Low emission standards to open the door for MEMS auto market

Here at the MEMS Industry Congress Europe, a panel discussed how the tiny devices are a growth economy in the automotive sector and outlined where the industry is heading. 

Principal MEMS analyst for IHS iSuppli Richard Dixon said that, in 2010 alone, the MEMS sensor market managed to grow by 28 percent, lending more weight to the argument that this is an industry in its infancy. In 2011, the market was up again by 15 percent. Dixon pointed out that pre-2008 sensors were growing at seven or eight percent and, he says, the car industry really managed to claw its way out of recession bringing MEMS with it. Now, it is entering a new fast growth phase, and this is driven mostly by lowering emissions and on safety.

Some devices also cover 99 percent of the market, like power sensors and airbags. What really is driving the market is safety mandates, according to Dixon. Emerging markets like China are of particular significance, with the country employing tire pressure monitoring systems in the majority of their cars over the next three years.

Driver assist is expected to become much of a feature, along with hybrid and electric vehicles. When markets like China and India open up further it will present the industry with more opportunities. But, Dixon said, “South America will be the next major market”.

With the Euro 6 emissions standards well on the way, companies are being forced to fight tooth and nail to cut down on emissions. Euro 6, Dixon said, could add implications for gasoline engines which produce too many particles, which in turn, could see a push for pressure sensors. In terms of safety technology becoming pervasive in cars, he closed: “You need a breathalyser in your car in France.”

Although companies which design and manufacture MEMS are trying their best to introduce devices and features which they hope will save lives, Freescale’s global automotive strategy manager, Marc Osajda, added weight to the claims that safety is driving in-vehicle MEMS. “A lot of accidents are related to human behaviour,” he said. Freescale, which is the largest supplier of pressure sensors in automative, hopes that with its devices it can at least reduce the number of accidents as much as possible.

As well as safety, Osajda said, reducing size and power consumption will drive automotive. “If you take an airbag, which is one of the largest markets,” he said, “the biggest technical improvement is probably cost reduction.” To streamline the MEMS process along with the testing helps cut costs all around, especially with how enormous the market for airbags is – with China leading the charge, followed by Brazil.

Hannu Laatikainen, executive VP in transportation at VTI, said while speaking on the panel that cars should be more like people. MEMS can help bring their senses to life – with what they are able to see, what they are able to hear, and even what they are able to taste. The audience laughed, but Laatikainen said it’s entirely possible to have a car recognise the quality of its own fuel.