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EETE DEC 2014

executive interview Murata succumbs to IoT temptation By Julien Happich Well known for its capacitors which account for nearly a third of its total revenues, Murata has been quietly reinforcing its sensor division to expand its offering into higher revenue-generating fields such as medical electronics, home automation and automotive electronics, with an IoT twist to it. At electronica, EETimes Europe caught up with CEO Tsuneo Murata for an update on the company’s plans for the future. With a net income of 93.2 billion yens last year (ended March 31 2014), the Japanese company gets over half of its revenues from the communication market, mostly with passive components and RF modules that make it into 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 stabilization in handy cams and stereo cameras, but this business has been displaced with MEMS gyros. We had also developed MEMS gyros for the automotive industry, but we needed to achieve better precision and VTI were doing things better” Tsuneo told us, adding that “because 70% of VTI’s business is in automotive for electronic stability control (ESC) applications, with Europe hosting many key automotive OEMs, we won’t be moving production outside Finland”. “We will rather expand Mr Tsuneo Murata, President and Representative Director Murata’s “logging tool” keep a record of your baby’s activities. our MEMS capacity in our Finnish fab”. Murata’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 lowcost market, it’s a dead end” Tsuneo added boldly. Looking at Murata’s most recent acquisition, Peregrine Semiconductor for its SOI RF front-end technology, only two years after the company acquired RF Monolithics for its know-how in M2M radio module design, both acquisitions comfort the company’s strategy to address the IoT market whether it be industrial or medical. “We have a long history of developing wireless modules, initially using traditional diodes, now with SOI RF switches. Effectively, 60% of Peregrine’s sales have been passed on to Murata to integrate its RF SOI technology into our front-end modules” said Tsuneo. “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”. “Where Murata is growing the fastest is in the telecoms and the automotive sectors, and product wise, RF components represent our biggest sales. We plan to tie sensors to this growth, adding temperature and humidity sensors to Bluetooth or WiFi modules for IoT applications”. According to Tsuneo, 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 such 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 in mobile applications. 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”, conceded Tsuneo, unwilling to reveal any specific figures. “Until then, passives will remain our bread & butter” he concluded. And regardless of the company’s direction, it will always need the passives. Some of the company’s efforts to break into the health care IoT market could be seen at the Embedded Technology 2014 conference in Yokohama, where Murata was reportedly exhibiting a baby monitoring bracelet (reporting on activity through an accelerometer, a humidity/ temperature sensor, and an IR temperature sensor) together with a logging tool able to push notifications to a smartphone (through Bluetooth LE). The company also exhibited there a WiFi-based mesh network solution tied to a solar- powered power supply. A WiFi-based mesh network solution tied to a solarpowered power supply. 18 Electronic Engineering Times Europe December 2014 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE DEC 2014
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