Cambridge Mechatronics: The Story Behind This Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) Actuators Leader

By Amit Chowdhry • Jun 5, 2024

Cambridge Mechatronics Limited (CML) is a multidisciplinary engineering company that is developing industry-leading precision motion solutions for use across a variety of markets, including smartphones, AR/VR, wearables, and many more. And the company specializes in designing compact actuators that utilize shape memory alloy (SMA) materials. We are the only company in the world to master the precise control of SMA materials, and we have developed and patented a variety of SMA-based actuators to control, move, and position objects with exceptional accuracy. Pulse 2.0 interviewed Cambridge Mechatronics Limited Co-Managing Director Andy Osmant to learn more.

Andy Osmant’s Background

What is Osmant’s background? Osmant said:

“My background is in accountancy. I qualified as a Chartered Accountant with Deloitte & Touche, seven years working in audit and corporate finance roles, whilst managing a portfolio of technology companies in Cambridge and Sydney, Australia. I then became Group Chief Accountant for SGB, a FTSE 250 construction group, and was responsible for the preparation of the group accounts. I joined Cambridge Mechatronics, then still 1-Limited, as CFO in 2001, and am now a co-Manager Director.”

Formation Of Cambridge Mechatronics

How did the idea for Cambridge Mechatronics come together? Osmant shared:

“Cambridge Mechatronics was founded by a Cambridge academic Tony Hooley in 1995 as 1-Limited. Tony set up the company with the ambition of creating the world’s best loudspeaker. Around 2013 the entire sound technology portfolio was sold and the company name was changed to Cambridge Mechatronics Ltd reflecting its new focus on developing smartphone camera autofocus and optical image stabilization actuator designs and control.”

Favorite Memory

What has been Osmant’s favorite memory working for the company so far? Osmant reflected:

“Shipping hardware technology into the mobile phone market is a huge challenge given the high risk associated with adoption of a new component, the huge investment involved in setting up supply chains and manufacturing capacity and many technologies fail to make this groundbreaking step.”

“So, for me, my favorite commercial memory was when Huawei committed to using our technology in high volume in the P30 Pro handset. This was a huge breakthrough for CML and a moment of celebration for our engineers as we demonstrated that our products could be produced reliably and ship successfully into a flagship handset in volumes of tens of millions per year.”

Core Products

What are the company’s core products and features? Osmant explained:

“CML is the world leader in the design and control of Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) actuators. Other companies have made SMA actuators but only CML has been able to demonstrate the (submicron) precision control necessary for applications such as smartphone cameras. In the smartphone camera industry we are starting to displace the incumbent technology VCM (Voice Coil Motor) as our technology delivers a more powerful actuator in a smaller form factor, and without any electromagnetic interference with other components. We have already shipped inside 70 million smartphones, including the world’s top-ranked smartphone camera according to independent industry experts DXOMark.”

“Our powerful, compact actuators have countless applications in other consumer devices such as AR/VR, drones and laptops, and other markets such as industrial, medical, automotive and defense. Another example is in drug delivery where we are developing a compact microfluidic patch pump, another industry already in the billions of units per year.”

Challenges Faced

What challenges has Osmant faced in building the company? Osmant acknowledged:

“Displacing an incumbent technology is challenging and requires demonstrating to our customers the benefit of using SMA and CML’s control technology as well as being able to compete on cost. Manufacturers of products made using a competitive technology have been able to amortize their product lines, commoditizing their product offering against which we need to compete with a new technology that requires investment in production equipment. In addition, CML’s controller IC is a new offering to the market and requires a rigorous qualification programme with each customer.”

“Our strategy to overcome these challenges is to pitch our new actuator designs into the flagship segment, where there is more budget for the camera systems. After a year or 2 of production into this segment, our licensees are in a better position to cost-reduce and be more competitive against competing products. We constantly ensure that the key features of our technology solves customer problems, such as power draw, footprint and lack of electromagnetic interference. To ensure our adoption of CML controller ICs, we are offering a technically superior solution to our customers.”

Evolution Of Cambridge Mechatronics’ Technology

How has Cambridge Mechatronics’ technology evolved since launching? Osmant noted:

“CML’s first product design was an autofocus (AF) actuator. Since then, CML has successfully commercialized optical image stabilization (OIS) actuators and the world’s first integrated AF+OIS actuator. We continue to invest in new camera technologies, such as a continuous variable aperture and module tilt.”

