STMicroelectronics claims top spot in motion-sensing

LONDON — Market analyst iSuppli Corp. (El Segundo, Calif.) ranks STMicroelectronics as the top supplier of motion-sensing chips for consumer and portable applications, ST said Thursday (Jan. 15).

Sales of computer games controllers and smartphones, which have both started to use motion sensing in recent months, drove 16 percent growth for this market in 2008, and ST jumped from fourth position to first, the company said.

Motion-sensing is usually based on microelectromechanical system devices known as MEMS.

ST jumped over Texas Instruments, Avago Technologies and Knowles Electronics to go from fourth place to first, according to Benedetto Vigna, group vice president and general manager for MEMS and healthcare, RF and sensor product division of ST. The overall market climbed from $1.0 billion in 2007 to $1.16 billion in 2008.

ST MEMS devices for portable and consumer devices are used in the Nintendo Wii, for freefall detection in PCs and in leading smart phones for display control. ST's sales went from $96 million in 2007 to more than $209 million in 2008, a growth of 118 percent, the company said.

“Before 2006, MEMS sensors were used in a few applications such as airbag collision sensors but were too bulky, too power-hungry and too expensive to be used in consumer applications,” said Vigna, in a statement.

In 2006 ST invested more than $40 million to set up a 200-mm wafer processing facility in Agrate, near Milan. It was opened in November 2006 and is dedicated to producing MEMS devices such as accelerometers, gyroscopes and pressure sensors.

“Being the only MEMS manufacturer in the world with a 200-mm production line meant we were able to assure our customers that we would be able to deliver accurate and reliable devices in the volumes and at the prices they needed to create exciting new consumer markets — and that is exactly what they have done,” said Vigna.

Following on from MEMS accelerometers that measure linear motion, ST has expanded its portfolio to include MEMS gyroscopes. These detect and measure tilt and angular motion, making them suitable for use in more sophisticated game controllers, virtual reality transducers, motion controls, pointing devices, and vehicle navigation functions such as dead-reckoning and map-matching.

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