The Covid-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences beyond the spread of the disease. It has been sending shocks through the world economy, and the MEMS…
The Covid-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences beyond the spread of the disease. It has been sending shocks through the world economy, and the MEMS industry is no expectation.
In an interview with EE Times Europe, Éric Mounier, fellow analyst, and Dimitrios Damianos, technology & market analyst in the photonics and sensing division at Yole Développement (Lyon, France), analyze and assess the impact of the current crisis on the different MEMS markets.
While no clear trend is emerging, the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to have both direct and indirect effects on the development and deployment of MEMS in applications.
According to Yole, the global MEMS revenue will grow at a 7.4-percent CAGR, from $11.5 billion in 2019 to $17.7 billion in 2025. The consumer market is and will continue to be the foremost driver for MEMS with about 60 percent of the total, followed by the automotive market at less than 20 percent of the total.
The consumer market will be supported by the radio-frequency (RF) MEMS in response to the expanding 5G and sub-6 GHz band rollout that calls for Bulk Acoustic Wave (BAW) filters. “We do not expect the RF MEMS devices to be negatively impacted,” said Damianos. “The smartphone market might suffer this year due to decreased consumer spending, but we will have a penetration of the 5G and of the RF MEMS that are going into smartphones.”
Including RF MEMS, Yole analysts expect the consumer market to contract by 2.6 percent in 2020. Excluding RF MEMS, it is, however, set to drop by 16 percent in 2020. A recovery to pre-covid levels is expected in 2021. Growth will then resume.
The Covid-19 has created demand for medical MEMS sensors, said Damianos. As countries work to contain the pandemic, the need for effective diagnostic testing has been front and center. Si-glass microfluidics has seen a surge in demand, and Yole predicts the microfluidics market will grow at a CAGR of 11.7 percent to $17.4 billion in 2024.
Demand is also strong for microbolometers and thermal piles for thermometry either as simple temperature sensing or temperature imaging. Pressure sensors and flow meters also experience growth as they are used for ventilators, respiratory diagnostics, and research tools.
In parallel, the Covid-19 pandemic “has accelerated the trend towards the consumerization of healthcare with wearables to track health or other parameters,” said Damianos. “Before we had, on one side, fitness and well-being applications that required no approval, could be found in retail stores and were sold in millions of units. On the other side, we had purely medical devices and medical wearables that required approval from health organizations such as FDA and CE and were available upon prescription.” Today, he continued, “these two markets are merging into one, and MEMS technologies contribute to their miniaturization.”
Covid-19 has also become a catalyst for digital transformation in healthcare. New technology requirements for a more patient-centric approach will emerge, and there will be more telehealth, more wearable, hearable, and connected medical devices as well as more prevention and continuous monitoring.
The telecommunications segment is showing the highest growth potential, but “it’s a very small market,” said Damianos. “It’s around $40 million this year, and we expect it to be around $200 million in 2025” to meet the need for timing devices. “MEMS oscillators will be used in infrastructures to help 5G rollouts, as you need a really good timing device for devices to be able to communicate.”
Not all MEMS markets will be equally affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Due to the need for contactless body temperature measurement, the demand for thermal imaging and sensing systems –both thermopile and microbolometer– is expected to surge and benefit the whole industrial MEMS market.
Global automotive demand has contracted to levels not seen since the 2007-2009 recession. Lockdown measures in most countries brought vehicle sales to a standstill, and Yole predicts the negative effects of Covid-19 will be prominent with a 27.5-percent year-on-year decline in 2020. The drop in demand will inevitably affect sensing, lighting and power devices. Pressure and inertial MEMS will continue to dominate as they are used in safety systems such as tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), airbags, electronic stability control (ESC), and roll-over detection. Still a minor market, MEMS oscillators are expected to rise by a 45-percent CAGR from 2019 to 2025 thanks to 5G automotive vehicle-to-everything (V2X) connectivity.
“The automotive market will not recover quickly from the current crisis,” said Mounier. “It will take two to three years for the automotive sector to be back to normal. Medical, telecom, mobile, and consumer sectors will recover much faster than the automotive sector and drive the [MEMS market] growth.”
Defense & Aerospace
The Covid-19 pandemic has suspended most domestic and international flights. Most planes are grounded on the tarmac, and civil aviation demand is plunging. According to the International Air Transport Association, the global air traffic will not return to levels seen before the outbreak until at least 2024. “As a market segment, we expect Defense & Aerospace to drop because the impact on civil aviation is big,” said Damianos. Traditional MEMS sensors, including pressure and inertial sensors, will indeed be affected by the aircraft order cancellations.
Defense will, however, not be severely affected by Covid-19. “Maybe there will be some slight delay, because defense has a complicated supply chain, and smaller manufacturers may be impacted at some point,” said Damianos. But governmental programs continue, and spending is maintained.
In the long term, thermal imagers based on microbolometers could be an adequate replacement for legacy thermal cameras using cryocooler-based technologies in defense applications. MEMS oscillators also present a promising growth opportunity.
“So far, the Covid-19 pandemic has had no seismic effect on the MEMS industry,” summarized Mounier. “There has been no relocation of factories, and the supply chain remains unchanged despite the Covid-19. The market has slowed down because of some mechanical effect due to a drop in demand.”
Europe in the global landscape
The Covid-19 crisis is seriously impacting multiple facets of the economy, and there are no easy answers on how to recover. Europe has strong assets in the MEMS domain and must assert them.
“Players like Bosch, STMicroelectronics, NXP, and Infineon are active and have manufacturing operations in Europe,” said Damianos. “Many companies are among the top 10 or top 15 players, and we have the know-know in pressure sensors, microphones, and inertial sensors.”
Besides, Europe has a deeply-rooted culture of research on MEMS. Not only did the patented “Bosch Process” enable this new class of sensors in 1994, but “there is a strong MEMS R&D in Europe, very diverse compared to North America and Asia, except for Japan,” said Mounier. “We have R&D institutes like CEA-Leti working on nanoelectromechanical devices, the Fraunhofer Institute involved in MEMS developments, but also Sintef, CSEM, VTT, and the National Centre of Scientific Research Demokritos. We can be proud of our R&D in Europe.”