Sensor/Actuator Sales Take Off As Price Erosion Eases

Release time:2017-05-23

Strong unit growth continues to be driven by the spread of automated embedded controls, wearable systems, and the Internet of Things, says new O-S-D Report.

After several years of low and inconsistent growth rates primarily because of intense pricing pressure, the market for semiconductor sensors and actuators finally caught fire in 2016 with several of its largest product categories-acceleration/yaw and magnetic-field sensors and actuator devices-recording strong double- digit  sales  increases  in the year, according to IC Insights’ new 2017 O-S-D Report-A  Market  Analysis  and  Forecast-  for  Optoelectronics, Sensors/Actuators, and Discretes.  

In addition to the easing of price erosion, substantial unit-shipment growt in  sensors  and  actuators  continues  to  be  fed  by  the  spread  of  intelligent  embedded  control,  new  wearable  systems,  and the  expansion of applications connected to the Internet of  Things,  says the  2017 O-S-D Report.

The new 360-page report shows worldwide sensor sales grew 14% in 2016 to a record-high $7.3 billion,  surpassing the  previous annual peak of $6.4 billion set in 2015, when revenues increased 3.7%.   Actuator sales  climbed 19% in 2016 to an all-time high of $4.5 billion from the previous record of  $3.8 billion in 2015.   

The 2017 O-S-D Report forecasts total sensor sales rising by a compound annual growth rate  (CAGR) of 7.5%  in the next five years, reaching $10.5 billion in 2021, while actuator dollar volumes are expected to increase by a CAGR of 8.4% to nearly $6.8 billion in the same timeframe.  Figure 1 shows the relative market sizes of the five main product categories in the sensors/actuator segment, along with the projected five-year growth rates for the 2016-2021 forecast period.

The sensor/actuator market ended four straight years of severe price erosion in 2016 and finally benefitted from strong unit growth.  

The average selling price (ASP) of sensors and actuators declined by -0.9% in 2016 versus an annual average of -9.3% during the four previous years (2012-2015), says IC Insights’ new O-S-D Report.  All sensor product categories and the large actuator segment registered double-digit sales growth in 2016.  

It was the first time in five years that sales growth was recorded in all sensor/actuator product categories, partly due to the easing of price erosion but also because of continued strong unit demand worldwide.  Sensor/actuator shipments grew 17% in 2016 to a record-high of 20.3 billion units from 17.4 billion in 2015, when the volume 
also increased 17%.

Figure 1

Strong 2016 sales recoveries occurred in acceleration/yaw-rate motion sensors (+15%), magnetic-field sensors and  electronic compass chips (+18%), and the miscellaneous other sensor category (+20%) after market declines were registered in 2015.  Sales growth also strengthened in pressure sensors, including MEMS microphone chips, (+10%) and actuators (+19%) in 2016.  

The new O-S-D Report forecasts sales of acceleration/yaw sensors  growing  9% in 2017 to about $3.0 billion, magnetic-field sensors (and compass chips) rising 8% to nearly $2.0 billion,  and pressure sensors increasing 8% to $2.7 billion this year.  Actuator sales are projected to grow 8% in 2017 to about $4.9 billion.

About 82% of the sensors/actuators market’s revenues in 2016 came from semiconductors built with microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology—meaning pressure sensors, microphone chips, acceleration/yaw motion sensors, and actuators that use MEMS-built transducer structures to initiate physical action in a wide range  of  devices, including inkjet printer nozzles, microfluidic chips, micro-mirrors, and surface-wave filters for RF  signals. MEMS-built products represented 48% of total sensor/actuator shipments in  2016, or  about 9.8  billion  units last year.

MEMS-based product sales climbed 15.4% in 2016 to a record-high $9.7 billion  after rising 5.1%  in 2015 and  5.8%  in 2014.   

Some inventory corrections and steep ASP erosion in MEMS-built devices have  suppressed revenue  growth in recent years, but this group of products—like the entire sensors/actuator market—is benefitting from  increased demand in new wearable systems, IoT, and the rapid spread of intelligent embedded control, such as autonomous automotive features rolling into cars.  MEMS-based sensors and actuator sales are  forecast to  rise 7.9%  in 2017 to $10.5 billion and grow by a CAGR of 8.0% in the 2016-2021 period to $14.3 billion, says the new O-S-D Report. 

