The roots of TE Connectivity lies in AMP, a former “leader in connectors”. AMP and Tyco International merged and in 1999 Tyco Electronics was created, which is now TE Connectivity. TE Connectivity continued to actively buy companies, and added companies like Raychem, a leader in heat-shrink tubing and circuit protection elements, into their group. It has grown to become a worldwide electronic device company that centers on connection devices. In 2017, their annual sales revenue recrded US$ 13 billion (1.42 trillion yen).
Currently, TE Connectibity is focusing specifically on the developing market of Sensors. Sensors are expected to rapidly expand in the markets of IoT (Internet of Things), Automobiles, Robots, and Consumer products, and various companies all over the world are eagerly aiming to expand their market share. So what kind of strategy is TE Connectivity using to beat the competition with other companies? For this interview we spoke with Mr. BW Tan: who is the Senior Key Account Manager of Arrow & APAC Channel lead for TE Sensor Solutions Business at TE Connectivity, Mr. Cedric Guo: who is the FAE Manager at TE Connectivity Sensor Solution Sales and Business Development Asia Division, and Mr. Shingo Sekiguchi who is the Country Sales Manager of TE Japan Sensor Solution Sales Business Development. (Interviewer: Katsumi Yamashita = Technical Journalist)
TE(TE Connectvity)has a strong image as an electronic components manufacturer with strength in connectors.
Sekiguchi: As you pointed out, “When you think TE, you think connectors.” There are a lot of users who recognize us for it. It’s not that well-known but, we have a strong position in the sensor market worldwide. Our product portfolio has an extensive selection, offering a portfolio of optimal sensor solutions for a wide range of industry applications.
How much is the sensor market size?
Indeed, TE doesn’t have much recognition as a global technology leader in sensor solutions. How were you able to make the leap to such a position?
What kind of sensor manufacturers did you acquire? Can you tell us the name of a leading manufacturer?
Sekiguchi: First would be Measurement Specialties which we acquired in October 2014. The company specializes in Pressure sensors and Temperature sensors for use in harsh environments, and make MEMS Pressure sensors, NTC Thermistors, Thermocouples, Thermopiles and so on.
Sekiguchi: Other leading companies include AST (American Sensor Technologies), Celesco, and Piezofilm Sensors. AST is a company we acquired in September 2014 and has strength in Pressure Transducers and Position variable sensors based on Linear Variable Differential Transformer (LVDT). Celesco is the world’s leading company in cable operated Position sensors (spring potentiometers). Piezofilm sensors offers Vibration sensors and Acceleration sensors using Piezo films made of polymer materials.
Providing optimal sensors from a wide portfolio according to the market
Where is your main target market?
Tan: We are focusing on 5 markets (Fig. 3). The first is “IoT (Internet of Things)”. The second one is “Safety”. Particularly in automobiles. Currently, an automobile is already a bundle of sensors, but all sorts of sensors will be installed as well in the future. The third is “Real-time Monitoring”. The fourth is “Green”. This includes high efficiency of electronic equipment utilizing sensors and HEMS (Home Energy Management Systems), etc. The fifth is “Smart Manufacturing”.
With regards to the first IoT, within the various types of IoT, we are paying particular attention to “IIoT (Industries IoT)”. Placing sensors in various places in a factory, acquiring data such as vibration and sound, and using it to create a database. By analyzing such data, we can predict failures such as on the manufacturing line and preform maintenance before any failure can actually occur. If the production line is stopped, the product can’t be manufactured. The time it is stopped would be an opportunity loss. There is huge merit to prevention.
What kind of structure is the sensor production factory? Do you use the manufacturing factory of each acquired sensor manufacturer as it is?
Sekiguchi: There are 9 production plants in the United States, 11 in Europe and 4 in Asia. We’re still in the process of organizing/consolidating the production plants of acquired companies. In the future, we plant to further integrate, but from the perspective of BCM (Business Continuity Management) that continues to supply products even if a natural disaster occurs. For that reason, we have established a system that can product one sensor at multiple plants.
Does TE only provide sensors in element form? Or do you also deal in modules and systems as well?
Tan: Not just elements. It is also available as a sensor module, and it also supports custom application development. Therefore, our customers include not only electronic equipment manufacturers but also sensor module manufacturers such as Keyence and Omron, and sensor and subsystem manufacturers such as Honeywell, Emerson Electric, and SICK.
Strength for Industrial Equipment
What sort of sensors do you actually provide? Can you introduce a few specific products?
Guo: We provide Temperature sensors, Vibration sensors, Torque sensors, Humidity sensors, Piezoelectric sensors using Piezo film, Liquid sensors to measure viscosity and turbidity of Liquid, Magnetic sensors using anisotropic-magneto-resistive (ARM), Position sensors, Photo optics sensors, Pressure censors corresponding to atmospheric pressure/hydraulic pressure/water flow/medicine (Fig. 4).
Could you introduce some distinctive products?
Guo: For example, there is a Pressure sensor equipped with a Bluetooth function (Fig. 5). Because pressure measurement data is wirelessly transmitted using Bluetooth, it doesn’t require a cable to connect to the system body. Therefore, it has the merit that installation is very easy. Industrial equipment is the main application.
The LVDT type linear position sensor previously described is also a distinctive product (Fig. 6). This converts the linear motion of an object mechanically connected to the sensor into an electrical signal. Its features include high measurement resolution and reproducibility, it can be used in extremely harsh environments, and can realize long durability. Even when it is repeatedly used 500,000 times, the measurement accuracy does not deteriorate. It can be used for aircrafts, helicopters, and hydraulic systems.
A Vibration sensor using a piezo film can be used, for example, for detecting the drop of a hard disk drive (HDD). Also, as an even more interesting application, it is also placed under beds to detect vibration. Vital information such as breathing and heart rate can be measured by analyzing vibration.
Improving the domestic FAE system
I would like to ask you about your sales method for sensors. Do you start your business activity after getting a message from customers saying, “I want a 〇〇 sensor”?
Sekiguchi: Cases like that aren’t uncommon, but surprisingly in many cases it starts with a customer coming to us and saying, “I want to acquire such information, what should I do so I can get it”. Customers don’t always know what the optimal sensor is that they are looking for. In that case, our FAEs (Field Application Engineer) will propose the optimal sensor by listening to the customer’s application. It might be close to something like “consulting”.
Also, there are some customers already using a sensor are dissatisfied with that sensor. They will usually have complaints that a sensor has “insufficient accuracy”, “a problem in environmental resistance” or that they “want to switch to a product that uses new technology”. In these cases, FAEs of our company will listen to customers and propose the optimum alternative.
What is the FAE system like in the Japanese market?
Sekiguchi: In Japan, the FAE is still not available as of today. Currently, the FAE in Shenzhen works for Japan, China is in charge of Japan as well. However, I recognize that the Japanese market is extremely important. We are planning to quickly hire local FAE here in the future.