Issue: Mar 2008


Automotive Industries interview with Hideo Sakamoto, President at Murata Electronics North America



by Rob White

The most evocative idea out of Murata Manufacturing Co’s multi-product stable must be the Murata Boy robot. Three years ago, the bicycling robot was released to the public at the CEATEC Japan 2005 exhibition and used a host of Murata’s products. The idea of the robot was to highlight Murata’s high-tech products. The Japan-headquartered Murata makes a range of electronic components, which are used in a number of industries including communications, home appliances, industrial electronics and car electronics.

The products the bicycling robot used included gyro sensors for navigation, slant detection gyro sensors which detects the slant angle during the run. The bicycle is stabilized using the signal sent from the gyro sensor. By arbitrarily controlling the rotation of flywheel inside torso, it maintains balance without falling when stopped. Other products included ultrasonic sensors to make sure there is no obstacle ahead and shock sensor for vibrations to overcome bumps on the road and Murata’s own Bluetooth module used for wireless communication between Murata Boy and a PC or a mobile phone. The Murata Boy also has general purpose components for common electronic circuits such as Murata’s chip monolithic ceramic capacitor to properly supply electricity and ceramic resonator CERALOCK® to provide a timing signal to a microprocessor. Plus it contains the company’s NTC Thermistor, to detect temperature, Trimmer Potentiometer to compensate for the circuit characteristic variance, EMI filter EMIFIL® to suppress electromagnetic noise and so on.

An important business segment for the company is auto electronics. “Murata's electronic components contribute to many aspects of automotive evolution, from safety gear and powertrains to information communication. These components evolve along with automobiles to make smaller and more sophisticated in-vehicle electronic devices and modules possible. Murata's ceramic electronic components are created using high-frequency technology and sensing technology which are grounded in the functional ceramic materials and processing technologies Murata has developed over many years of supplying high quality products to communications, wireless, computers, automotive, etc. . In addition to helping accomplish downsizing and sophistication, the high reliability of ceramics will contribute much to the future of cars and our automotive society,” says the company.

Automobiles and automotive devices are becoming more intelligent and network-ready for the next generation. Telematics, ITS, DSRC, in-vehicle networks and ECU are only a few examples of this. What Murata concentrates on in these sectors is material technology – the company develops unique direct detection sensor that take advantage of different materials such as ceramics, electrodes and mono-crystals or silicon based MEMS.

Murata’s navigation gyro sensors are used for direction and position detection of automobiles. Its rotary position sensors are used for angle (steering, throttle) detection, and as feedback sensors for motor actuators. Plus they replace rotary switches and works as a low profile, long life variable resistor. With these sensors, output voltage characteristics may be customizes, effective angle of rotation may be changed electrically, and high precision is realized through high-dispersion resistor technology.

Murata’s shock sensors are used to detect tire revolutions and wake up the TPMS system, which saves battery power and used in acceleration sensors for airbag, as backup sensor to the main accelerometer used to detect collisions. The company’s knocking sensors are used to detect abnormal vibrations from automobile engines and sends feedback to the engine control system - due to the extreme environment surrounding the sensor; it is designed with heat and stress resistance in mind. Its ultrasonic sensors measures the distance between the car and the object behind it when backing up to park. These sensors have a flat orientation, being wide horizontally and narrow vertically. They are very sensitive with short reverberation and have built-in temperature compensation capacitor that realizes excellent reverberation temperature characteristics. Its original damping structure prevents vibration permeating to back of the sensor.

Apart from sensors, Murata makes a number of products for the automotive market including sound components, noise suppression products that used ferrite cores and products for power supply. Murata is also a market leader in supplying tight tolerance CERALOCK® ceramic resonators for automotive microprocessor timing applications.

Automotive Industries spoke to Hideo Sakamoto, President at Murata Electronics North America.

AI: What can we expect from automotive electronics industry – how fast is it growing and why?
Murata/Sakamoto: The NA production and sales volumes notwithstanding, the electronic content per light vehicle (LV) is continuing to expand year on year. Many industry pundits say the yearly growth rate range is 5-7%. Our analysis yields similar results. More importantly, this growth is being driven by new applications that are mandated by government regulation and policy, enabled by standardization or are features that customers want; in other words the market is being driven by applications that are likely to proliferate across the majority of light vehicle tiers, if not all, and will be a constituent of light vehicle electronics for a long time.