“More recently, CML has developed SMA actuator solutions for new markets, such as Haptics and AR/VR headset and is now working closely with new partners on miniature patch pumps for medical applications.”

Significant Milestones

What have been some of the company’s most significant milestones? Osmant cited:

— 2015: Foxconn International Holdings launches first smartphones using CML’s 4WS actuator technology under InFocus brand

— 2019: Huawei uses SMA Lens shift SMA in the P30 Pro

— 2019: Huawei signs Lens shift AF+OIS (8-wire) exclusivity license

— 2021: First handset launched with the Lens shift AF+OIS (8-wire) product

— 2021: First SMA launch in an Honor handset

— 2022: First SMA launches with Xiaomi and Oppo

— 2023: CM824 controller IC samples become available

— Early 2024: Breaking 700 patents pending and granted and 75 million actuators shipped

Customer Success Stories

After asking Osmant about customer success stories, he highlighted:

“The 2019 launch of the Huawei P30 Pro. What made this both unusual and a great success for CML was the sheer scale of the task. Normally, new technologies start life in a niche, high-end product where initial volumes are small. This is a low-risk, well-trodden route to ensure that new technology is reliable and does not result in field returns when it hits the market. In the case of the P30 Pro, this was Huawei’s first use of SMA technology and involved setting up multiple supply chains in Asia as the volume shipments were expected to exceed 20 million units. To the credit of our engineers and the great support we received from our supply chain partners, the product launched successfully, on time. The camera solution was considered the best in the world at that time and reassuringly, product returns were close to zero.”


After asking Osmant about the company’s funding and revenue information, he highlighted:

“Historically, CML has been funded by high-net-worth individuals, family offices and trade partners. In 2023, we raised approximately $40m from new Venture Capital investors, including Atlantic Bridge, Intel Capital, Supernova and Sony Ventures. This is a major endorsement of our technology and demonstrates the opportunity we have to create shareholder value in the coming years.”

“Our revenue until the end of 2023 has largely been driven through royalties on product sales, combined with licence and engineering fees. Over the last 18 months, we have been developing new driver chips and are transitioning from a licensing business model to a fabless semiconductor model under which we will be selling our own controller ICs.”

Total Addressable Market

What total addressable market (TAM) size is the company pursuing? Osmant assessed:

“Our primary focus is the smartphone camera industry where there are well over 4 billion camera modules shipping each year, of which the bit we can easily address (OIS = Optical Image Stabilisation) currently stands at 700 million and is growing quickly. But SMA is a deeptech and so the smartphone camera market is only the start. Our powerful, compact actuators have countless applications in other consumer devices such as AR/VR, drones and laptops, and other markets such as industrial, medical, automotive and defense. Another example is in drug delivery where we are developing a compact microfluidic patch pump, another industry already in the billions of units per year.”

Differentiation From The Competition

What differentiates the company from its competition? Osmant affirmed:

“CML’s SMA actuator designs have some important features that make it very attractive to handset OEMs. Firstly, SMA has a high force-to-mass ratio. This means that SMA actuators are capable of moving relatively heavy masses, critical with large image sensor format lens systems. This also means that the actuators can be very compact in design.”

“CML’s lens shift AF+OIS actuator is particularly beneficial to customers as it enables much simpler product integration owing to a single actuator providing both AF and OIS functionality.”

“For CML’s variable aperture product, we have developed a Zero Hold Power feature that will help customers significantly reduce the power consumption of their cameras.”

“Furthermore, SMA actuators cause no electromagnetic interference, as there are no magnets, coils and Hall sensors as is the case with VCM. In today’s smartphones, packed with magnetically sensitive components, an SMA actuator can be designed without EMI considerations.”

“Using CML’s dedicated controller chips, we are increasing the performance window of our actuators to exceed VCM’s core capabilities.”

Future Company Goals

What are some of the company’s future company goals? Osmant pointed out:

— Ship CML controller ICs as default with all SMA actuator products from H2 2024

— Expand into the higher volume mid-range smartphone market with Chinese handset OEMs

— To win business in other major handset OEMs outside of China

— Make CML’s variable aperture solution the industry standard

— Expand the SMA actuator supply chain to create more cost-down competition

— Secure design-win into medical and other non-smartphone markets

Additional Thoughts

Any other topics you would like to discuss? Osmant concluded:

“CML’s success so far has been down to the talent of its world-class Cambridge-based engineering team, supported by a team in Asia that closely supports our customers. We are continuing to recruit new talent, especially as we build in relatively new areas for the business such as chip development.”