The dominance of MEMS pressure sensors in the automotive market may be under threat as the industry moves to replace Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles with EVs. Electrification will reduce many ‘traditional’ application areas in hybrid models and eliminate them altogether in fully electric vehicles.
The market research and strategy consulting company, Yole Développement (Yole) investigates the status of the pressure sensors industry with the analysis of MEMS technologies and the analysis of the applications and strategy of the leading companies. With a dedicated report, MEMS Pressure Sensors – Technology and Market Trends 2021, Yole’s analysts deliver a comprehensive description of the ecosystem with business and technical issues, with a dedicated section focused on electrification trends and the possible impact on the MEMS pressure sensors.
Today, multiple MEMS pressure sensors are used in vehicles’ safety and comfort systems. In the ICE they are used in many parts of the power train; in hybrid vehicles their role is still the same since the ICE is always present, but in the longer term, as fully electric systems gain market share, they may have no place at all. Manufacturers, suppliers and integrators may need to look at diversifying or alternative applications to survive in the longer term.
MEMS pressure sensors were one of the earliest MEMS devices to be developed but now share the arena with inertial sensors (accelerometers and gyroscopes), microphones, as well as RF MEMS sensors. MEMS pressure sensor revenue of $1.6 billion represents almost 15% of the total $11.5 billion global MEMS market in 2020
Today, MEMS pressure sensors are used in consumer devices (smartphones and wearables), industrial systems (HVAC, process control and transportation), medical equipment (blood pressure monitors and respiratory devices), aerospace and defense (for altitude and data) and automotive applications. It is this last category that is the principal market. They are used in multiple systems in an ICE vehicle. They are in active and passive safety systems, such as TPMS, brake boosters and side airbags, as well as in the HVAC and car seats, for passenger comfort. Most recently they have found a new application in hybrid cars and EVs, monitoring the thermal runaway in battery cells, in the general context of a battery monitoring system (BMS). The majority, however, are used in the vehicle’s power train: for BAP, MAP, particle filters, fuel tank evaporation, exhaust gas recirculation and to monitor the automatic transmission oil level.
Covid-19 has seen a reduction in all but the medical market for MEMS pressure sensor markets, during 2020. The pandemic has led to a reduction in automotive and aircraft production. Similarly, there has been a slowdown in consumer device production and new orders for industrial equipment as manufacturing volumes contract. Medical equipment has seen a 16% year-on-year growth, with revenues increasing to $339 million in 2020 from $292 million in 2019. This is partly because of an increase in the production of breathing equipment and ventilators, which use between two and five pressure sensors in each device. There has also been an increase in home healthcare to support social distancing, leading to routine checks like the use of blood pressure monitors, which use MEMS pressure sensors, being conducted at home. This Point of Care (PoC) approach is a wider healthcare industry trend which brings monitoring closer to the patient.
The whole MEMS pressure sensor market saw a reduction of -2.4% between 2019 – 2020. All market sectors are expected to rebound by 2026, with a CAGR of 5.1% between 2020 – 2026, exceeding 2019’s total market value of $1685 million to be worth $2214 million, according to MEMS Pressure Sensors – Technology and Market Trends 2021 report.
Automotive will remain the largest market for MEMS pressure sensors, with a CAGR of 3.4% between 2020-2026. During this time, the new car market is still expected to be dominated by ICE, accounting for 70%, ahead of hybrid vehicles (a combination of ICE and electric battery) at 19% and 11% fully electric vehicles. A long range forecast, however is that by 2030 half of new vehicles will be full EV, with 30% hybrid and 20% ICE.
Battery operated EVs do not require a power train equipped with sensors to monitor pressure in the engine. This eliminates many of the MEMS pressure sensors, although they are used in the battery coolant system and in the BMS to monitor the thermal runaway of battery cells.
In 2020, the ICE vehicle sector was 92% of the car production market and accounted for 250m MEMS pressure sensor units. Despite a forecast fall in market share to 70% in 2025, ICEs will account for 280m MEMS pressure sensors, as automotive production volumes increase from 77m in 2020 to 105m in 2025. In this period, EVs are forecast to increase from 2% market share in 2020 to 11% in 2025 and hybrid vehicles will increase from 6% to 19% in the same period.
