Yole Développement has announced the total infrared (IR) detector market generated revenue of more than $153M in 2012, mostly due to the mature motion detection market which relies on high-volume sales of automatic lighting and intrusion detection systems. Yole says however in a scenario that includes spot thermometer function in mobile devices, it is expected that these revenues will top at $381M in 2018, growing at a 16% CAGR, fueled by :
• Small detector applications, especially in consumer mobile applications. That growth in mobile applications is expected to be driven, in the short term, by adoption of monopixel sensors for internal temperature measurement and spot thermometry in smartphones and tablets. Technological innovation will be the key to compete successfully with other technologies in that market. Wafer-level-packaging will be necessary to successfully address these markets driven by price and looking for ever smaller form factor sensors. A specific scenario for adoption of IR sensors in mobile devices raises the market revenues in 2018 by $30M.
• Array detectors which range from medium size (4x4 to 16x16 pixels) to large size (32x32 and above) are expected to grow at a ~30% CAGR in the 2013/2018 period. Medium size arrays have started to be successfully sold in HVAC for buildings and automotive, people counting for retail, home appliances and will continue to expand due to affordable pricing. Large size arrays are expected to target the key market for smart building automation that will use a wide variety of detector functions and could support higher pricing. However, overall, these positive market dynamics will be fueled by detector price erosion.
The other findings disclosed by Yole includes:
Technological evolution has historically pushed IR detectors toward higher-end markets with array detectors Low cost and easy to manufacture, IR detectors have been used in a wide diversity of markets such as construction, security, appliances, and industrial, and for a wide variety of functions, e.g. motion detection, temperature measurement, counting, fire & gas detection. Initially limited to single pixel pyroelectric detectors with a basic motion detection function, IR detectors have progressively been used in more complex systems which diversified the market into higher-end applications such as temperature sensing, or gas & fire detection, spectroscopy.
At the end of 2000, that diversification has been pushed further into the high end of the market by the introduction of array detectors. Multiple companies, led by Heimann Sensors, adopted a “technology push” strategy to introduce IR detector arrays either based on pyroelectric technology or thermopile technology. Coming from the MEMS industry, several companies like OMRON & Panasonic have ensured the domination of thermopile technology on the array detector market by capitalizing on their knowhow in complex MEMS structure manufacturing.
However, in 2013 the domination of thermopiles has been challenged by a new entrant based on a technology coming from the infrared imaging market: ULIS. The very large IR detector is the first microbolometer having a true resolution (without windowing) below 100x100 pixels, which aims to gain market share in the developing large IR detector market. “In 2014, competition in the small microbolometer array segment is expected to increase with FLIR, the market leader of uncooled infrared imaging. In the future, it is expected that the next technological step for IR detectors will be at the packaging level with either vacuum package or Wafer-Level Package, and at pixel level with manufacturing process optimization to decrease pixel pitch,” says Paul Danini, Technology and Market Analyst, Imaging Technologies & MEMS Devices, at Yole Développement.
Major technological barriers prevent current players from moving from low-end to high-end applications
Infrared detector competitive landscape is complex due to the diversity of players in that market. While the small IR detector market is a commodity market driven by price, medium and large array detectors are cost/performance driven and still offer room for differentiation for new entrants. However strong barriers lie between each IR detector technology: pyroelectric/thermopiles/ microbolometers; because these technologies are based on different manufacturing processes, making the move from one technology to another is very difficult without a merger or acquisition. Similarly from a product standpoint, the move from small detectors to array detectors is challenging because it relies on strong IP or on MEMS manufacturing capacities. In this context, many companies are not in direct competition and there is still opportunity to take position in the high-potential large detector market.