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Murata reinforces sensor division with IoT twist

Posted: 26 Nov 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:capacitor? automotive? Tsuneo Murata? IoT?

EE Times Europe came in contact with Murata President and Representative Director Tsuneo Murata at electronica 2014 in Germany for an update on the company's plans for the future.

With a net income of $881 million for the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2014, the Japanese company got over half of its revenues from the communication market, mostly with passive components and RF modules used for mobile phones.

Then three years ago, Murata acquired VTI Technologies Oy, in Finland for the high precision MEMS gyros it produces for the automotive market.

"We used to develop piezo-ceramic gyro sensors for image stabilisation in handy cams and stereo cameras, but this business has been displaced with MEMS gyros," said Murata.

Murata explained that while his company had developed MEMS gyros for the automotive industry, VTI still did better because 70 per cent of VTI's business was in automotive for electronic stability control (ESC) applications, with Europe hosting many key automotive OEMs, and [Murata] wouldn't be moving production outside Finland.

"We will rather expand our MEMS capacity in our Finnish fab," added Murata. The company's MEMS also find their way into industrial applications and in medical applications, especially pacemakers.

"We don't plan to produce MEMS for the consumer market. With well-established players such as ST or Bosch in this low-cost market, it's a dead end," said Murata.

Looking at Murata's acquisitions, the Peregrine Semiconductorwhich is known for its SOI RF front-end technologybuyout took place only two years after acquiring RF Monolithics for its know-how in M2M radio module design. Both acquisitions reinforce the company's strategy to address the IoT market whether industrial or medical. (See Murata to augment RF prowess with Peregrine acquisition)

"We have a long history of developing wireless modules, initially using traditional diodes, now with SOI RF switches," said Murata. "Effectively, 60 per cent of Peregrine's sales have been passed on to Murata to integrate its RF SOI technology into our front-end modules.

"With the acquisition of Peregrine Semiconductor, we have a good chance to shorten our development times in this field. Murata is the only company to have the internal capability for such large product integration, including passives and power supplies," he added.

Where Murata is growing the fastest is in the telecoms and the automotive sectors. But product wise, RF components make for the company's biggest sales. "We plan to tie sensors to this growth, adding temperature and humidity sensors to Bluetooth or Wi-Fi modules for IoT applications," said Murata.

He noted that one growing area of interest for such modules would be health care and the many medical applications that require patient monitoring. Here, VTI's MEMS sensors are so precise that they could be used to detect blood pressure (as per the strap-on device the company was exhibiting at the show).

The company is also considering the design of combination modules for the smartphone industry, where not only Bluetooth, WiFi or both connectivity standards are a must, but where sensors are taking centre stage.

Energy management systems and home automation calling for connected sensors is another sector of interest for the company, for which it is actively developing energy-harvesting solutions.

"IoT is already generating some revenue, but it is still comparatively small and it will take time to attain a certain level of business," Murata said, unwilling to reveal any specific figures. "Until then, passives will remain our bread & butter."

Regardless of the company's direction, Murata will always need the passives.

Some of the company's efforts to break into the health care IoT market could be seen at last week's Embedded Technology 2014 conference in Yokohama, where Murata was exhibiting a baby monitoring braceletwhich reports on activity through an accelerometer, a humidity/temperature sensor, and an IR temperature sensortogether with a logging tool able to push notifications to a smartphone through Bluetooth LE.

- Julien Happich
??EE Times Europe

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