Silicon Sensing celebrates 25th Anniversary at Oceanology International

This year, Silicon Sensing Systems Ltd celebrates its 25th anniversary with a sales growth of over 65% since 2019 when this joint venture (JV) between Sumitomo Precision Products and Collins Aerospace celebrated 20 years in business. The company also has a new mission: Redefining MEMS inertial.

Over the last 25 years, Silicon Sensing has seen a consistent rise in demand for its rugged, high performance inertial sensing technologies. The company has supplied inertial sensors and systems to a range of notable projects, from the innovative Segway personal transport device to the pioneering Mayflower Autonomous Ship which crossed the Atlantic Ocean without human intervention in June 2022.

Interest in the company’s technology has expanded as the need for precise motion sensing data has grown exponentially across many markets – including surveying, mapping, and marine.

David Sommerville, General Manager, Silicon Sensing Systems, comments: “Today our sensors and systems operate in a truly extraordinary range of positioning, stabilisation and navigation applications in every environment from subsea to space. In the marine sector we have experienced particularly keen interest as our rugged, compact, solid-state technology is well-suited to operating in this severe environment. Our products are at the heart of many attitude and heading reference systems (AHRS) that are being used to map the seabed and to monitor the location of surface vessels.”

Silicon Sensing’s unique patented, micro electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) technology spans a range of inertial requirements, from single, silicon vibrating ring sensors to full 6 axis inertial measurement units (IMU’s). The latest inertial measurement unit, the DMU41, redefines the capabilities of MEMS technology, bringing high-performance sensing in a smaller, more cost-effective unit. This robust unit has proven to operate flawlessly in temperatures from -40°C to +85°C, setting a new standard for reliability and adaptability in the marine market.

Sommerville concludes:

“Our latest products on the market are delivering tactical grade performance levels, exceeding the envelope typically expected of MEMS technology. However, our next generation of products, available in the next two to three years, will truly ‘redefine MEMS inertial.’ For the first time, Silicon Sensing aims to offer the market navigation-level inertial sensing performance in a compact, robust and cost effective MEMS package.”

New Chief Engineer appointed

Dr Mark Marshall has been appointed as Chief Engineer of Silicon Sensing Systems Ltd. Dr Marshall joined Silicon Sensing in 2017 as the lead engineer on numerous inertial programmes. Immediately prior to commencing as Chief Engineer he was the company’s Consultant Engineer and Electronics Discipline Manager. In this role he was responsible for the electronics and mechanical design of the latest generation, tactical grade inertial measurement unit (IMU) – the DMU41.

Dr Marshall comments: “These are remarkable times in inertial sensing with a long held technological status quo now rapidly shifting. A number of recent micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) inertial product launches are truly challenging fibre-optic gyro (FOG) performance for the first time – with products that are much more compact and rugged – and less power consuming. One of these market disrupting products is our DMU41 9 degrees of freedom (DoF) IMU.”

He continues: “But we know there is so much more we can achieve. The generation of products we are developing today will significantly extend these performance gains, increase endurance and extract even more from system size, weight and power consumption. I am looking forward to leading our engineering team as we evolve these new products and bring them to the market.”

Before joining Silicon Sensing Dr Marshall worked as a senior research engineer in the field of laparoscopic electro-surgical instruments. He has a 1st class honours degree in Computer Aided Engineering, an MSc in Advanced Manufacturing Systems and a PhD from the University of Cambridge.

SSS Foundry Expansion

Silicon Sensing has been established over 20 years, but can trace its technology back much further through the parent companies of Collins Aerospace and Sumitomo Precision Products. As we continued to leverage these rich technologies, and grow as a business, we have been slowly outgrowing our facilities. In 2018 the Silicon Sensing UK team made the first steps to support the growth of the business by relocated their entire team of engineers, sales, finance, quality, procurement and commercial, along with the manufacturing, to a purpose designed new facility in the UK. Now it is the time for the team in Silicon Sensing Japan to do much the same.

The process is well underway to relocate the MEMS foundry into a new facility in Amagasaki. The office staff have relocated, and the wafer fabrication has also relocated along with some of the end of line test (EOLT). The relocation of the remaining EOLT and the sensor assemblies is on schedule to complete in February 2021. This is no mean feat the team have been working on, but their new home will offer an increase from 800m2 to a huge 3,136m2, whilst also meeting the latest standards for both earthquake and tsunami mitigation.

This will allow a significant increase in wafer production, enabling Silicon Sensing to support the growing foundry business, while allowing uninterrupted supply in our long-established inertial product business.

