MEMS platforms are way to go, says Bosch’s Finkbeiner

MEMS platforms are way to go, says Bosch’s Finkbeiner

Interviews |
By eeNews Europe

Part of Bosch Sensortec’s success has come from an approach that has leveraged the company’s position in automotive to address smartphone applications. And Finkbeiner told eeNews Europe that a multi-use platform approach with MEMS sensors made application-specific through software will be one way to address the numerous vertical markets for the Internet of Things.

"We have a good balance. Being in both markets is important. That way you can often develop a common platform and then two separate products," said Finkbeiner who we met at the European MEMS Summit, organized by SEMI and held in Milan, Sept. 17 and 18.

Asked whether Bosch Sensortec needed to add novel technologies and sensor types to its current position in inertial sensors Finkbeiner said: "We have a lot of growth with the current technology into IoT," he answered. "Today it is use cases, not technology, that is driving business."

Bosch Sensortec has access to corporate research performed by parent company Robert Bosch GmbH. They are looking into new measurement technologies, optical MEMS, microfluidics and so on, Finkbeiner said.

"But choosing the right time to deploy such technologies is key. If you already have an existing technology, the new technology has to have a significant advantage over the existing one. And you also have to look at the performance of the complete sensor, which could include local software and the impact of packaging. Often a change in software or in packaging can produce a more significant benefit than overthrowing the base technology," he said.

Nonetheless Bosch Sensortec is introducing gas and chemical sensors, humidity sensors for an environmental cluster on smartphones. But mainly Bosch Sensortec is looking to tweak what it has got to address a panorama of new market opportunities. "We are looking to diversify out of automotive and smartphones into IoT and industry 4.0"

Next: 300mm production

300mm production

As the market leader Bosch Sensortec would be one of the first companies that could benefit from moving to a larger wafer size for production.

Bosch has its own 200mm wafer fab opened in 2010 in Reutlingen, Germany, built along side a 6-inch wafer fab that has been in operation since 1995. ICs produced on the site are used in electronic control units (ECUs), in automobile engines, electronic stabilizers and ride control, airbag, night-vision and driver assistance systems and in consumer electronics applications such as smartphones.

When the 200mm fab was commissioned back in 2010 Bosch said it would take up until 2016 for it to be fully facilitized. It could be argued that one way for Bosch to put off the expense of a next wafer fab would be for the company to start converting its lines to 300mm wafers, but Finkbeiner says there is no near-term benefit for doing this.

"From the technical side; you can do it. But from the commercial side does it make sense?" Finkbeiner asked rhetorically. He pointed out that despite the fact that the physical structures in MEMS do not scale as easily or predictably as transistors have, companies have made progress in shrinking structures and MEMS die sizes. "You can get 30,000 MEMS die on an 8-inch wader. That means a single lot of 25 wafers gets you 750,000 pieces. With a few wafers you can get millions of parts."

Finkbeiner added that the fragmentary nature of MEMS and the one product, one process limitations meant that there was almost no product that justified production on 300mm wafers. And building a 300mm MEMS wafer fab would not be feasible any time soon. "Reutlingen is not yet full. When we get closer [to being full] we will think again about what should be next."

Next: IoT and wearables

Partnership with other companies on a More-than-Moore 200mm/300mm wafer fab might be one option (see AMS plans to rent More-than-Moore wafer fab in New York).

IoT and wearables

From its strong base in automotive and smartphones Bosch Sensortec – like most other MEMS suppliers – wants to expand by servicing the Internet of Things. "To make money in IoT you have to look at the application," Finkbeiner said.

When asked whether he saw wearable equipment as a real market that can add on to the smartphone sector Finkbeiner said the threshold for success in wearables would be high, in terms of functionality, reliability and energy efficiency but there were opportunities. "The volume in wearables is considerably lower than in smartphones. But there are definite use cases such as sports and healthiness, locating and monitoring children and the elderly," he said.

ASSNs and stripped down hubs coming soon. Source: Bosch Sensortec

In his talk at the European MEMS Summit Finkbeiner said that Bosch Sensortec would be introducing application-specific sensor nodes (ASSNs) – combinations of multi-axis sensors, microcontrollers and software – and stripped down hubs for IoT applications soon. "Software will become an essential success factor for MEMS in the future.

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