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When Amazon announced the acquisition of Whole Foods last month, Alice Waters, an American chef and restaurateur, defined its significance as a chance for Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, to seize the moment and launch a food revolution. Immediately after the announcement, Waters tweeted to Bezos: “…You have an unprecedented opportunity to change our food system overnight: It’s time to demand that produce comes from farmers who are taking care of the land…” Click here for larger image The basic elements of technology that can make Waters’ locavore dreams already exist. But none of the big grocers today have yet seized the reins. Since 2015, however, on a much smaller scale, Analog Devices Inc. (ADI) has been on a journey to learn, improve, and instrument Internet of Things (IoT) related to the food industries. In search of fresh, local, and sustainable tomatoes that actually taste good in the Boston area, ADI initiated a pilot project called the “Internet of Tomatoes,” involving local farmers, data scientists, and universities. ADI also recruited technology partners such as Consumer Physics, developer of a molecular sensing device, and, a startup that designs custom blockchains for various industries, including agriculture. The idea behind the Internet of Tomatoes is to build a sensors-to-cloud platform that turns captured data into useful intelligence for farmers, while a blockchain offers a transparent, distributed ledger that can be shared by all participants in the ecosystem. By monitoring and tracking tomatoes from seed to table based on a common platform using common tools, local farmers, packers, distributors, trucking companies, grocers, supermarkets, restauranteurs, and consumers can now put on the table tomatoes that taste like tomatoes — whose quality, pedigree, and provenance is verified and validated by trusted data. Mike Murray, general manager of ADI’s industrial sensing business, told EE Times, “We are putting the technology in the hands of family farmers so that they can create better outcomes.” “Few consumers trust their food these days,” said Raja Ramachandran, CEO at Few people know where produce actually comes from, how it was grown, and how good it might taste. In his opinion, technology could put “trust” back into the food supply chain and “redefine the relationship that consumers have with food.” For example, people often talk about fresh, local, and sustainable foods. Philip Harris, President of, asked, “But what does it mean? How local is local? Did it come from a farm 200 miles away or from a store you just bought it at?” Harris said, “The food supply chain is a very fragmented ecosystem.” By capturing data and sharing it among various players, “data allows buyers’ and consumers’ questions to be answered and helps verify the data.” Amazon’s Whole Foods acquisition will surely trigger retail evolution on the local level, said Ramachandran. Leveraging Amazon’s technology, Whole Foods could improve shoppers’ choice and convenience. Meanwhile, retailers might be able to learn consumer tastes and preferences on a much more personal level, he explained.
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While radar will remain a key technology, boosted by the 79 GHz spectrum band expected to become available globally, camera sensors and machine vision technology hold the promise of propelling ADAS into the mainstream because of its lower cost, flexibility, and multi-purpose character.     ABI Research forecasts automotive camera sensor shipments to reach 197 million by 2020. Main opticalsensor suppliers include Aptina (recently acquired by ON Semiconductor), OmniVision, Sony, STMicro, and Toshiba. LiDAR and IR sensor uptake will remain limited during the forecast period due to its high cost.     “Advances in RF transceivers, microcontrollers, and open platforms are also critical as they allow cost reduction through ECU consolidation by sharing MCUs across multiple sensors, and the promise for car OEMs of the availability of end-to-end solutions via ecosystems of software and application vendors. This is illustrated by Freescale’s recent partnerships with CogniVue, Neusoft, and Green Hills,” comments VP and practice director Dominique Bonte.     However, the arrival of autonomous driving will be the single biggest driver for the uptake of ADAS, which will be a critical component of driverless car technology. In the meantime, ADAS should be seen as a precursor of self-driving vehicles and is already becoming the subject of regulation, with the European NCAP including the presence of Speed Assistance Systems, Autonomous Emergency Braking, and Lane Departure Warning/Lane Keep Assist as criteria to determine safety ratings. In the United States similar initiatives are being discussed by NHTSA which recently proposed changes to its five-star safety program.
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Challenges in mobile computing         The most common challenges facing mobile computing system architects are reducing system size, cost, power consumption, and improving human machine interfaces (HMI). Size is a key feature in mobile computing because for mobile devices the systems have to be designed as small and as light as possible. Main processors and RAM are stacked up system-in-PCB to reduce the size of the printed circuit board (PCB). The3G/4G, GPS, Wi-Fi, near field communication (NFC), Bluetooth, and AM/FM radios are now combined in system-in-packages. The battery charger, fuel gauge, oscillators, and power regulators are also combined in a single package. The challenge is to keep miniaturizing these modules while adding more features to the system.        cost is one of the other driving requirements of the design cycle. The cost of the bill of materials (BOM) should be as low as possible without sacrificing system features. Self-sufficient devices with minimal external components are always desired. Every resistor, capacitor, inductor, regulator, or glue-logic associated to an active component impacts the total cost of the system.         Users now expect that a device will run for at least 8 hours. Current rechargeable battery technologies are based on lithium-polymer chemistry, which has helped increase battery life from 4-5 hours to at least 8 hours, but improving battery technology alone is not enough to assure maximum running time. System architects have to create a power budget for every block inside the system. The most power-hungry blocks are the 3G/4G and GPS radios, followed by the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, and AM/FM radios. These radios are usually combined in a single package and are controlled individually by the host processor. A host processor consumes most of the battery charge since it has to be on most of the time. It manages complex tasks such as receiving/transmitting information over the 3G/4G radios, computes complex algorithms to render the images displayed on the screen, accesses information stored on the memory, plays music files, etc. System and software architects work together to keep the main processor in low-power modes as much as possible.         Sensors are a fundamental part of the human machine interface; sensors help the system identify the context and environmental conditions. Motion sensors such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers identify whether the system is on a flat surface or whether it is being moved or tilted in a certain position. They provide the orientation of the system and also help provide a more accurate position of the system by increasing the resolution of the GPS with dead-reckoning algorithms. They can also be used in conjunction with the Wi-Fi or 3G/4G radios to determine the position of the system inside a building where the GPS signal is not available. They are the preferred interface, and commonly used, in gaming and augmented reality applications. Sensors in mobile computing applications can track ambient light, barometric pressure, touch, temperature, and voice recognition.         Ambient light sensors help dim the backlight of the screen according to the surrounding light and can also be used as proximity sensors. Multiple ambient light sensors configured as proximity sensors can be used to identify gestures and offer an alternative to touch sensing interfaces. Barometric pressure sensors are used in altimeter applications. These sensors, along with the motion sensors, enable the device to become an indoor navigation system.         Touch sensors are currently the most common human machine interface; they are on every smartphone and tablet and are the preferred typing interface in small factor devices. Touch sensors are typically mounted on the displays.         Temperature sensors are widely used to keep track of the hot spots on the system. They provide feedback to the system to do thermal and power management.         Finally, voice recognition has been re-introduced to mobile computing devices. Algorithms have been enhanced so they can filter out noise and can understand people with different accents. Technological advances in microphones and analog-to-digital (ADC) devices have made this technology more affordable and efficient.
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