All the time ICE and hybrid vehicles exceed EV market share, demand for MEMS pressure sensor will be sustained. Longer term forecasts, however, predict EVs and hybrids will each account for 30% of the market by 2030, requiring only 7m and 140m pressure sensor units, respectively. The ICE market share is forecast to shrink to 40% by 2030, requiring only 210m MEMS pressure sensors. Forecasting even further ahead, tens of millions of units of MEMS pressure sensors could be lost annually as EV penetration accelerates. It could easily reach 50% market share by 2035 (requiring only 20m MEMS pressure sensors), overtaking hybrid sales which are forecast to be 30% market share in 2035, requiring 140m MEMS pressure sensors. This would leave ICEs with 20% market share, requiring only 100m units of MEMS pressure sensors.
The MEMS pressure sensor market is fragmented and the top three companies account for almost half of the total market in 2020. Bosch leads with 21% of the total market and has a strong presence in the automotive and consumer markets as both sensor and Tier 1 module manufacturer. TE Connectivity, also a manufacturer and module maker, has 16% of the market, with a significant presence in industrial and medical markets. Sensor manufacturer Infineon’s focus is automotive and consumer, and the company has 11% market share.
For sensor manufacturers and automotive Tier 1 module makers (e.g. Melexis, STMicroelectronics, Sensata, Denso, Continental, etc), the transition to fully electric vehicles may lead them to investigate other markets, or prompt them to diversify as they consider three possible scenarios as a result of electrification.
In the first scenario, industry pressure for BMS in EVs will introduce new applications, for example multiple pressure sensors used to monitor thermal runaway, battery coolant levels, and the individual battery cells in the vehicle’s battery. The second outcome may be that there is limited use for pressure sensors in thermal runaway application because improvements in battery manufacturing standards increase safety levels and other sensor types are specified for the BMS. The final, worst-case, scenario is that as ICE power trains are eroded, demand for MEMS pressure sensors drops dramatically and is not replaced with alternative use-cases.
Companies can take alternative courses of actions to mitigate the effects of a decline in unit sales as traditional business routes are curtailed. One is to consider new applications.
As mentioned, the move to electrification may lead to demand for pressure sensing in BMS, thermal runaway management and water pump cooling systems in the automotive arena. Companies may add another element to its portfolio, like Sensata which recently acquired Lithium Balance, a BMS company.
There may also be new, emerging applications in the industrial sector and in medical equipment, such as smart meters for industrial IoT and smart inhalers for medical. In consumer markets, there may be further use of pressure sensors for location and navigation in wearable devices for example.
Companies may also consider going beyond sensor offerings, such as data services and telematics. An example of this is Sensata’s recent acquisition of Xirgo, a data analytics company, to provide actionable insights from sensor data.
Large businesses could divest parts or diversify by investing in other relay technologies. An example of this is Vitesco Technologies, which develops power train technologies for all types of vehicles, and which was spun out by Continental.
The phasing out of ICE vehicles will be a gradual process which will affect MEMS pressure sensor companies to a greater or lesser degree. The longer term view provides companies the opportunity to consider a strategy for a marketplace without ICE vehicles and to seek alternative uses for the proven technology and new revenue streams. As Benjamin Franklin said “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”, so the time for companies to act is now.
About the authors
Dimitrios Damianos, Ph.D., is a Technology & Market Analyst, part of the Photonics & Sensing division at Yole Développement (Yole).
Based on solid technical expertise in imaging, sensing, display, lighting, and photonics, Dimitrios oversees the day-to-day production of valuable technology & market reports and custom consulting projects.
Dimitrios also serves as a member of the Custom Project Business Development division (CPBD), supporting the development of strategic projects and following Yole’s leading customers within the semiconductor industry. Dimitrios plays a key role in the expansion of Yole’s market & technical knowledge, maintaining long-term relationships with key accounts and ensuring their expectations are met.
Dimitrios regularly presents and delivers keynotes at international conferences and exhibitions. He has also authored and co-authored several technical & market reports as well as scientific papers in international peer-reviewed journals.
Dimitrios holds a BSc in Physics and an MSc in Photonics, both from the University of Patras (GR), and a Ph.D. in Optics & Microelectronics from the University of Grenoble-Alpes (FR).
Jérôme Mouly is Team Lead Analyst in the Sensing & Actuating team within the Photonic & Sensing Division at Yole Développement (Yole).
Jérôme manages the expansion of the technical expertise and market know-how of the team. He actively supports and assists in the development of a dedicated collection of market & technology reports as well as custom consulting projects.
He has conducted more than 100 marketing and technological analyses for industrial groups, start-ups, and institutes in the field of MEMS and sensing technologies.
Jérôme has been also deeply engaged in Yole’s finance activities with a dedicated focus on the commercial exploitation of smart system technologies and access to funding opportunities.
Jérôme is regularly involved in international conferences, with presentations and keynotes.
Jérôme Mouly earned a Master of Physics degree from the University of Lyon (FR).
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