MUNICH, Germany With multiple inertial sensors combined in one package, automotive MEMS startup SensorDynamics (Graz, Austria) plans to compete against industry heavyweights such as Analog Devices and Bosch group.
In automotive sensors and related electronics, there currently are three strong trends: Fail-safe architectures, integration of several gyroscopes and inertial sensors, combined with the pre-processing circuitry within one package and high shock and vibration resilience, says Jürgen Tittel, Vice President Marketing and Sales for SensorDynamics, a startup company launched in 2003. The company which emerged from a group of former Austriamicrosystems employees now has presented a roadmap highlighting its MEMS strategy for the next couple of years.
With higher integration and a higher number of the degrees-of-freedom, the sensors will enable smarter ESC systems for cars and thus improve the safety for driver and passengers. Currently, many products at the market are based on simple gyroscopes and accelerometers that measure one-dimensional yaw movements and acceleration. The company has developed 2D-units, delivering additional roll-over signals and lateral acceleration. The goal for the next years will be a six-dimensional movement and accelerator sensor which detects movements and acceleration in all three spatial axes. The 3D gyro required for such a component is currently under development at SensorDynamics.
The company uses MEMS process technology similar to Bosch's technology, based on a joint development of Bosch and the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicon Technology (ISI) in Itzehoe (Germany). Having acquired a 15-year license to use this technology from Fraunhofer, SensorDynamics also has a manufacturing contract with Fraunhofer. Fraunhofer ISI is not only a research institute but also Europe's largest MEMS foundry with a capacity of 300.000 eight-inch wafer equivalents per year.
Of this capacity, SensorDynamics has secured a trench of 10.000 wafers annually. While this seems a small quantity, it equals up to 40 million MEMS sensors per year, Tittel said.
When it comes to the ASICs the company integrates into the multi-chip packages for its sensors, SensorDynamics has supply contracts with TSMC and ST Microelectronics where it is treated as OEM, not as a foundry customer. Smaller foundries readily available in Europe were not a choice for the SensorDynamics despite its historical relationship with Austriamicrosystems. "Technological leadership is something you only can get with the really large foundries," explained Tittel. "For instance, TSMC bas a much better back-up strategy which is very important if you serve customers in the automotive industry".
Despite its relatively small market footprint, the company plans to compete head-on against much bigger players. "We're not afraid of big names," said Tittel who claims that SensorDynamics' products feature superior temperature stability and shock resistance according to Tittel, the gyros and accelerometers are tested at 1500 g with power on and 2000 g with power off. "As a pure-play component vendor, we avoid the problems Bosch runs into when it acts as a system vendor and at the same time sells its components to its system competitors," Tittel said.
For the future, the company also plans to attack industrial, medical and eventually consumer markets. However, the latter represents a different set of challenges Tittel admits.
In terms of geography, the company has sales representatives in Korea, China and Taiwan. Currently, it is preparing its market entry in the United States. To achieve this goal, it is setting up a cooperation with Rathsburg Associates. Apparently here backfires the cost-cutting strategy of competitor Analog Devices: Until recently Rathsburg sold ADI products. In the context of a cost cutting program, ADI relegated Rathsburg from its list of contract partners.
SensorDynamics is funded by an Austrian-German VC consortium which includes Siemens Venture Capital and GAP.
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