Yole Développement spent time with the number 2 of the Microphone market, and share with you this interview!
The MEMS microphone business has entered a strong growth cycle again, with competition increasing among the suppliers. Knowles is still the leader but several companies are taking market shares as described in the new report from Yole Développement “MEMS Microphone: Market, Applications and Business Trends 2014” (complete analysis). Infineon is clearly the strong number 2 of the microphone market, with a smart business model and strong development program. Discover the details of Infineon activities in MEMS and microphone in the interview of Roland Helm, in charge of microphone business at Infineon.
Yole Développement asks: Can you describe us Infineon activities in the MEMS business today ?
Roland Helm answers: First, let me introduce Infineon: Infineon Technologies AG, Neubiberg, Germany, offers semiconductor and system solutions addressing three central challenges to modern society: energy efficiency, mobility, and security. In the 2013 fiscal year (ending September 30), the Company reported sales of Euro 3.84 billion with around 26,700 employees worldwide. Infineon is listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange (ticker symbol: IFX) and in the USA on the over-the-counter market OTCQX International Premier (ticker symbol: IFNNY). Further information is available at www.infineon.com
MEMS acoustic sensor on the wafer as shipped from Infineon.
Infineon offers MEMS microphones, pressure sensors as well as tire pressure monitoring sensors consisting of pressure and acceleration sensors. The sensor portfolio is ranging from optical over magnetic to radar. Our ownership of the manufacturing sites allows fast time-to-market development in the fabs. For supply security we can do dual site manufacturing.
Infineon develops and manufactures the microphone MEMS and ASIC semiconductors. Infineon MEMS microphone semiconductors are in very high volume especially in smartphones. According to Yole Développement, Infineon made 70 M$ sales in microphones in 2013. We are proud on our capability to combine the fast innovation of yearly performance jumps with the high volume and steep ramp delivery quality.
Infineon MEMS pressure sensors for automotive fulfill the demanding requirements of the automotive environment. Our customers appreciate the excellent quality level of our products. Therefore we’re among the top suppliers for TPMS and side-impact collision detection sensors.
YD: Why Infineon targeted the microphone business?
RH: Infineon started 14 years ago with a feasibility in MEMS microphones with a PhD thesis. Seven years ago the technical feasibility combined with the demanding responses from the mobile phone customers gave us the confidence to invest severely in the mass production setup. Although MEMS microphone is a technology that is replacing an existing cheaper microphone technology, we were convinced that the technical benefits, especially the manufacturability, the acoustic performance and the small form factor will be valued by the customers and drive the disruptive microphone technology change.
YD: What is the status of microphone business at Infineon today in terms of dynamic and expectations?
RH: The innovation dynamic is huge. Each year we steeply ramp a completely new microphone technology, product lifecycles are typically two years. In this dynamic innovation driven environment we plan to continue to significantly outgrow the market. With high invests in innovation and development we are addressing the high acoustical performance on the high end as well as the low end cost requirements.
YD: Can you be more precise in term of technology roadmap for Infineon microphone, what is under development, what is expected as new functions within 18 months?
RH: By increasing the number of microphones per phone the noise of each individual microphone contributes and the space is getting tighter. Therefore we will reduce the acoustical noise further and secure fit in smaller packages. We will continue the evolutionary signal-to-noise (SNR) improvement, here we are improving 2 dB(A) per year. This is especially a challenge since the shrinking package sizes reduce the back volume, the volume of the package behind the membrane, which is a major contributor to the SNR. A more revolutionary dimension is the linearity in loud environments, the total harmonic distortion (THD), where we will launch new solutions based on a completely new MEMS technology and a new ASIC concept.
Microphone ASIC on the wafer as shipped from Infineon..
YD: Infineon has a particular position in the supply chain for MEMS microphones as provider of MEMS die and ASIC die to ECM manufacturers. Can you detail the success of such position in the supply chain?
RH: We focus on what we are best: MEMS & ASIC development and manufacturing. And we partner with companies who are best in acoustics. Key for success and speed to market is to combine the strengths of both worlds, the deterministic science of semiconductors with the art of acoustics. Although microphones with Infineon MEMS inside have our customers' branding and Infineon brand has only limited visibility this has not limited our success.
YD: Is the Infineon position in the supply chain expected to change in the future?
RH: We do not plan to change our business model. It is successful. Of course we need to secure the packaging innovation speed in the high end and carefully watch the stacked margins on the low end.
YD: Do you think this business model is sustainable in the next 3 years? All you customers are developing MEMS microphone devices, one has acquired a foundry/microphone maker in Malaysia, is Infineon also preparing an answer to these developments ?
RH: Yes, we think our business model is sustainable in the next 3 years. We see in the low end new upcoming solutions, but we are confident that with our technology and delivery capability we can keep the customer value utilizing the economy of scale on the low cost side. I agree with you that competing against potential in-house solutions of our customers could become a barrier in the future. We balance this with the advantage of collaborating with different acoustic package specialists in increasing our bandwidths for serving the different segments.
YD: What is for you the potential major evolutions of the microphone business (multi microphones per mobile phone, arrays of microphone…)?
RH: Audio continues to be a key differentiator in the smartphones. A nice sound track for a recorded movie should be able to record the voices of e. g. distant children playing. It should also cover the full dynamic range of loudness of a sports event or a rock concert. We expect high innovation speed at algorithms and sound processors. This will require multi-microphone arrays consisting of acoustic sensors with more precise matching sensitivity, lower noise, flatter frequency and higher dynamic range. The higher number of microphones will further press on miniaturization.
YD: What is your analysis of the microphone competitive landscape?
RH: We see a very interesting mixture of acoustic background companies exploring the semiconductor space and semiconductor companies exploring the acoustic space. Also we see MEMS specialists with small number of MEMS products as well as competitors with broad MEMS portfolios.
YD: Is Infineon increasing its activities in MEMS at the moment and can we expect any changes in the future?
RH: Infineon has reached todays position with combining the high quality and delivery capability from MEMS automotive sensors with the high volume in the consumer space. We have built up the necessary process steps, the design expertise and the intellectual property.
In this environment we secure and extend our position with developing completely new MEMS technologies for existing sensors, e. g. new microphones or pressure sensors with much higher acoustic quality or precision. We have a designated innovation group working in our fabs on next generation MEMS technologies.
The selection of the innovation projects is done by combining the technology push from extending sensor technology capabilities with the pull from the new requirements from e. g. the internet of things.
Dr. Roland Helm joined Infineon in 2003 after working in a technology start-up and in a business consultancy. Since 2006 he is responsible for the MEMS Microphone business. He has been growing the biz from technical feasibility to relevant market share by focusing on customer requirements, leading performance MEMS and ASIC designs as well as high volume manufacturing and delivery capability. He is passionate to match new technology to the needs of modern society.
Roland has a Ph. D. from Technical University of Munich where he majored in physics.