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Complex Sensor Fusion Solutions from Kionix Interview with Nader Sadrzadeh CEO of Kionix

Adapt to Changing Industry Pairing Sensors with Circuit Protection Trends in Wearable Technology

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Sensor Technology

EDITORIAL STAFF Content Editor Alex Maddalena Digital Content Manager Heather Hamilton Tel | 208-639-6485 Global Creative Director Nicolas Perner Graphic Designer Carol Smiley Audience Development Claire Hellar Register at EEWeb


TECH REPORT Simplifying Design in Context-aware Systems TECH TREND


Tap Tap Tech The Future of Wearable Technology PRODUCT WATCH

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ZMDI ZSSC416x and ZSSC417x Sensors Automotive Applications Signal Conditioning Evaluation Kit INDUSTRY INTERVIEW


Complex Sensor Fusion Solutions Interview with Nader Sadrzadeh – CEO of Kionix EEWEB FEATURE


Redefining Sensor Fusion Littelfuse Pairs Circuit Protection and Sensing for Value-added Systems

Published by AspenCore 950 West Bannock Suite 450 Boise, Idaho 83702 Tel | 208-639-6464



Victor Alejandro Gao General Manager Executive Publisher Cody Miller Global Media Director Group Publisher

30 EEWeb

About This Guide This guide provides an introduction to magnetic sensing and options for value-added custom design packages. It also offers practical suggestions for selecting reed switches, reed sensors and Hall effect sensors for a variety of applications.



Introduction to Magnetic Sensing


Value-Added Customization


Reed Switches


Hall Effect Sensors


Reed Sensors


Reed Relays


Magnetic Actuators





Sensor Technology

By Rajiv Badiger, Cypress Semiconductor



Simplifying the Design of

Context-Aware Systems

By Rajiv Badiger, Cypress Semiconductor Today’s smartphones can now provide statistics for the number of steps you have taken and calories burned for the entire day. They can automatically adjust the display brightness based on ambient light conditions, they can turn off displays when they detect you are not looking at the screen, and they can even help you locate them when you have misplaced them. Such enhancements that make smartphones even smarter come from developments in both hardware and software fields. However, these innovations also bring with them the challenges of minimizing power consumption for better battery life and of integrating functions to address form factor limitations. This article describes how a system that is becoming common these days, known as Sensor Hub, enables always-on, context-aware applications to tackle these issues.


Sensor Technology

SENSOR APPLICATIONS Sensors are changing the way people have traditionally done things by increasing our efficiency, resources, and even changing how we entertain ourselves. Sensors in smartphones were originally used for gaming applications mainly involving motion sensors—accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers. Orientation data in a 3-dimensional field is calculated using complex math operations and fusion algorithms, such as the Kalman filter, applied on motion sensor data. This technology has expanded to other applications such as health monitoring, environmental monitoring, and various other functions. For this article, we’ll focus on always-on, context-aware applications. These are applications that: a. Continuously monitor the environment or situation, including a user’s current location, the time, physiological parameters such as heart rate, environmental parameters such as ambient light b. Respond based on the monitored parameters A simple example of context awareness is changing the display orientation as a user tilts the phone. Similarly, cutting off a call or moving to silent mode if the user keeps the phone upside down, opening the camera app when the phone is held in landscape mode, and even listing current flight times automatically when a user is at the airport all qualify as context aware functions.


Such applications not only make life easier, but can also improve system efficiency through power-saving techniques. For example, screen brightness can be automatically controlled based on the ambient light or the screen can be switched off when the phone is placed close to a user’s ear during a call. Both of these functions save power that would have been used by the display. Similarly, the GPS subsystem can be turned off when no significant motion is detected. Moving forward, more and more such applications are expected to arise that utilize sensor data.

CHALLENGES The availability of sensors and implementing different applications including always-on, contextaware application, introduces two main challenges: power efficiency and integration.

