Kionix Sale for $233.0 Million to Rohm in a Booming Consumer Electronics MEMS Inertial Market

Contributed by Laurent Robin, MEMS Analyst, Yole Développement
Until 2009, the MEMS industry was traditionally driven by the automotive area. This was true for pressure sensors for instance, and also for inertial sensors: MEMS accelerometers for airbags became the first high-volume application for MEMS inertial sensors. But whereas the market for motion sensors is now mature for many automotive applications, more and more consumer electronic devices integrate MEMS accelerometers and gyroscopes.

Often considered as more mature than the gyroscope industry, the accelerometer industry has seen a significant announcement in October: the fast-growing MEMS accelerometer manufacturer Kionix (USA) was acquired by the Japanese company Rohm (J).

Since that time this explanation has been expanded and discussed throughout the MEMS industry around the world. More specifically, the discussion has led to the amount paid by Rohm for Kionix. According to the analysis by Yole Finance of the financial statements of Rohm released in Japan in early November of this year the amount was 21.0 Billion Yen or approximately $233.0 million in cash. This is a Price-to-Sales-P/S multiple of 4.5x (the me-dian P/S for MEMS from 2000-2009 is 2.15 and the mean is 3.37) which is a premium of 36% compared to the mean average of 3.37. This price can be explained by several factors. The major one is that there is not so much private MEMS company successful in the con-sumer field. Kionix was one of them so there were probably several companies willing to ac-quire them: big IC players, gyroscope manufacturers… And if we look more specifically at the industry situation in Japan, we can guess that the Japanese industry needed to get stronger competencies in MEMS accelerometers and acquisition was the only possibility.

Consumer electronics is now the largest MEMS market: a major change for the motion industry

Driven by cellphones devices, the market is now higher for MEMS accelerometers in the consumer area: the latest estimates from Yole show a $465M market in the consumer area versus $439M in the automotive field. If we consider MEMS gyroscopes, the automotive market is still the greatest, but will be passed by the consumer one in the coming years: the annual growth through 2013 is estimated to be 27.3% compared to 2.5% for the consumer and automotive markets respectively.

This implies many changes for the industry. Pressure on price has never by so high. With in-creasing volumes many players are shifting to production on 8”: ST Microelectronics (IT), In-venSense (USA), Bosch Sensortec (D)… And this also implies many new technical chal-lenges: the integration of multiaxis sensors on the same chip, the reduction of mounting space and now the integration of several sensors in a cluster. Examples of developments moving in this direction are numerous. InvenSense announced a multichip, 6 degrees of freedom solution (with 3 gyroscope and 3 accelerometer axes) just a few months ago. Ad-vances in monolithic integration have also been shown by SensorDynamics (Austria) with an accelerometer and gyroscope on the same chip and with advances from Wacoh (J) which aims at a 5 degrees of freedom sensing solution with a single structure! And the imminent release of the first 3-axis gyroscopes will certainly be a key step toward more integration.

However it is noteworthy that the consumer area is not the only one to be significantly im-pacted by MEMS motion sensors. MEMS accelerometers and gyroscopes are pushing to-ward higher performance for use in defense and aerospace applications.

Products with only 1 to 10°/h bias stability of gyroscopes (tactical grade) are now reaching the market! Applications such as missiles and ammunitions are very demanding for MEMS technology. Yole estimates that MEMS-based Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) already account for 40% of units in the missile area! The number of players developing hig perfor-mance solutions is still increasing. Northrop Grumman has shipped its first MEMS IMUs, de-veloped by Litef (D), Thales has also unveiled impressive advances on their silicon gyros-cope development. Other players have released new gyroscopes which are, for some of them, in direct competition with some fiber-optic gyroscopes: Sensonor (NO), SSS/AIS (UK/J), Systron Donner (USA) and Gladiator Technologies (USA). The accelerometer area is also showing progress, with higher stability MEMS accelerometers from Colibrys (CH), and with an innovative optical detection technology offered by Lumedyne Technologies (USA), which is even capable of reaching navigation-grade performance, for space applications!

