Bosch Sensortec grows in mobile and beyond, says CEO: Part 1
Robert Bosch GmbH has successfully ridden the wave of automotive demand for micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) components since 1988. And then in 2005 it formed Bosch Sensortec as a wholly-owned subsidiary to offer MEMS for consumer applications. It was near perfect timing. Smartphones were starting to emerge and the iPhone was launched by Apple in June 2007 – would go on to drive a rapid increase in the market for MEMS.
eeNews Europe caught up with Bosch Sensortec CEO Stefan Finkbeiner has he prepared for the Consumer Electronics Show coming up in Las Vegas January 6 to 10, 2014.
In June 2013 IHS-iSuppli ranked ST and Bosch as joint leaders in the supply of MEMS in 2012 with $793 million of annual sales each (see ST, Bosch battle for MEMS market top spot) So how well is Bosch Sensortec doing in the mobile platform? Or are the margins becoming so thin that STMicroelectronics is welcome to the market?
"Bosch is a pioneer in MEMS in automotive and we leverage that. Bosch Sensortec is 100 percent focused on consumer and every other smartphone has a Bosch Sensortec MEMS in it," was FinkBeiner’s response. "The biggest markets are for accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, pressure sensors where we are very successful."
"In accelerometers for consumer [electronics] we are the market leaders and when combined with a magnetic sensor it produces Bosch Sensortec’s successful eCompass line of products for dead reckoning calculations. In gyroscopes ST remains the leader," said Finkbeiner.
But as price points for smartphones move down and volumes increase the pressure on margins increases for MEMS vendors. Does there come a point where Bosch Sensortec should focus on adjacent markets with less competition?
Finkbeiner doesn’t see it like that. "We want to be the technology and innovation leader. We can produce an accelerometer with a footprint of 1.2mm by 1.5mm and we are integrating to produce IMUs [inertial measurement units] that combine accelerometers, gyros and pressure sensors. That way we can get a benefit for us and for the customer by using less material and reducing foot print.
So what technologies, applications and industry sectors are next?
There are different things such as humidity sensors that can be useful in terms of judging the context the phone is in. If you hold a phone to your ear the humidity goes up quickly so such a sensor could be used to automatically switch the phone on, Finkbeiner explained. Accelerometers can be tuned for use as step counters and so on. And humidity allied to pressure and temperature measurements could be used to make local weather reports – useful for the owner of the cell phone but also potentially part of a crowd-sourced weather reporting system, said Finkbeiner. And then there are microfluidics for a wide range of medical and fitness applications.
Finkbeiner said that equipment that connects to smartphones – small units that link to the smartphone to present information or to gain access to the Internet – is the next big and most obvious market. Beyond that there is the more general world of autonomous machines with sensors and actuators that will make up the Internet of Things.
Even as we were speaking parent Robert Bosch GmbH was preparing the launch of Bosch Connected Devices And Solutions GmbH to engage in this market, which the company sees as the third application wave for MEMS in networked homes, in transportation and traffic management and for logistics.
However, Bosch CDS will be a "platform" company that puts MEMS sensors together with microcontrollers, energy sources, RF ICs and software to produce system-in-package or system-level products. Bosch CDS is likely to be a major sales opportunity for Bosch Sensortec.
"Bio-medical is different to fitness and consumer electronics. It requires long trial periods and country approvals. Bosch Sensortec is not a medical company," said Finkbeiner but he added that Robert Bosch GmbH is large and if the company chose to it could make a subsidiary focused on that market.
In part 2 of this interview Finkbeiner discusses Bosch Sensortec’s manufacturing strategy.
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