Power Efficiency In smartphones, the application processor is one of the major power-consuming components present in the system. Thus, using the application processor to handle slow events like monitoring sensors periodically is highly inefficient. Consider a pedometer application that has to keep the application processor active so that it can read accelerometer data and detect the step pattern, which can be as slow as one step per second. For an alwayson, context-aware application, the GPS subsystem can be shut off if there is no significant movement (using motion

TECH REPORT sensors) detected for long time. Again, it is highly inefficient for this to be done by the application processor. To overcome this problem, a “Sensor Hub” can be introduced to perform this work for the application processor. A sensor hub device is expected to be a lowpower unit performing the task of talking to the sensors, processing collected data, and informing the application processor only when a defined condition or threshold is met. A condition could be “step taken” for a pedometer and “significant motion” as is used in turning off the GPS for an alwayson, context-aware application. Figure 1 shows a block diagram of sensor connections to the application processor via a sensor hub in a smart phone. The sensors can be analog or digital sensors employing communication protocols like I2C or SPI. The current trend, however, is towards digital sensors. The sensor hub communicates with the application processor using a communication protocol, generally I2C.

Integration Due to the limited area available in devices like smartphones and wearables, an integrated controller is generally preferred given the resulting space savings and increased power efficiency. There are several approaches for interfacing sensors:





Sensor Hub

Application Processor


Temperature Figure 1. System with Sensor Hub

Heart Rate

A sensor hub device is expected to be a low-power unit performing the task of talking to the sensors, processing collected data, and informing the application processor only when a defined condition or threshold is met.


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• Application processor with external sensors (Figure 2): This is the traditional method that offers flexibility to the manufacturer to choose the sensors and implement functions. Digital sensors are interfaced directly to the application processor. However, an external analog front end (AFE) is still required for analog sensors. Though this is a straightforward method, this approach consumes the most power. • ASIC/ASSP with external sensors (Figure 3): This approach offers a highly optimized, low-power approach for a given set of requirements. However, it may be more costly and less flexible than other approaches, as it may not be able to serve in different kind of applications. • Low-power microcontroller with external sensors (Figure 4): Microcontrollers are equipped with a processor core and set of digital peripherals. With this architecture, it is possible to take a flexible approach with a low-power processor core for programmability and communication blocks to talk to the digital sensors. However, the sensors used in applications such as heart rate monitors are still analog and require an AFE consisting of OPAMPS, DACs, and ADCs to process the weak signals coming from these types of sensors. Microcontrollers usually have an integrated ADC, which means that the other components have to be externally connected, leading to higher system cost.


Digital Sensors Digital Sensors

Application Processor


Figure 2. Application Processor with External Sensors

Digital Sensors

Application Processor

ASIC/ASSP Digital Sensors

Figure 3. ASIC/ASSP with External Sensors

Digital Sensors Digital Sensors


Low Power Microcontroller

Application Processor

Figure 4. Low-power Microcontroller with External Sensors

Digital Sensors Digital Sensors


Digital Communication Block Low Power Processor

Accelerometer Gyroscope

Application Processor


Figure 5. Low-power Processor Core with Integrated Sensors

Digital Sensors Digital Sensors

Digital Communication Block

Low Power Processor


Figure 6. Mixed-signal Controller With External Sensors

Application Processor

TECH REPORT • Low-power processor core with integrated sensors (Figure 5): This approach can offer the best integrated solution among the other architectures. However, this approach may not have the required sensors for a particular application or may have too many, leading to higher cost. The most commonly integrated sensors are an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer, but for applications requiring other sensors, these will need to be wired to the processor. In most cases, an I2C/SPI interface is available to connect to external digital sensors. However, there may not be an option for interfacing analog sensors directly. • Mixed-signal controller and external sensors (Figure 6): A mixed-signal controller consists of a standard microcontroller plus additional digital and analog peripherals, which can lead to a single chip design. Using this approach, not only are the digital sensors interfaced to the controller, but the analog sensors are directly connected to the built-in AFE. This approach is a mix of the ASIC and the low-power microcontroller approach that takes advantage of both architectures.

with proprietary 8 bit core followed by PSoC 3 with 8051 processor and PSoC 5LP with ARM Cortex M3. A new series of PSoC 4 with ARM Cortex M0 core has the required features to implement a complete sensor hub. Figure 7 shows a sensor hub implementation, with the internal blocks of the PSoC 4 connected to external sensors and output devices such as a segment LCD and the application processor. Note that in some systems, there may not be a need for an application processor. Some of the key features and peripherals a mixedsignal controller requires to implement an efficient sensor hub include: •

Low-power processor core such as an ARM Cortex M0.

Multiple low power modes–Sleep, Deep Sleep, Hibernate, and Stop —to enable power optimization at the application level.

Several serial communications blocks (SCBs) which can be configured as SPI, I2C or UART interfaces. In the block diagram, an example is shown with one SPI master and two I2C masters talking to external sensors with one I2C slave to communicate the sensor processed data to the main processor. Multiple communication blocks enable the system to read multiple sensors at the same time. This not only reduces microcontroller active time but also avoids delay in case of stalling.