3-axis gyroscopes announced: a major step toward low cost MEMS IM-Us

InvenSense, with its reputation for innovation in the gyroscope area, announced the first 3-axis gyroscope a few weeks ago. This product is predicted to be a blockbuster for the motion sensing industry: it is surprisingly small (only 0.9mm thick with a 4x4mm² footprint!), cheap (less than 3$ in volume) and ready to be integrated in many applications, complete with digital output. The range is wide (2000°/s), making it ideal for the future generation of gaming systems, but this gyroscope is still highly sensitive thanks to its 16-bit resolution ADC. Yole has learned that this product has already been in sampling by selected customers since February 2009. The target date for full production, which is imminent (Q1 2010) seems thus quite realistic.
Although intended for gaming or pointing applications, the first products to integrate this 3-axis sensor could be cellphones, because product life cycles are shorter than gaming sys-tems and set-top boxes.

ST Microelectronics reaction has been immediate, with an announcement of a 3-axis gyros-cope a few weeks after only. Another 3-axis gyroscope development comes from start-up Qualtre (USA). The technology used is fairly disruptive, since a resonant disc is used (BAW principle). With a renewed management team, the company is close to hitting the market, with a 3-axis gyroscope in sampling at the beginning of 2010 and general availability planned for the summer. 6-axis solutions with integrated accelerometer are also on the com-pany’s roadmap.

Such small and cheap solutions are a first step toward a cheap inertial measurement unit based on MEMS technology: 3 axis gyroscopes and 3 axis accelerometers together in the same small package could be offered at a price of 3 to 4$ very soon. The gaming and handset industries are very hungry for such solutions.
The latest Wii game controller already integrates a dual axis gyroscope combined with a separate single axis gyroscope, respectively from InvenSense and Epson Toyocom (J). Used with the original 3-axis accelerometer, this gives an IMU function performed by 3 separate chips today. Yole estimates than more than 10M of such solutions have already been sold.

The gaming industry has validated the need for motion sensing: for their next generation of products in 2010, Sony (PS3 motion controller) and Microsoft (Natal project) have an-nounced than they will use innovative motion sensing concepts. In some cases however (the Natal project), optical sensors within a special camera may be preferred to MEMS gyros-copes and accelerometers.

This market for MEMS IMUs is thus just emerging in the consumer electronics area; Yole predicts that MEMS IMUs will represent a $348M market in 2013, driven by cellphones, gaming systems and TV remotes. This will be the biggest market for MEMS IMUs, although many applications are growing as well in the industrial and medical areas: sitcom antenna stabilization, surveying equipment, directional drilling… This fragmented market for in-dustrial applications should represent $143M for MEMS IMUs in 2013. In the defense and aerospace area the market is already significant and should continue to grow to $305M by 2013: some applications are already mature (aircraft safety instruments) when others are growing (missile guidance, autopilots for UAVs) and new applications are still emerging: soldier navigation, ammunitions & smart bombs… However if one look at the automotive area, the need for MEMS IMUs is still unclear (cf Figure 1).

An evolving competitive landscape for gyroscopes and accelerometers

Kionix acquisition in October is a sign of the rapid evolution of the gyroscope and accelero-meter competitive landscape. The motivation is clear from Rohm’s side: this is a very ambi-tious group trying to become a world leader in sensors. And for Kionix investors this was probably a good time to sell the company. Kionix has been very successful with an esti-mated 17% market share in accelerometers for consumer electronics applications in 2008. But the competition from the leader ST Microelectronics has become strong and Kionix will now be able to benefit from the infrastructure of a big IC player such as Rohm. This is also probably a sign that the evolution of the accelerometer industry is moving toward more inte-gration at the die level: there is not only a need for integration of more complex signal processing but also a need for integration of new functions and sensors. Memsic (USA/CN) is another company which should benefit from the possibility of integrating different types of sensors together: in addition to their accelerometer products (now in 3-axis), Memsic has launched a line of magnetometer products.
Several other players are working on innovative technologies for manufacturing magnetome-ters with the aim of integrating those components with accelerometers and gyroscopes.

The competition has also changed in the gyroscope area. Traditionally dominated by Japa-nese players (Panasonic, Epson Toyocom, Murata), new players have developed innovative products and have been able to integrate new applications successfully. InvenSense is probably the best success story: with 100M gyroscope axes shipped so far, the company now dominates the consumer field and continues to innovate with several projects in hand. Prior to the 3-axis gyroscope announcement, InvenSense launched a 2-axis digital gyros-cope optimized for cellphone applications, allowing the cellphone market to takeoff as soon as next year… However the competition against ST Microelectronics is difficult: ST Micro has increasing market traction thanks to its recently introduced 2-axis gyroscopes. The success of the Italian company can be explained by its successful experience by its accelerometer products and by its strategy of driving down prices.

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