Short-Term Doom and Gloom

E-mail Melanie Martella

It's hard to feel perky when you listen to the morning news and hear yet more very depressing news about the global economy. Luckily for us, the process is cyclical and what goes down (and down some more) will start to go up. Eventually. Unluckily for us, it looks like we'll be waiting a while for that uptick. So I was interested to read an interview with three semiconductor industry experts wherein they discussed the future of sensors and sounded pretty optimistic about it.

The interview ("Sensor overload" courtesy of Components in Electronics), discusses why the sensor industry is interesting, what's driving the growth in the sensors market, observable trends, and, finally, how the interviewees think that the economic downturn will affect the sensor market. I'm not sure I agree with all that they say, but that may be because I have a slightly different view of the market because Sensors deals with all sizes of sensor companies, from the very small to the very large.

I do agree that the increased power and sophistication of the microcontrollers, DSPs, and other signal conditioning components has done a great deal to boost the capabilities and adoption of sensors. However, I think the improvements in sensor technology—better designed MEMS sensor elements or higher-sensitivity image sensors, to mention two at random—also deserve recognition.

Will the environmental agenda give the sensor industry a boost? I think that's a definite yes. You can't manage what you can't measure. Closer to home I'm rather more excited by President-Elect Obama's plan to invest in infrastructure repair because first, our infrastructure needs to be repaired in the worst way and second, that will help raw materials manufacturers (and the companies that make the sensors used in their equipment), manufacturers of construction equipment (and the companies that make the sensors that go into it) and the makers of monitoring equipment for the roads and bridges and dams and whatnot (and the sensors that entails), to name just a few. (Although I will be very, very annoyed if the new structures don't have health monitoring devices either built in or attached later.)

As for the impact of the current dire economic outlook, I'm less worried about the larger sensor companies (who presumably have deeper pockets and thus greater staying power) than I am about the large number of small sensor companies that are not heavily diversified, don't have deep pockets, and are getting nailed by rising costs. I just hope I'm wrong.