Direct Memory access (DMA) enables the transfer of data between peripherals without the involvement

Programmable System-on-Chip Approach An example of a mixed-signal controller approach uses the PSoC (Programmable System-On-Chip) device from Cypress Semiconductor. PSoC has family of devices; first generation PSoC 1 device


Sensor Technology

of CPU. In the example shown, the SPI received data is transferred to data memory and from ADC to data memory. Offloading the CPU reduces active time and saves power.

A built-in segment LCD glass driver is capable of operating in deep sleep mode. This is useful in low-power wearable applications such as heart rate monitoring and pedometers.

Integrated OPAMPs, which can work in deep sleep mode of the device, can be used as analog front end for the analog sensors, such as the heart rate sensor shown in the diagram.

Some of the aspects can be learned in detail using the following documents: AN79953 linkhere – Getting Started with PSoC 4 AN86233 – PSoC 4 Low-Power Modes linkhere and Power Reduction Techniques


Capacitive touch technology for user interface elements such as touch buttons, proximity, grip detection and for gestures. Capacitive touch technology can also be used to implement proximity sensing and provides an alternative to an external IR proximity sensor. Capacitive sensing can also enable features such as grip detection that can used to detect if someone is holding the device or not. If someone is holding a phone, for example, the specific absorption rate (SAR) from the phone can be minimized by reducing the radiated power. Similarly, the user interface or the display content can be modified by detecting if someone is holding the device in the left hand or right hand. Finally, capacitive touch can be used to support gesture-based interfaces to simplify operation of features such as volume control, zoom in/zoom out, etc.

AN85951 linkhere – PSoC 4 CapSense Design Guide

linkhere AN87391 – PSoC 4 Segment LCD Direct Drive This article described an integrated system using a mixed-signal controller to implement sensor hubs with analog and digital sensors to fulfill the requirements of both low-power consumption and integration. The approach described in this article is not necessarily limited to smartphones or wearables, but can also be used for wide range of sensor applications such as gaming controls, Internet of Things (IoT), and many more.

Rajiv Badiger is an applications engineer on the PSoC 1 Applications team at Cypress Semiconductor. He can be reached at


Figure 7. Sensor Hub with PSoC 4


Sensor Technology


Wearables Sponsored by

By Josh Bishop




n this installment of Tap Tap Tech we’re going to discuss wearables. No, this is not turning into a fashion commentary, because, frankly, that would be a terrible idea. Instead, we’re talking about wearable technology. This is something that has been in development for decades, mostly behind the scenes as, until recently, the technology was too bulky for anyone but the most socially awkward to be okay with. Now, as everything gets smaller and sleeker and more fashionable, and Apple has jumped in the game, it’s the cool thing. Wearables can be considered many things, but I think the best, allencompassing definition would be the fusion of clothing or accessories and technology. Their usage is extremely varied, from measuring your heart rate to a pair of smart glasses so you can look like a complete tool in meetings. Because people aren’t quite sure

where the line is drawn between a wearable and something like a normal watch, researchers are guestimating that this will be anywhere from a 10- to 50-billion-dollar industry, which is a pretty decent spread. But what does it all mean? How will this affect us as normal people? That’s really hard to say at this point. It may just mean being even more connected all the time than before, not even giving us the time to pull our phones out of our pockets. Also, new personal data is being created at an insane rate, tracking where we go, what we do, and sometimes, taking videos of it while we do it. Now we can know more about ourselves than we ever anticipated, but this can cause some privacy issues because it somewhat feels like, despite all the supposed security precautions, all data is available for anyone who’s interested. On the other hand, we can now know


Sensor Technology

more about our surroundings than we ever anticipated. With eyewear that acts as a heads up display, not only can we read e-mails on the fly, or know exactly who is calling, but technology is moving to where there are digital overlays on top of reality—an augmented reality. This gives you additional information on buildings you see, integrated directions, reminders of who you’re talking to, and things of this sort. Now, what parts of this technology will be used depends highly on the individual. I personally don’t need a body camera showing the world that I stayed up until 3 A.M. watching Firefly again, nor am I really that interested in knowing exactly how out of shape I am. However, being lazy, knowing who’s calling without having to pull my phone out of my pocket, and being forgetful, being reminded of


the name of that lady I’ve been working with for the last three weeks yet forgot her name two seconds after she told me—that’s info I wouldn’t mind getting. Also, being able to read a book while acting like I’m paying attention to what people are saying to me? Sure, that’s a bit anti-social but it would be awesome. If wearables continue to gain traction, I believe that we will start to see a harder push and greater amounts of money put into bio-integrated technology, moving these items from wearables to integratables or integrateds—or whatever cool name they come up with for it. In the meantime, we’ll continue to wear our devices and find out random information like the fact that my heart rate is 75 beats-per-minute when I do a video. Huh. Interesting.

