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NXP’s multi-market and multi-technology strategy in the MEMS pressure sensor business – Interviewed by Yole Développement

Yole Développement’s (Yole) new report, MEMS Pressure Sensor Market and Technologies 2018, sees the MEMS pressure sensor business as being segmented into five markets: automotive, consumer, industrial, medical and avionic. Despite market maturity, there is still room for growth in some applications, like tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), where Netherlands-headquartered NXP has a significant presence. 

Pressure leading players market 2018 yole developpement MEMS pressure sensor technologies are basically segmented into piezoresistive and capacitive categories. These two technologies are not hugely different in terms of performance, and we expect mainly incremental improvements, with miniaturization as important as in all semiconductor products. At the TPMS ‘system in package’ (SiP) level, there is more room for innovation by combining pressure sensors, accelerometers, radio frequency (RF) functions, microcontroller units (MCUs), and batteries. TPMS will be further miniaturised in the future, with the smart tire approach that consists of integrating the TPMS inside the tire rather than mounting it on the valve. Yole’s market report and especially the linked System Plus Consulting MEMS Pressure Sensors Comparison 2018 Structure, Process & Cost Comparison Report analyse pressure sensor and TPMS technological choices of key suppliers in detail.

We’ve also taken the opportunity to discuss the subject with Eric Toulouse, Vice President and General Manager of the Pressure Sensor Business at NXP Semiconductors in Phoenix, USA. Read on to find out the company’s plans.

  

Yole Développement: Can you briefly introduce NXP and its pressure sensor activity?

Eric Toulouse: NXP is the leader in providing semiconductor solutions for a secured, connected world. NXP is also number one in the automotive industry with a broad portfolio of MCU, analog, RF and sensor products that can be combined to provide efficient system solutions. As far as sensors are concerned, NXP’s portfolio includes magnetic, accelerometer and gyroscope-based motion, and pressure technologies.

YD: NXP is one of the very few key players to have a strong presence in the three main pressure sensor markets, namely automotive, medical and industrial. What are the main applications targeted, and what are the market drivers for pressure sensors in these applications?

ET: NXP has a multi-market strategy because pressure sensors are used in a variety of market segments including automotive, medical, industrial, and avionics. In automotive, the focus is on TPMS as new regulations in China forces a higher penetration rate into light vehicles. For industrial and medical, NXP offers a portfolio of absolute, gauge and differential pressure sensors to effectively address the various requirements in this fragmented market.

YD: NXP has a significant market share of the TPMS automotive application. How do you differentiate from your competitors in this competitive market?

ET: NXP’s TPMS portfolio is broader than any other competitor, and the roadmap offers an easy migration path from a software standpoint. NXP effectively leverages the accelerometer portfolio by offering both single and dual axis solutions, when competitors typically offer single axis products. Quality and supply are two critical factors in TPMS, and NXP has a significant track record in these areas.

YD: How do you expect the pressure sensor market to grow for TPMS and for other main applications targeted?

ET: According to industry analysts, TPMS and industrial/medical segments are projected to grow with compound annual growth rates (CAGRs) in the high single digits from a dollar value standpoint. NXP’s portfolio is well positioned to benefit from the market growth. 

YD: NXP is not present in the consumer market yet. With the acquisition of NXP by Qualcomm, do you expect to enter this market soon?

ET: This would have to be determined if and when the transaction closes, in agreement with Qualcomm’s management.

YD: Do you think the pressure sensor market will consolidate in the future? Also, do you plan to grow your pressure sensor business through acquisitions?

ET: The pressure sensor market requires the manufacturing of very specific, custom technologies. In this respect, market consolidation makes theoretical sense from a cost perspective. There has already been some level of consolidation in the past, so it becomes challenging to find large pressure sensor suppliers with complementary portfolios.

 

NXP FRDM cvr HR Sensors v5 HR2Courtesy of NXP

YD: NXP use capacitive technology for TPMS, and piezoresistive technology for other applications. Why do you have both technologies? What are the advantages and limitations of each technology?

ET: Capacitive is good for absolute pressure sensing, given the small size and low power consumption, but can’t be used for differential. Piezoresistive technology is compatible with all types of pressure sensors.

YD: What are your technological strengths and main technological trends?

ET: Technology development is aiming at reduced size and cost, while maintaining or even improving pressure accuracy. This affects both the MEMS and packaging roadmaps. In addition, NXP is looking at reducing power consumption for battery-operated applications. This also applies to mainstream automotive applications: as the electronic content in cars keeps increasing, each semiconductor device has to be optimized for low power.

YD: How and when do you expect to move to TPMS smart tires?

ET: Various smart tire concepts have been pitched by leading tires suppliers in the past two years but these concepts are far from being deployed on vehicles yet. One of the simple approaches is to relocate the TPMS sensor from the valve stem to the inside of the tire. In a “tire mount configuration” the TPMS sensor gets in close contact with the road. Provided the accelerometers embedded in the TPMS sensors have good enough performance, additional data such as contact patch area can be assessed with simple calculations. Combined with the pressure information, this information can be used to enhance the safety diagnostics of the vehicle.

YD: What are the challenges?

ET: Tire mount solutions exist today and NXP solutions have been qualified for this very demanding use case. Specific reliability tests have been designed to emulate the harsh tire mount environment and validate that the accelerometer performance does not degrade as a result of millions of shock that the sensor will receive through the application lifetime. Tire mount also calls for smaller module footprint for easier attach to the inner side of the tire. This means smaller sensors and smaller batteries, or the addition of a piezoelectric transducer coupled with an energy harvesting integrated circuit. Lastly, as the amount of information generated inside the tire increases, the wireless link to the vehicle has to change. The typical RF link used in TPMS has a very limited bandwidth, hence the rising interest in alternate wireless standards such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). NXP is well positioned to support these new requirements thanks to its broad IP portfolio targeted at secured wireless connectivity solutions.

 

Interviewee:

Eric Toulouse NXP

Eric Toulouse is in charge of the pressure sensor product line within NXP. As such he is responsible for business strategy development and execution for the Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems, absolute and differential pressure sensor portfolios. This includes the technology and product roadmaps, new product development as well as marketing and competitive positioning. These products play into automotive, Industrial and medical markets. Prior to his role within the sensors team, Eric was the General Manager for the System Basis Chips and Drivers products within the Freescale analog business line, responsible for all technical and business aspects of these products. Eric joined Motorola in 1991 and has held various engineering and business management positions within the power, RF and analog divisions of Motorola, Freescale and NXP. Eric earned a Master’s degree in electrical engineering from the ENSEEIHT University in France and an MBA from Western International University in Arizona.

  

Interviewer:

Yann De Charentenay YOLE

Yann de Charentenay works as a Technology & Market Analyst for Yole Développement (Yole). As part of the Photonics, Sensing & Display division, Yann is strongly involved in the technology & market analysis of the applications of disruptive technologies and components: memory, MEMS and sensors… Yann is daily contributing to the development of Yole’s activities with a dedicated collection of market & technology reports as well as custom consulting projects.

 

 

Sources:  NXP logo   –   Yole Développement

 

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