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EDDI's Featured Category: IMUs

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EDDI's Featured Category: Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs)

Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) are sensors designed to measure directional and/or rotational acceleration and are used to determine movement or relative position of an object.  Gyroscopes (picture 1) were an earlier form of IMUs and the marvels of MEMs technology have miniaturized them to small semiconductor packages (picture 2).  Today’s IMUs are integrated into products like smart-phones, drones, virtual reality (VR) devices, spacecraft, vehicles, and TV remotes. Imagine using your TV remote to move a cursor on the TV screen by pointing the remote to different locations on the screen, much like how we use a mouse on a computer.  Using an IMU device in the TV remote enables it to track the orientation of the remote and that greatly eases inputting streaming login setups and text searching for content. Demand for these small sensors is growing, with market reports indicating 6%-9% CAGR.

I was deeply intrigued by the following chart on supply chain engagement for IMU devices from Spectra. This subcategory-level index is not typically included in the monthly Electronic Design to Delivery Index report, but offered here as a feature this month.

Chart 1 – IMU (Inertial Measurement Units) SUPPLY index from December 2022 EDDI report

This particular supply index chart is derived from the publicly available inventory of IMU devices which Spectra uses to feed the overall trend that can be found in the regularly reported on Sensor category. This is a nice way to track the world-wide “supply” of electronic components on the open commercial markets. It must be noted, this information is gathered from publicly available data, so it would not capture direct purchasing of IMU devices, which is typically private and difficult to obtain.    

The y-axis on Chart 1 is defined to be the number of pieces of IMUs in stock at franchised distributors with publicly available inventory information and computed relative to a baseline measured in January 2020, similar to how the US Consumer Price Index is computed. For example, the IMU supply index for January 2021 indicates a 42 (normalized to 100) ratio of the baseline number of pieces of IMUs in stock distributors in January 2020, which indicates a decline of 58% as compared to the baseline. What is very intriguing is the sudden increase from a single-digit supply index, which indicates market-level shortages, to a 260 point index in December 2022, which represents 160% increase of IMU inventory at franchised distributors, as compared to the inventory level in January 2020.

While other sensor devices in the EDDI report indicated an increase in inventory in the same time frame, IMUs have had a much larger increase. What caused IMUs to recently increase supply inventory more quickly than other devices?

Details on the inventory stocking levels by specific manufacturers (OEMs) of IMUs was analyzed. This is summarized in the stacked-column Chart 2 of the monthly inventory levels by IMU OEM reflects sudden and large increase in inventory levels in late summer and fall of 2022.  Note that in this chart the y-axis represents IMU device inventory unit count.

Chart 2 - Average stocking levels of IMUs by OEM

Note that the majority of supply inventory increase was by IMUs from a small number of OEMs. Further study of the specific IMUs by these OEMs indicates these are IMUs designed for the broad consumer marketplace, for usage in devices such as smartphones, wearables and TV remotes. The monthly consumption levels for consumer products is measured in millions of units and is considerably larger than the monthly consumption of IMUs for products in aerospace/defense, drones and other markets.

Using two y-axis charting on Chart 3 shows the majority of IMU inventory increase was contributed by  three OEMs. By placing the top three IMU OEMs onto a secondary (right) axis that is scaled 100x larger than the primary (left) axis, one can now see a more insightful picture of inventory.

Chart 3 - Monthly stocking level of IMUs by OEM with secondary axis for top-three OEMs

Industry reports indicate that demand for consumer products have reduced in 2022, which given the huge volume of these products, would likely create an oversupply in the direct buying of IMUs privately, which are now being released into the public franchised distribution channels. Given the normally high volumes of these products, the recent sudden increase in IMU inventory is not abnormal and reflects the differences in volume consumption of IMU sensors in different markets. One can note the more gradual increase in IMU volume from lower-volume OEMs, which indicates a broad slowing of demand and increase in inventory stocking across the board, similar to that experienced by the higher-volume OEM devices. 

The sudden “spike” in IMUs in franchised distributor inventory noted in Chart 1 is likely in line with the broader pattern of growing inventory of sensor components, as demand slows broadly due to inflationary impacts and supply has increased due to manufacturing capacity investments. The Spectra EDDI report also includes the demand side, reflected by the amount of sourcing activity per MPN measured across Nexar's partner network. Chart 4 shows the demand index for IMUs. Demand is still strong, but less crazy than the peak of early 2021.

Chart 4 - Demand measured by sourcing activity on IMU devices

What does this mean for the PCB designer? Now is a good time for potential usage of high-volume consumer product IMUs in new designs, they are available and likely at a good price. IMU and other devices that are consumed in the high-volume markets represent a good opportunity for “electronic design drafting”, much like the strategy of drafting in cycling or car racing. Assuming they meet your design requirements, leveraging a higher-volume consumer product IMU, in a lower volume product design could provide an opportunity to save cost and ensure resilient supply of these unique sensors.

Author: Christopher Cain

Founder and CEO, Innovation Mindset LLC

Christopher recently retired from a 37-year career with Hewlett-Packard, Agilent Technologies and Keysight Technologies with roles spanning Executive Vice President and Electronics Manufacturing and Electronics Supply Chains. He currently resides in Santa Rosa, California and enjoys spending time with family and providing strategic insights to clients through his consulting company, Innovation Mindset LLC.