Sensor Technology


ZSSC416x and ZSSC417x

Sensor Series for Automotive Applications




odern vehicles are filled with complex sensor systems to achieve optimal performance and lower emissions. ZMDI’s ZSSC416x and ZSSC417x family of sensor signalconditioner ICs are ideal for use in the engine and exhaust system. Sensing differential pressure are the mass airflow intake using a single IC attached to two sensors lowers power consumption and improves accuracy compared to traditional sensing systems. Manifold pressure and temperature sensing also benefits from the use of a dual-input IC with higher accuracy measurements, resulting in a more optimal fuel mix. High temperature across the turbocharger benefits from a simple design and lower cost, with both thermocouples connecting to the same IC.

At the diesel particulate filter, ZMDI products enable more accurate measurements of filter saturation, resulting in less fuel waste for filter purging. Selective catalytic reduction adds urea to the exhaust to reduce harmful emissions. Improved measurement accuracy leads to better control of urea dosing, reducing urea overuse and refilling costs for the vehicle owner. By more accurately measuring temperature and pressure in the fuel line, the control unit can provide the best fuel/ air mix, lowering emissions and improving engine performance. Compared to traditional anemometers, the sensors used with ZMDI’s sensor signal conditioner products are more durable in the harsh environment in the exhaust mass airflow measurements, leading to a more reliable, lower-power solution. The ZMDI ZSSC416x and ZSSC417x family of sensor signal conditioners provide a platform for measurement systems with improved accuracy, reliability, and performance with lower power consumption. The family of devices provides highly accurate amplification with integrated compensation, correction, and calibration, while also sharing a common 4mm by 4mm QFN package and toolset to reduce development and assembly costs.

Mass airflow sensor

Exhaust high-temp sensing

Manifold pressure & temperature sensing

Diesel particulate filter

For more information on ZMDI’s ZSSC416x and ZSSC417x sensor signal conditioners, Exhaust mass air flow


Sensor Technology

ZSSC416x and ZSSC417x

Sensor Signal

Conditioner Family from ZMDI


he ZSSC416x and ZSSC417x provide highly accurate amplification and calibrated correction of sensor data for resistive bridge and voltage source sensors.

The family features SENT 3.0 based ICs and is designed for use in automotive applications, with available diagnostic info, rugged circuit protection, and excellent electromagnetic compatibility. The family aids designers by lowering power consumption, reducing component count, and saving time spent calibrating sensors. Additionally, the availability of dual bridge inputs also reduces system complexity and footprint. All of these are important considerations in modern automotive designs where power and space come at a premium.



Evaluation Kit The ZSSC416x and ZSSC417x feature a widely programmable gain amplifier, a 12- to 18-bit ADC, an integrated temperature sensor, non-volatile memory to store calibration coefficients and configuration data, and a 16-bit RISC MCU that uses the calibration data and temperature measurement to compensate for offset, thermal drift, sensitivity variations, and non-linearity. End-of-line digital calibration over the I2C or one-wire interface improves calibration accuracy and reduces assembly cost and complexity. ZMDI’s ZSSC416x and ZSSC417x offer a variety of benefits in sensing applications, especially

KEY FEATURES • SENT Output Option • Supports output of one or more sensor signals and product identification • Configurable for nearly all resistive bridge

those in automotive designs. For more information, visit



The evaluation kit for the ZSSC family comes with a communications board, which interfaces with the PC and the actual IC, the ZSSC board that houses the IC, as well as all of the pins, so the user can add any sensor they choose. To watch a video demonstration of the ZSSC evaluation kit, click the image to the left.


Your Circuit Starts Here. Sign up to design, share, and collaborate on your next project—big or small.

