Dramatic changes coming for sensors

DN Staff

August 26, 1996

5 Min Read
Dramatic changes coming for sensors

Smart products and smart designers will make you look at sensors very differently these next few years, according to Davies.

Design News--How have fast microprocessors affected the design of your company's sensors and actuators?

Davies: In two fundamental ways. First, it gives us the capability of adding intelligence to our products. And we've done that with both sensors and actuators. Second, it allows people to put all sorts of intelligence on vehicles, on systems, in industrial automation, because the cost of hardware is so low. That generates a demand for more sensors and more actuators. Clearly, in automotive the architecture will end up with some form of data bus round the vehicle. But for the sensor to be sitting on the bus, you have to introduce local intelligence to that sensor to enable it to plug into the bus.

Q: How big can the market for smart components become?

A: Traditional sensors and actuators are clearly the biggest part of the market at the moment and will continue to be so for some while. There'll come a crossover, but I'd hate to predict when the majority of our business will involve some electronic integration. I don't know how big the overall market can be. I'm not sure there's a limit to how big it can be. What will happen is the overall market will get bigger and the demand for smart products of some form will increase. I don't believe the basic market will diminish at all.

Q: What capabilities has silicon micromachining brought to your products?

A: One of our big applications for micromachined silicon is intravenous blood pressure measurement. Because of micromachined silicon, we can provide an accurate pressure sensor of a size that will go into a catheter, and produce it at a cost that makes it a disposable item. With traditional sensing technology, I don't believe that market would exist. We're only at the start of this process. Everything from relays, to switches, to gyroscopes is going to come out of that micromachined silicon capability.

Q: What new developments can design engineers expect from Lucas?

A: You're going to see all these separate sensing and actuation systems coming together. For example, I drove a vehicle not so long ago that had electrically controlled steering, but also had a forward-looking/rear-looking radar. You could lock onto the vehicle in front of you and as that vehicle speeded up or slowed down, you would track it. Even if it came to a stop, you'd come up behind it and stop. All of the things that are possible in isolation at the moment are going to be linked together. Put a bus structure in place, put the right degree of redundancy in place, have sufficiently reliable actuator and sensor products in place, and we'll link these systems.

Q: How important will markets in the Pacific Rim and China become to LCSP and Lucas?

A: Very important. At last count Lucas had three joint ventures in China, the fourth one is coming to fruition. We at LCSP are in the process of setting up our first new venture in China. We set up a dedicated Asia-Pacific sales force two years ago. If we can't sell into those countries today, it means we're not competitive in those countries, and therefore they will come and take away markets from us tomorrow. You need to be competing out there to understand the competitors' strengths and weaknesses.

Q: What advantages accrue to Lucas because of its ability to operate globally?

A: In terms of my part of Lucas, a major customer here has made it very clear to us that we are a major supplier to them because we have a facility in the UK as well as a facility in North America. The ability to produce in Europe and North America is important to automotive and all the other high-volume, major customers, and it will become necesssary globally. If you're going to interface with multinationals, it's absolutely necessary.

Q: How difficult is it to operate in China?

A: Somebody described the difference between India and China as that in India at least you had a legal system and the concept of law and personal property. So there are pitfalls to doing business in China. On the other hand, it's such an opportunity that you've just got to find your way through those pitfalls. There's very much more dependence on personal relationships and an expectation of continuity. If the individuals change, then the deal changes.

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