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Yole's Développment interviews Silicon Sensing

10 November 2008

Yole Développement recently interviewed Eric Whitley for their I-Micronews newsletter.

The latest edition of Yole Développement’s I-Micronews features an interview with Eric Whitley, Silicon Sensing’s Business Development Executive.  He gives his views on the current state of the inertial MEMS marketplace and confirms the strong position of Silicon Sensing within that market.  The full interview is presented below and the article can be read in its original form by clicking on the hotlink at the bottom of the page.

YOLE: Could you introduce Silicon Sensing Systems Ltd and its MEMS activities to our readers?

Eric Whitley: Silicon Sensing Systems is a joint venture company which celebrates its tenth anniversary this month (May). It was established back in 1999 to exploit the potential of its patented MEMS vibrating ring gyro in the developing automotive and commercial markets for such sensors. The parent companies are Atlantic Inertial Systems in the UK and Sumitomo Precision Products of Japan. AIS is a privately owned Anglo-American company and is a leading aerospace and military inertial systems supplier, rivalling companies such as Honeywell and Northrop Grumman. SPP is a key supplier of aerospace and industrial equipment, and also has a micro-electronics division with a leading silicon processing capability and in-house MEMS fab. So Silicon Sensing has all the IP, expertise and facilities to create highly effective MEMS inertial sensors. The complementary workforce with a culture of British innovation and Japanese kaizen has been a winning formula for the company enabling it to successfully penetrate automotive and industrial markets.

YOLE: Can you elaborate on the applications where SSSL components used today?

Eric Whitley: Yes, the main product is its unique vibrating structure MEMS gyro, we call it VSG technology, and we’re now producing the fourth generation VSG. I say unique because its the only MEMS gyro widely available which employs a balanced silicon ring, and Silicon Sensing and its parents own the IP. Other MEMS gyros typically use a simple vibrating mass, such as a tuning fork or comb. What this means to a customer is unparalleled immunity to temperature, shock and vibration, and at least an order of magnitude better bias stability. Our sensors have been extensively used in passenger car and truck ESC systems and over 16 million vehicles are on the road with SSSL gyros sensing yaw rate for ESC. Such is the integrity of VSG we were recently told by one of our automotive customers that the three year warranty field returns involving our gyro were less than 1.5 parts per million. The performance and environmental robustness of VSG products has meant we have been able to address many other industrial, commercial and aerospace markets. Approaching 1.5 million gyros have been shipped to non-automotive applications such as remote control helicopters, satellite antenna stabilisation, navigation aiding, general aviation, robotics and many other ‘high-end’ uses. To give you some idea of the versatility of VSG gyros, they have been used in diverse systems as the Segway HT and in an IMU for aiding precision geo-surveying equipment.

YOLE: Silicon Sensing Systems unveiled a 20% growth in sales for its MEMS VSG gyroscope mainly targeted to automotive market. What is your analysis on the key factors (markets, regulations, technical,…) about MEMS products that show an increase in demand, despite the crisis context?

Eric Whitley: Our business is now spread across a wide range of industries, not just automotive but many industrial, commercial and aerospace sectors. I think this enables us to ride well any storm raging in a given sector. The automotive industry has been hit badly, but of the cars still being built an increasing number are fitted with ESC, which has helped us to ride this one. We thought 2008 might have been a tougher year with sales more-or-less flat compared to 2007, but we actually saw growth during the first three quarters in many sectors. Our increasing reputation for high quality and performance devices, and commitment to customer support, has meant we have retained all of our industrial and commercial customer base. The launch of new products (CRG20 and CRS09) has also enabled us to win new commercial and industrial markets.

YOLE: Combined with Atlantic Inertial Systems activity, what is SSSL and AIS market outlook for 2009? Do you identify business opportunities?

Eric Whitley: As with many others, there’s no doubt that the impact of the global recession will be felt by the company this year. On the automotive side the general downturn and emergence of Panasonic will impact sales in this sector, however we believe this is a transient and the future still looks bright for automotive gyro manufacturers like Silicon Sensing. The commercial and industrial markets have also taken a hit and while we still retain our customer’s loyalty, their sales have dipped and the first half of this year will in turn be affected. However with new products being introduced and more and more users converting to Silicon Sensing we expect to hold our ground in these sectors. Silicon Sensing has been in the gyro business for over 90 years as AIS can trace its company heritage back to Sperry Gyroscope in 1913. During this time we’ve been at the forefront of technological advances and that’s where we intend to stay. Everyone expects to see a massive increase in demand for MEMS inertial sensors for Consumer Electronics between now and 2012, and this will be another exciting chapter in the company’s history.

YOLE: SSSL will release several new products in 2009. Could you unveil for Micronews readers some details on future components?

Eric Whitley: Silicon Sensing produces low-cost, precise and high integrity MEMS angular rate sensors. We’re about to release our own high performance MEMS mini-IMU this month. Its our technology and the technical service we provide which sets us apart from the rest of the field. We’re now delivering our fourth generation VSG and always have something in the pipeline and today is no different, so watch this space is all I can say.

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