Click Here to Sign Up


Sensor Technology

Interview with Nader Sadrzadeh CEO of Kionix



Complex, Flexible Sensor Fusion Solutions from Kionix The emerging sensor fusion market may be bigger than you realize. The combination of a variety of sensors—magnetometers, gyroscopes, accelerometers—to collect complex new data has enabled a variety of key innovative features to mobile phones, tablets, and smart devices. The everchanging technology landscape and the impending IoT explosion have required sensor companies to develop software to help the hardware adapt to new trends and features, which typically means outsourcing the software portions of their business. However, this is not the case for Kionix. Committed to providing fully integrated sensor products, Kionix has made significant investments in all the levels of development, which yields cutting edge sensor fusion technologies that can adapt to the new horizon of smart technologies. EEWeb caught up with Nader Sadrzadeh, CEO of Kionix, about the expanding sensor fusion arena and the new FlexSet Performance Optimizer available in the company’s latest sensors.


Sensor Technology

Sensor fusion is still in its nascent stages—what have been the lessons learned while developing this?

a better user experience. For this reason, Kionix continues to invest in software and solutions development.

Certainly, we’ve learned that it is both complex and compelling. By integrating the data from multiple sensors, you enhance the accuracy and have a much clearer picture of what is being sensed, whether it is motion, environmental conditions, or something else. By fusing data from multiple sensors, you can address the weaknesses or blind spots of any individual sensor and fulfill the promise that 1+1 > 2. But like everything, there are tradeoffs, with the most significant being added computational needs and complexity. Often, end users lack the internal resources to do this, so there is a greater demand for the hardware manufacturers to become software providers as well.

My understanding is that sensor fusion is entirely software at this point. Do you see a possibility of making it certain aspects of it hardware based?

Where many of our competitors have historically outsourced the software and solutions portion of the business, our philosophy has been to develop it internally and provide end-to-end solutions. We strongly believe that you can achieve both superior and timely results when the hardware and software teams work in the same enterprise as a combined unit. The result of working with a single vendor is a more fully integrated solution, and certainly

It is possible, but now is not the optimal time, as the landscape is changing too quickly. Sensor fusion is still in its infancy and transforming continuously. Sensors themselves are advancing at a rapid rate, brand new sensor types are being developed, and devices making use of sensors and sensor fusion are proliferating. With the sensing landscape evolving so rapidly, flexibility and speed trumps optimization. This is where software has the advantage over hardware. At some point, the pace of change will slow as hardware platforms mature. Ultimately, the many ways of implementing sensor fusion will converge and an optimal implementation will emerge. At this time, it makes sense to commit it to hardware in order to deliver additional efficiencies, ranging from lower power consumption to easier integration via turnkey solutions.

We created the FlexSet brand to deliver sensors with great flexibility and provide alongside it an online tool to aid our customers in understanding, configuring, and utilizing the sensors in an optimal way across various use cases.


INDUSTRY INTERVIEW What is the Kionix FlexSet? What aspects of sensor fusion will it affect? Kionix upholds a design philosophy to provide our customers with the capability to use a single hardware platform across many different solutions and applications. Previously, a sensor was designed and optimized for a particular use case. When the use case was clear, it was reasonable to limit or “hardwire” the functionality into the sensor. These days, however, sensors are being used for many different purposes and in many

different platforms. Some vendors address this need for flexibility by providing a Full Power, High Resolution mode and a Low Power, Lower Resolution mode. However, we felt this was still too limiting for the breadth of accelerometer applications. We wanted to enable a much finer degree of control to tailor the sensor’s functionality depending on different use cases. We created the FlexSet brand to deliver sensors with great flexibility and provide alongside it an online tool to aid our customers in


Sensor Technology

understanding, configuring, and utilizing the sensors in an optimal way across various use cases. Simply put, the sensor can take on different “personalities” from being a sensor optimized for low power consumption to a sensor optimized for high performance. Often these two needs compete; you can have higher performance if you throw more power at it, and you can run at lower power if you don’t need as accurate a measurement. With Kionix FlexSet-enabled devices, a customer has more “knobs” to adjust and fine tune the sensor’s operation. This has proven to be popular in two use cases. The first is within a particular device. The sensor can be configured to perform at the optimal power/ performance ratio on the fly depending on what’s needed at the time. The second use case makes the purchasing and engineering departments happy because they can choose a single hardware platform (part number) that can be tailored to a variety of devices that have different requirements such as wearables vs tablets, without giving up on optimal performance. Using a single part number across different platforms allows them to leverage volume discounts as well as develop the supporting software once and re-use it.

