will Tronics continue to work on high-end projects as well? If yes, how both businesses will be handled? Will Tronics fab be shared between the different projects?

Tronics remains focused on the positioning that made the company the recognized technological leader it is: nano & microsystems with high added value. With a continuous innovation strategy based on technology platforms protected by strong patent portfolio, we aim to address high-growth markets and offer a sustainable and cost effective response to the increasing miniaturization of electronic devices. Therefore, we design, manufacture and sell custom or standard products to the industry, aeronautics & security, medical and consumer markets.

We can mention as an example our GYPRO® MEMS inertial sensors, which have become the industry standard for highly stable, high-performance applications. Tronics will continue its strategy of development and diversification by addressing such various applications in which its standard products are of significant value and differentiation.

From micro machines to MEMS to NEMS - New detection principles Yole Dveloppement reportSource: Detection Principles & Technical Evolution for MEMS & NEMS,
October 2014 – Yole Développement

YD: Will Tronics manufacture everything in-house or will it partner with larger scale MEMS foundry?

PL: We manufacture high volume products in Crolles as well as in Dallas, US, and we are exploring partnerships for even hyper consumer volumes to offer this alternative to customers.

YD: What are, according to your analysis, the other technologies or platforms in addition to the M&NEMS platform able to replace the comb-drive structures?

PL: As far as we know, all of our competitors or newcomers use some comb drive structures. Because of the fierce competition, disruptive solutions are limited and our M&NEMS technology positions itself as the best compromise to meet the requirements of the MEMS industry.

YD: IPO had a very good start for Tronics. What is the situation today?

PL: Following our successful IPO in last February, we are now in the execution phase in order to meet the expectations of the markets we target and guarantee more than ever the satisfaction of our existing and future customers.
We are confident in the fact that we have all the essentials to execute our growth strategy: our standard GYPRO® product line is widely used by the most important players in the industry for a wide variety of applications, and its roadmap remains in line with our plan.

YD: What is 2015 outlook for Tronics?

PL: We have announced last February for the Mobile World Congress our willingness to step up our strategic deployment by providing the industry with the most advanced solutions for mobile and wearable applications with a licensing model. This milestone enables Tronics to offer state of the art products and technologies to new players in high volume markets.
Moreover, our standard GYPRO® product line is gaining traction among the industry: we have signed last month an exclusive distribution agreement with AVNET Israel that will enable Tronics to increase significantly the sales of its miniaturized high performance inertial sensors in a key region with strong development perspectives. We have produced more than 1,500,000 high performance devices, and now have an installed customer base for our GYPRO® product line of 30+ major system manufacturers worldwide: this milestone positions our high performance MEMS inertial sensors as the industry standard for highly stable, high-performance applications. By combining all key benefits on a single chip (performance, power consumption, size and weight), we have been able to double our volume shipments every year since 2012, while becoming more independent from major contractors.
Regarding our R&D activities, we will pursue a strong policy in terms of innovation and technological partnership in the sector of nano &microsystems with high added value, in order to fully benefit from the increasing miniaturization of electronic devices and the proliferation of wearable devices.


Pascal Langlois – Chief Executive Officer – Tronics Microsystems
Mr. Langlois joined Tronics in 2013 as Chief Executive Officer, with more than 25 years of experience in general direction for semiconductor companies.
Most recently, he was Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at ST-Ericsson, and prior to that, Founder of NXP and Senior VP of Sales & Marketing.
Mr. Langlois also worked with Philips Semiconductors BV, National Semiconductors, and VLSI Technology, where he held various executive management positions.

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Sources :      Yole Développement   –   Tronics Microsystems