TDK's acquisition of Tronics is a harbinger of the upcoming realignments in the sensor industry.

TDK’s acquisition of the French MEMS firm Tronics Microsystems is the latest reminder of how the Internet of Things (IoT) bandwagon is reshaping the sensor industry landscape. TDK’s wholly owned subsidiary in Europe EPCOS has announced the acquisition of sensor supplier Tronics for EUR 48.65 million—over $54 million USD.

 

Focus on Sensor Development

Tronics, based in Crolles, France, has a business footprint in Europe, Asia, and the United States. Its technology portfolio spans from MEMS design to high-volume MEMS manufacturing. The acquisition will complement TDK's product offerings related to temperature, pressure, and magnetic- and tunneling magneto-resistance (TMR)-based sensor technologies.

However, the most evident value point for TDK is immediate access to the high-margin inertial sensors for the automotive, consumer, industrial, and mobile markets. Inertial sensors, widely used in smartphones and tablets, are also considered a key requirement for many IoT applications.

 

The inertial sensor is a key building block in many IoT apps. Image courtesy of Tronics.

 

Inertial sensors or inertial measurement units (IMUs) calculate the position, orientation, and velocity of a moving object without requiring external references and are used in navigation, geo-fencing, and condition monitoring applications. A lot of efforts are underway for developing new inertial technologies that enhance accuracy for providing better navigation information.

It’s worth mentioning that Tronics made waves last year by unveiling a 6 degrees-of-freedom inertial sensor. Moreover, inertial sensors have been the main growth driver for the leading sensor company InvenSense, who is now increasingly challenging the sensor market titans like Bosch and STMicro.

 

TDK’s Sensor Shopping

Earlier, in December 2015, electronics components supplier TDK announced it was buying the Swiss semiconductor firm Micronas for approximately $224 million. Micronas was a major supplier of Hall-effect sensors for automotive and industrial applications, and the company offered MCUs that were customized to process the sensor data.

Micronas also specialized in magneto-resistance (MR) sensor technologies that created synergy with TDK’s own development efforts in areas like TMR sensors and giant magneto-resistance (GMR) sensors. TMR sensors, when compared to Hall-effect sensors, offer higher angular accuracy, and apart from automotive, can find use in contactless position and current measurement applications.

 

IoT is driving a major realignment in the sensor industry. Image courtesy of Tronics.

 

The MEMS sensor industry, after the golden age of smartphones and tablets, is now looking for new growth venues. The IoT is apparently the next frontier, but it requires a far more diverse sensor portfolio at a much lower cost. So TDK’s strategy of lining up new sensor products and boosting MEMS design and manufacturing prowess seems to make good IoT sense.

Another notable requirement for the MEMS sensor industry in the IoT battlefield is the creation of a complete ecosystem that encompasses process technology, materials, design tools, etc. Here, Tronics’ MEMS fabs in Europe and the United States can bring valuable assets to TDK in the sensor manufacturing ecosystem.

 

A number of recent mergers and acquisitions in the semiconductor industry have been focused on a possible, larger IoT scheme. However, TDK’s acquisition of Tronics and Micronas probably mark one the first major realignment efforts on the sensor side of the IoT world. And, most likely, it won’t be the last.

 

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