In the last interview with EEWeb, you said, “We strive as a company, not only to develop and continually improve what we consider to be the best discrete accelerometers, but we are continuously trying to offer our customers innovative solutions.” How has this been realized?


This has been realized in a number of ways. Kionix FlexSet is one example. Another example is the industry’s thinnest class of tri-axis accelerometers (the KX112 and KXCJB) which we introduced early this year, both developed as result of customer-specific demand. The KX112 is not only part of our flagship family of accelerometers, It’s also the thinnest 2x2 accelerometer available, measuring only 2mm x 2mm x 0.6mm thick, making it particularly well-suited for the compact designs required in the health, medical and wearable markets. The KXCJB is the thinnest accelerometer available in any footprint, measuring just 3mm x 3mm x 0.45mm thick. This actually measures half the thickness of most accelerometers in the market and allows for embedding motion detection and motion sensing capabilities into a host of new devices and applications—badges, access cards, and payment/smart cards, to name a few. Another great example of innovation is our award-winning MicroAmp Mag Gyro. While there is a demand for a 9-axis solutions (accelerometer + magnetometer + gyroscope), there is also a demand for lower power consumption and lower cost components. The gyroscope is undoubtedly a valuable component, but it is also the most expensive of the three, and consumes the most power. In our portfolio, we have the highest performing AccelerometerMagnetometer combo part, with leading accuracy and speed. With it, we could identify what direction a device is pointing and monitor how it changes over time, and do so more accurately

INDUSTRY INTERVIEW and responsively than others. This is essentially what a gyroscope measures, and so we developed algorithms to compute gyroscope outputs from our Accelerometer and Magnetometer combo part and provide the full 9-axis dataset. A physical gyroscope offers higher level of accuracy, but for costsensitive platforms focused on low power over gyro performance, this is the best option and certainly one for which we have significant demand. As the number of applications benefiting from the accuracy of a physical gyroscope continues to grow, many of our customers have asked us to develop a gyroscope for them. Admittedly, a late entrant to the market, we started the effort about a little over a year ago with the aim to have an industry-leading gyroscope. If you ask customers what the biggest drawback of a gyroscope is, they’ll cite power consumption. Charging batteries is the bane of modern

day existence and having a sensor that draws milli-amps of power is significant concession despite the benefits it brings. The result: we introduced our first gyroscope and accelerometer 6-axis combination part, the KXG03, two months ago as an entrance to the market. Today, I’m very happy to announce for the first time, that we’ve developed two new families of gyroscope and accelerometer combination products—the KXG07 and KXG08. This class of 6-axis sensors provides full power operation at half the power of other leading gyroscopes. Even more significant, we have a version which enables operation of both the gyroscope and accelerometer at power levels comparable to stand-alone accelerometers (under 200µA). We see this as a tremendous advancement enabling gyroscopes to be embedded in a greater range of devices with the ability to be used in ‘always-on’ operation that previously was not feasible.

As the number of applications benefiting from the accuracy of a physical gyroscope continues to grow, many of our customers have asked us to develop a gyroscope for them.


Sensor Technology

Have the goals of Kionix changed over the last year? Kionix has always been an engineeringfocused company. That will never change. Furthermore, our focus and continued goal of being a leading designer and manufacturer of the highest quality sensors has not changed.

What has shifted over the past year is our increased focus on automotive and industrial applications as there is a visible surge in these areas toward integration of sensor technologies.

What has shifted over the past year is our increased focus on automotive and industrial applications as there is a visible surge in these areas toward integration of sensor technologies. Specific to automotive, we’ve dedicated many resources and plan to introduce a new series of AEC-Q100 qualified parts in Q1 of 2016, starting with a 3-axis accelerometer. This embodies a completely new ASIC and new sensor design built specifically for robust, automotive applications. Equally, we’ve focused on industrial solutions; for example, developing solutions for machine health monitoring in equipment ranging from white-goods applications to large-scale industrial motors. We’ve also increased our focus on ‘software and solutions’ development. Late in 2014, together with our parent company, ROHM Semiconductor (ROHM), we announced the opening of a new software development center in Oulu, Finland, specifically focused on sensors technology. We continue to invest in the growth of this team as sensor fusion and sensor solutions needs rapidly evolve. Kionix has made another rather significate shift, to operate in cohesion


with ROHM, as part of a combined Sensors Business Strategy division. Sensors have been and will continue to be a strong focus for ROHM. Together, ROHM, Kionix and LAPIS (also a ROHM subsidiary) offer a breadth of sensors and sensor solutions, ranging from MEMS to color/RGB sensors, pressure sensors, capacitive touch, infrared, UV, optical, ambient light—just to name a few. Working as a combined organization, we can not only share a much larger pool of resources, but take advantage of a much broader range of technologies, and ultimately, innovate more quickly.

