The microcontroller (MCU) market is expected to show positive sales in 2015 thanks to a sharp recovery in smartcards, improvements in the global economy, and the emergence of new embedded-systems applications, such as wearable electronics and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to IC Insights’ 2015 edition of The McClean Report. These market factors, in addition to steady growth in automotive and portable electronics, will drive up microcontroller sales by six percent in 2015 to a new record-high level of $16.8 billion after a five percent increase in 2014.
The report also reveals that unit shipments of 32-bit MCUs will surpass 4-/8-bit MCUs for the first time in 2015 as demand increases for higher levels of precision in embedded processing for clusters of sensors and systems. Many new 32-bit MCU designs also include support for wireless connections and Internet protocol (IP) communications for contact to the IoT. All types of microcontrollers (8-, 16-, and 32-bit) - about 1.4 billion MCUs - will be used in new systems connected to the IoT in 2019 compared to 306 million in 2014, according to the McClean Report.
One of the latest products for the IoT includes the expanded SAM G series of ARM Cortex-M4-based MCUs from Atmel Corporation. The new SAM G54 and SAM G55 devices target the IoT market for battery-operated devices including wearables such as fit bands and smart watches, sensor hub management, as well as healthcare, gateway bridges and audio devices. The new series claims the right mix of features including higher performance, ultra-lower power, more SRAM and smaller form factors.
For industrial IoT, Spansion Inc. added 96 new MCUs to its FM4 family in the fourth quarter of 2014. Based on the ARM Cortex-M4F core, the MCUs offer a variety of on-chip peripherals for enhanced human machine interfaces (HMI) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The peripherals along with the large 2-MB memory allow the devices to be used in a variety of applications including factory automation, motor control, office automation, industrial IoT, building management systems, smart meters, digital cameras, and multi-function printers.
Semicast expects opportunities for ARM in IoT applications to take off over the next few years. The market research firm forecasts that shipments for ARM in IoT applications to grow to about 12 billion units in 2018, up from less than three billion units in 2010 and less than one billion in 2006. This translates into a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 32 percent for ARM-based MCU shipments in IoT from 2010 to 2018, compared to 11 percent for ARM-based SoCs.
Another recent launch packed with feature-rich peripherals is the low-cost PIC32MX1/2/5 MCU series from Microchip Technology Inc. The latest 32-bit series can be used in a variety of applications, including digital audio, Bluetooth, industrial connectivity, USB and general-purpose embedded control. These MCUs are well suited for cost-sensitive applications that need complex code and higher feature integration. They also can be used in CAN communications schemes for industrial and automotive applications.
A new wave of expansion in microcontrollers is underway after a two-year slump in 2012 and 2013. The MCU market fell three percent in 2012 and saw flat growth in 2013. IC Insights attributes the declines to a correction in the large smartcard segment and steep price erosion, particularly for 32-bit MCUs. The IC Insights report forecasts continued price erosion with average selling prices (ASPs) falling by a CAGR of slightly less than -3.5 percent in the 2014-2019 period. The good news for buyers: ASPs will move from $0.85 to an average of $0.72 in 2019.
The microcontroller market recovered in 2014 with shipments increasing by 16 percent to a new record high of 18.6 billion units, compared to the previous annual peak of 17.3 billion in 2012, according to IC Insights. Worldwide MCU shipments are forecast to grow 12 percent in 2015 with a 7.9 percent CAGR in the next five years, reaching 27.3 billion units in 2019. The market research firm forecasts worldwide microcontroller sales rising by a CAGR of 4.2 percent between 2014 and 2019, reaching $19.5 billion in 2019.
Shipments of smartcard MCUs, now representing about half of all MCU units, increased 25 percent to 9.2 billion units in 2014 after falling 22 percent in 2013 due to a correction in this market segment and delays in new government smartcard programs, said IC Insights. “Revenues for smartcard MCUs also rebounded in 2014 with dollar volumes growing 16 percent to $2.6 billion after falling 11 percent in 2013,” said IC Insights. However, this segment represents less than 20 percent of total MCU revenues due to “razor-thin ASPs” for smartcard MCUs.
The MCU market for smart technology is expected to reach $10 billion in 2020, according to a recent report from The Information Network. Although it represents only 10 percent of the overall MCU market in 2014, the market research firm expects it will account for 40 percent of the market in 2020. Although 8-bit MCUs are expected to initially dominate the market, a scalable family of devices will be required to meet the various smart technology applications, said the report.