Two new sensing systems for space markets

Silicon Sensing develops inertial measurement systems for the space market.

  • RMU30 – for small satellites – low power consumption, small size, high performance
  • IMU20 – excellent dynamic range, high shock resistance, ideal for launch vehicles

Join us on stand 4033 at Space Tech Expo 2019 to view these products and our full range of inertial devices

Two all-silicon inertial measurement systems, developed to meet the specific demands of the small satellite and launch vehicle markets, will be exhibited at Space Tech Expo, 2019 by Silicon Sensing Systems Ltd.

The new RMU30 combines below one-watt power consumption with performance that is comparable to much larger and higher consumption fibre optic-based gyro systems. This is a small, lightweight, 3 axis micro electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) device incorporating three Silicon Sensing high performing sensor heads manufactured at the company’s foundry in Japan.

Darioosh Naderi, Business Development Manager at Silicon Sensing explains: “This new gyro-package is the outcome of an extensive dialogue with our existing customers in the space sector and, as a result, we are confident it answers a growing requirement in the small satellite market – and indeed across all satellite technology. In the RMU30 we have stripped out all technology that is not relevant to the space environment to deliver a motion sensing unit that is small and ultra-low power with precision inertial sensing performance that we can tailor to specific satellite requirements.”

The company will also showcase its new IMU20 high-end, industrial grade MEMS IMU that can withstand extremely high shock environments and has a dynamic range that makes it ideal for use on satellite launch vehicles. This device combines three of the company’s gyros with Silicon Sensing’s own highest performing MEMS capacitive accelerometers.

Naderi continues: “The IMU20 is a bespoke device focused on the needs of the launch vehicle market but is based on technology that is thoroughly proven in the highest impact and vibration environments, where performance is critical.”

Developmental RMU30 and IMU20 units will be on display on the company’s stand at Space Tech Expo 2019, with pre-production samples being delivered to prospective customers later this year.

MEMS Foundry to be expanded

Silicon Sensing expands MEMS foundry to deliver fivefold increase in output

  • Significant rise in demand
  • 2-year upgrade programme commenced with move to new facility
  • Immediate doubling of wafer production achieved

Silicon Sensing Systems is to expand its MEMS foundry in Japan, moving into a new purpose built facility, allowing the company to meet significantly increased demand for its MEMS inertial sensors and sputtered thin film PZT MEMS device wafers. The new facility will increase floor space to 3,000m2, immediately more than doubling current wafer throughput and delivering scope for a five-fold increase in output over the next five years, in line with current market growth predictions. To keep up with the volume and price pressures in the thin film PZT MEMS sector Silicon Sensing is already expanding its 8” wafer line production.

This expansion forms part of a major two-year programme of investment which will upgrade tooling, capabilities and capacity, and comes as Silicon Sensing celebrates 20 years in the MEMS business during which time the company has delivered over 30m devices worldwide.

Eric Whitley, Business Development Manager, Silicon Sensing Systems explains: “Silicon Sensing is known for its own precision MEMS inertial sensors and has recently opened up its foundry to fabless customers who need a reliable source for their PZT based MEMS devices. In the last 3 years we have seen strong demand as customers in many markets ramp up production and look for a reliable supply of effective, precision MEMS units. As a team, we are excited to be part of this significant evolution and growth in the business.”

Mr. Hiroshi Tanaka, General Manager (Japan site), is overseeing the expansion plan and adds: “This is an important milestone in the continuing evolution of the Silicon Sensing company. Our aim is to make a smooth transition from the current facility into our new, earthquake resistant building by the end of 2020. At the same time, we are adding many additional depositions and etch tools, including a new ALD (Atomic Layer Deposition) tool to offer a solution for environmental protection of our PZT films for use in harsh environments.”

Thin Film PZT MEMS

Silicon Sensing launched its first sputtered thin film PZT (Lead Zirconate Titanate) MEMS gyroscope sensor in 2010; the PinPoint® gyro. Since then more than 10M PinPoint® gyros have been produced and are used in a diverse range of applications in automotive, industrial and commercial markets. This gyro remains a best-selling product and has gained an excellent reputation as an ultra-reliable (0ppm return – last 3 years), precise and affordable MEMS sensor.

Building on the strengths of PinPoint® Silicon Sensing has developed its thin film sputtering material and process technology to an advanced level. Silicon Sensing is supplying its PZT film to a global customer base for use in many varied MEMS devices such as mirrors, inkjet printhead nozzles and acoustic devices. In many cases Silicon Sensing is an enabler for the transition from use of bulk piezo-electric to thin film, with the associated benefits of economy, size and power consumption.

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