Where have you seen the greatest growth in sensor demands? Certainly, the mobile arena has been, and continues to be, number one. While stagnant this year, China as a whole is still growing and is the source of the largest demand. As I stated previously, automotive and industrial markets will continue to flourish with increased demand for sensors. And of course, there’s the Internet of Things—the current buzzword of our time. There is a lot of hype surrounding the IoT, but it truly does hold the greatest potential. To appreciate the scale that we’re talking about, consider how large the mobile market is; we believe that the IoT market will dwarf the mobile market and mobile will become a subset of the IoT. The smartphone kickstarted the IoT, and continues to enable it, but the trend to embed connectivity, intelligence and ‘awareness’ in all devices will pervade everything—and this awareness can only be provided by sensors.

INDUSTRY INTERVIEW So as a sensor company, we’re certainly excited about having a central role in the IoT. The challenge for us and the rest of the industry is in addressing the variation that will exist and figuring out how to support it. As we all know, the mobile market has converged around a singular design and manufacturers struggle to differentiate their smartphones from the crowd. The IoT, on the other hand, encompasses so many different devices, platforms, needs and purposes, that the sensors and solutions that will be preferred are those that are optimized for each particular function. In the mobile market sensors have been commoditized. In the Internet of Things there’s ample opportunity for innovation and differentiation, and commercial success hinges upon being able to support a great number of smaller sub-markets.

So the largest future growth is in the IoT, but it will certainly take time to foster and a different approach to address it.

How do you plan for the future and anticipate client needs? First and foremost, we’re not taking a short-term position on sensors. While we strive to be nimble and deliver innovative solutions to the market very quickly, we are in-line with the goals and targets of our parent company, ROHM Semiconductor, and continually focus on five years and beyond. We have a long-term outlook and a longterm innovation and development plan. We continue to put great investments in new technologies and resources, and thrive to foster an environment for creativity and diversity.

In the Internet of Things there’s ample opportunity for innovation and differentiation, and commercial success hinges upon being able to support a great number of smaller sub-markets.


Sensor Technology



FUSION Littelfuse pairs proprietary sensors with circuit protection products for valueadded systems



Contrary to the implications of their diminutive name, when it comes to supplying the global electronics market, Littelfuse is a name that’s about as large as names get in terms of outright presence. Known for their longtime market-leading work in the circuit protection field, and more specifically for the innovation of products like the Autofuse, the first modern blade-style automotive fuse, the Chicago-based company has enjoyed consistent growth for its near-century of existence, evolving from the personal laboratory of innovative American engineer Edward Sundt into one of the largest multinational electronics companies in the world. Having made their most recent successful expansion into the sensor field with the acquisition of automotive sensing specialists Hamlin, Inc. in 2013, Littelfuse confidently continues their focused evolution as a leading supplier of a growing portfolio of components and services centered on magnetic switches and sensors.


Sensor Technology

Today, a worldwide network of resources has put Littelfuse at the top of their game in just about every venue into which they’ve decided to venture, with a new focus on magnetic sensors now steadily following suit. In a recent interview with EEWeb, Gwenn Gmeinder, of Littelfuse’s Sensor Group, drew attention to the company’s global perspective as a means to its sustained leadership in the market, and points to what he calls “the advantages of operating a truly global system.” By incorporating the idea of sensing technology into their wide existing portfolio and taking note of the idea that “sensor technology very often gets used hand in hand with circuit protection technology,” the Littelfuse team is demonstrating the strategic sense of expanding into relative territory to better serve an existing customer base. Littelfuse made its initial foray into the sensing world with the acquisition of Swedish company Accel AB in 2012, and the sensing division at the company has since been organized into specialized industrial, consumer, and automotive units. Gmeinder observes how the company’s initial enthusiasm for the growth potential of sensor technology, particularly in the rise of microcontroller devices in an increasing variety of both industrial and consumer equipment, has paid off. “As two technologies that work together, protection and sensing make sense coming from the same source,” he offers.


