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Fairchild exec says MEMS devices to hit 3T units annually

Posted: 11 Nov 2013     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Fairchild Semiconductor  MEMS  sensors 

Janusz Bryzek, VP of MEMS and sensor solutions at Fairchild Semiconductor, has stated in an interview that MEMS sensors shipments will hit a trillion units per year. In addition, he also shared his insights regarding the factors that drive companies, including Fairchild, to enter the MEMS market.

Bryzek, who received his MSc and PhD degrees from Warsaw Technical University, is a well-known serial entrepreneur in the field of MEMS having co-founded SenSym, IC Sensors and NovaSensors in the 1980s. He founded Jyve Inc. in March 2009 but it has never got out of stealth mode. Jyve was reportedly working on inertial MEMS technology prior to being acquired by Fairchild in November 2010.

Fairchild is not commercially involved in MEMS at present but its employment of Bryzek has led to speculation that the company is about to make a big-splash entry into the market.

However, Fairchild has a long history of involvement in the MEMS sector, Bryzek noted. His company, NovaSensor, was financed by Schlumberger, which also owned Fairchild Semiconductor at the time.

Bryzek told EE Times Europe he is unable to discuss in detail Fairchild's re-entry into the MEMS business in 2014 but that the reason for Fairchild's interest in the market is straightforward: MEMS is a market that is growing much faster than conventional semiconductors and a market that is unlikely to stop growing any time soon. "MEMS is growth at around 15 per cent per year, maybe 13 per cent maybe 17 per cent, while the overall semiconductor market is growing at three or four per cent," he said.

This is the same motivation that led Bryzek to call into being and chair the Trillion Sensors Summit. "We wanted to try and foresee what sensor applications are going to push the sensor market from a few billion units per year to a trillion sensors per year within the next 10 years." Bryzek said that with that sort of growth MEMS could become 30 per cent of the total global semiconductor market. That would make it worth in excess of $100 billion per year compared to a value of about $11 billion in 2012.

Bryzek said that during his work towards the Trillion Sensors Summit he had been influenced by the book Abundance authored by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. This book looks at exponentially advancing technologies and their markets and extrapolates that it will be possible to meet the basic needs of every man, woman and child on the planet. Networked sensors, or sensor swarms, are part of that vision.

The extreme growth rates that would be needed to take MEMS sensors towards the trillion count are quite possible, Bryzek stated. He makes the point that the market researchers in 2007 missed how the market for MEMS in mobile equipment would achieve a compound annual growth rate of 222 per cent over the next five years and go from 10 million units to 3.5 billion units.

Bryzek said that while the growth of MEMS in mobile phone would continue, with the addition of new sensor types, other markets were set to join in the explosion. He referenced the Internet of Things, digital health and context-based computing as likely areas. "While 70 per cent of those trillions of sensors will be solving problems for us, at least 30 per cent will be making life more fun," he added.

But to get from where the world stands today to that visionary future will require financial investment and a return on that investment in the nearer term. This is another part of the motivation for the formation of the TSensors Summit: to help spell out the financial opportunities, Bryzek said.

However, Bryzek said the funding will come. Many sectors see automated sensor networks as the solution to problems. In health, present methods with an emphasis on cure rather than prevention are expensive and not sustainable as populations in more advanced nations continue to age. Medical insurance companies need little persuading to become involved in trials of personal and at-home diagnostic systems and their extension to personal therapeutics.

Similarly improved efficiencies in energy use, and energy generation are likely to pay for the creation and deployment of sensor network monitor systems, said Bryzek. "For example, some estimate about 30 per cent of office building HVAC energy cost reduction when smart HVAC systems are installed, a very short ROI."

And the market opportunity is not just in the hardware of existing and possible future MEMS technologies. Some of the strongest areas of development in MEMS are in things such as sensor fusion and data fusion. Bryzek gave an example of sensor fusion with the use of pressure, gyroscope, accelerometer sensors working with satellite position finding in a mobile phone. The ability to use results from multiple relatively inaccurate sensors to cross calibrate each other can result in highly precise and useful information. "Software is a much needed component."

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