Safety applications, mostly driven by government regulation, typically apply to a broad range of passenger vehicles and are likely contain a healthy dose of electronics. For example, the TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) motor vehicle safety standard by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), by virtue of the TREAD Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000, requires that all 2008 model year passenger cars sold in the U.S. must be equipped with a system to monitor all four tires. NHTSA estimates the manufacturers’ average cost per vehicle (to meet the four-tire, 25% compliance option) between $39.90 and $69.65, depending on the technology used. Likewise, electronic stability control (ESC) will be big opportunity in the future with the NHTSA mandate that all model year 2012 passenger vehicles sold in the US must be equipped with a stability control system.

The Controller Area Network (CAN) data bus protocol is increasingly being utilized to implement high speed data transfer among and between ECUs (Electronic Control Units), sensors and other control systems. Additionally, CAN bus may be used to replace wiring harnesses used in a vehicle body electronics applications (e.g. electric windows, lamp clusters, electric mirrors, etc.), which could equate to weight savings, hence improved fuel consumption. CAN Bus transceiver IC chipsets, controller and supporting passive components are contributing to increased electronic content in a vehicle. In the future, we expect a new, higher speed data bus communications protocol being developed and promoted by the FlexRay Consortium to further expand the electronic content in a vehicle.

The expansion of Information and Entertainment (so called Infotainment) applications is being driven by the wants of the customer. Satellite Digital Radio has more than 14 million subscribers but does have some possible challenges to maintain momentum in the near-term depending on whether or not the merger between Sirius and XM Satellite Radio is approved. HD Radio is another digital radio system, albeit subscription free, that we are hopeful will expand. Rear seat entertainment (DVD) is enjoying increased penetration in passenger vehicles, particularly those used by families with children. Telematics has enjoyed growth owing to the popularity of OnStar. While Car Navigation has traditionally been more popular in Europe and Japan, we are seeing more U.S. consumers use portable navigation devices (PND), such as those found in the market from Garmin and Magellan, as well as other GPS manufacturers, for mapping applications.

Wireless connectivity is becoming more important within a vehicle. While Bluetooth has a low attach rate right now, this will not be the case in the future. We expect Bluetooth to find many uses within a vehicle, particularly for hands-free communication. DSRC holds promise but the high cost of infrastructure may hold it back. Nonetheless, wireless / ITS applications are taking hold.

Other convenience and safety applications, such as park assist, rear/side video camera and blind spot detection / lane departure warning systems are expected to continue to drive the increase of electronic content in vehicles in the coming years.

Last but certainly not least is the proliferation of HEV/EV vehicles. As are many in the industry, we are expecting the vehicle sales volume to continue to increase because of the need for good fuel economy and reduction of greenhouse gases. We’ve heard anecdotes that the cost of the electronic content of HEV/EV platforms is more than twice that of a general vehicle and nearly 50% greater than the electronics contained in a premium vehicle with a gas engine. This makes some sense when considering that HEV/EV platforms contain semiconductors and other electronic parts, as do vehicles with only gas engines, but also batteries, which are unique to the hybrid or electric vehicles.





AI: How do your automotive products meet the demand for auto electronics?

Murata/Sakamoto: We design and produce high performance, cost effective solutions, featuring best of class quality, meeting stringent reliability requirements commensurate with “automotive grade” specifications. Our factories producing automotive grade components are ISO9001 certified with many of them also possessing ISO/TS16949 certification, the international automotive quality management system.

Since the founding of our company in 1944, we have been producing a large volume of high quality passive electronic components. Throughout our history, Murata has accumulated a vast treasure of knowledge that has resulted in producing highly reliable components for the automotive electronics market and commercial market alike.

As aftermarket equipment suppliers and the OEM chain start to consider use of commercial grade components for applications that are inside a vehicle’s cabin (such as for information or entertainment), thus not subject to extreme temperatures, we are well positioned to become the supplier of choice for commercial, as well as, automotive grade electronic components and solutions.

AI: How much of your business is from the auto industry?