As Gmeinder reports, the Littelfuse product that still sells in the highest quantities is the company’s simple magnetic reed switch, a longstanding technology that has defined Littelfuse for decades, and one that Gmeinder recalls “was barely saved by the explosion of the computer industry in the 1980s and ’90s.” In the wake of that skyrocketing demand for the reliable magnetic switches that Littelfuse has long specialized in, the company’s accelerating engagement with the global electronics market was irrevocably underway. Over the last five years, Gmeinder details, Littelfuse has grown from supplying an estimated 100 million of their basic switches per year to a current annual projection of about 300 million units. Perhaps not surprisingly, when it comes to the company’s newer sensing devices, a complementary reed switch proximity sensor pairs with the Littelfuse workhorse device. Now, they represent the best-selling sensing device in their repertoire, seemingly only proving the wisdom of an expansion into sensors. In terms of the different sectors that Littelfuse seeks to serve, industrial applications include automotive, aircraft, marine, communications, and industrial automation to name only a few major markets, and the company upholds the advantages of magnetic components across the board. Automotive applications retain enough individual attention to warrant their own category of products, but otherwise, a wide variety of sensors that require a more


“As two technologies that work together, protection and sensing make sense coming from the same source.” robust construction in order to function reliably in high-stress environments are separated from a specialized division of commercial devices that function in more controlled environments, such as home appliances. When addressing priorities in either the industrial or consumer markets respectively, Littelfuse provides a variety of options for a customized solution at every level. As Littelfuse enjoys the top-to-bottom control of almost every aspect of the creation of its products, the company’s ability to provide custom design also exceeds that of many of its competitors. “Custom design can mean something as simple as adding a new connector to an existing sensor package, but even when we’re looking at starting from the ground up, Littelfuse offers obvious advantages with its wide-ranging engineering and manufacturing capabilities to make adjustments to design requirements without quite as much issue as some smaller companies,” Mr. Gmeinder relates. “Every customized application is very unique, of course, and we love doing intermediate- and high-volume


Sensor Technology

work,” he adds confidently, “but we are happy to be able to take things to the next level for customers if we can provide what they need on a more specific magnetic circuit design level.” Recently, Gmeinder details, Littelfuse has also invested a lot of effort into Hall effect sensors, electromagnetic devices that precisely measure the output of voltage from a simple transducer in relation to the proximity of a magnetic field, thereby enabling accurate linear or digital output sensing when measured directly, or providing reliable, low power switching when outfitted with ‘on’ and ‘off’ thresholds. In addressing the demand for linear sensing technology, Gmeinder acknowledges that “precision is the word these days when it comes to digital sensing,” not just in the industrial sector, but in consumer applications, too. From the perspective of a company like Littelfuse, the race to update the functionality and efficiency of the world’s

old systems remains a tireless effort. “What we’re seeing our components replacing most often these days are mechanical switches, as both switching voltage and current requirements are lower with the microprocessor controlled systems, then both reed and Hall effect technologies are advantageous for the sake of modern energy standards, accuracy and reliability,” Gmeinder tells us. Non-contact sensors are still quickly replacing many of yesterday’s old-fashioned mechanical contact sensors, too, “like those pushbutton switches that control the overhead light in older refrigerators,” he describes. In comparison, Gmeinder offers, “The hermetically sealed reed switches/ sensors and Hall effect sensing products Littelfuse provides, both tested to work for billions of cycles, are small and easily concealed, and resist the kinds of environmental degradation that mechanical switches are subject

“The hermetically sealed reed switches/sensors and Hall effect sensing products Littelfuse provides, both tested to work for billions of cycles, are small and easily concealed, and resist the kinds of environmental degradation that mechanical switches are subject to.”



to.” With good reason, Gmeinder and his team at Littelfuse don’t see much chance in the slowing of the demand for a new, improved generation of efficient magnetic switching technology, and Littelfuse remains poised to provide it. When attempting to explain the company’s success so far, Gmeinder remarks: “Littelfuse has the history and the raw numbers to prove that their experience with development, manufacturing, and pricing in a variety of different markets brings the company an incomparably knowledgeable outlook on

every aspect of its operation.” Awarded ‘Product of the Year’ four times in the last five years by Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine, it’s hard to deny the team’s confidence. But perhaps most important, Gmeinder concludes, is the palpable feeling of positivity among the team at Littelfuse, which undoubtedly stems from the company’s constant willingness to take on new challenges. With the company surging assuredly into action in the modern sensor industry, it’s proving to be an attitude that keeps Littelfuse looking like an electromagnetic force worth taking seriously.


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