Murata/Sakamoto: in our FY2006, our worldwide sales result was more than $5 billion, nearly 11% of which came from automotive electronics. We will continue to be a leading electronics component supplier to the Automotive Electronics sector into the future by providing leading edge, world class electronic components and solutions, thus expect the ratio of our sales to the automotive market to grow to comprise a larger percentage of our total worldwide business in a few years or so.


AI: How did the Murata Boy robot help showcase your products to the automotive industry?

Murata/Sakamoto: First of all, I must say that Murata Boy is not for sale (some people say “unfortunately”!). Ever since 1990, when we designed the first generation self- running bicycle robot, we intended to use “Murata Boy” to introduce Murata’s various leading-edge technologies and products and the potential of Murata technology.

As you know, MURATA BOY is a bicycle-riding robot. He can balance to ride straight, and after detecting an obstacle, either stop or go around it. Moreover, Murata Boy can perform feats that are difficult even for humans, such as standing still in one spot without putting his feet down on the ground. Various Murata sensors embedded in the robot make these accomplishments possible. We are using Murata’s own ultrasonic sensors, ceramic shock sensors, gryo, DC-DC converter, very thin, piezo speaker, Bluetooth module, transparent dielectric lens and lithium ion battery.



AI: What are some of the new products and technologies you plan to unveil this year for the auto market?

Murata/Sakamoto: we are investing about 7% of our net sales in R&D. Our research indicates that this percentage is higher than our direct competitors. Just some of the new products resulting from our intensive R&D efforts include:

MLCC:

Although we are the worlds #1 supplier of multilayer ceramic chip capacitors (MLCC), we are not satisfied with the status quo. As such, we are actively utilizing part of our R&D budget for development of next generation caps, especially for current and future target markets such as Automotive Electronics. A significant new capacitor product that has resulted from our intensive R&D efforts is the EVC series, which is a large capacitance, high voltage (e.g. 22 uF at 300V) ceramic multilayer device that is targeted for the power electronics systems of next generation HEV and EV platforms. Additionally, we will be expanding our Hi-Cap MLCC product lineup by introducing new parts that are intended to replace tantalums with a lower cost, higher performance solution. Also, the GCG series is a product that we developed for conductive glue mounting, so we will be promoting for high temperature applications.

EMC:

We intend to introduce automotive grade RF inductors, ferrite beads and a common mode choke coil for use in CAN Bus and FlexRay applications.

PIEZOELECTRIC PRODUCTS:

As the worlds largest supplier of ceramic resonators for automotive, we intend to advance our technical leadership for timing applications by promotion of our tight tolerance ceramic resonators to replace crystals in CAN Bus timing requirements and introduce our +/-500ppm resonator for USB timing requirements in an automotive temperature range.

Our piezo sounders are positioned to replace electromagnetic chimes, as a lower cost solution for sliding door and lift gate warning.

VARIABLE PRODUCTS:

New position sensors to be promoted include the SV3H series, which we believe is the world’s first contact linear analog SMD potentiometer rated for 10M cycles. We expect this to be utilized in adaptive front lighting system, throttle control, steering position sensor and brake control applications.

THERMISTOR PRODUCTS:

We are introducing thermistor products for LED lighting, USB over current protection, and over temperature for Li Battery applications. For HVAC and side mirrors where instant on heat is a requirement, we are promoting our ceramic PTC heater products.


LOW TEMPERATURE CO-FIRED CERAMIC FUNCTIONAL SUBSTRATES:
Our LFC® low-temperature co-fired ceramic substrate (LTCC) products for automotive applications are now produced in eight-inch-square panels, which we believe is the world’s largest size featuring high dimensional accuracy and a very flat surface. We are actively promoting our LFC® functional substrates for multilayer high-density wiring substrate for automobile multi-chip modules where high reliability is required under high temperature such as in engine rooms.

WIRELESS CONNECTIVITY SOLUTIONS:

Murata’s Bluetooth module will be introduced strategically to the market, as a leading edge, cost effective solution to implement wireless connectivity. Additionally, within the next year or so, we will be expanding on our small form factor WLAN modules product line by commercializing Bluetooth + WLAN combo, Mobile Digital Broadcast TV and WiMAX module solutions.


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