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Uncooled Infrared Imaging Technology And Market Development
May 31, 2017

After experiencing the tide of 2012 and 2013, thanks to the stabilization of the military business and the development of the commercial market, the market of non-refrigerated infrared imagers re-entered the growth phase. In 2014, shipments increased by 30% and revenue increased by 7%. In addition, due to FLIR's low-cost infrared detectors, which in 2014 successfully expanded the commercial market, shipments far more than the average market growth rate.


The next five years, non-refrigerated thermal imager shipments will achieve 23% compound annual growth rate, by 2020 will reach 1.5 million units. Three major application markets will drive growth in shipments:


(1) Thermography: The market is driven by ultra low-end cameras, the price is very attractive, less than 1,000 US dollars, so you can expand the application of thermal imaging technology. Between 2014 and 2015, leading manufacturer FLIR has introduced a variety of products priced at less than $ 1,000, based on Lepton, including AX8, TG165 and C2. In addition, new vendors are also entering the market and developing new low-cost sensors. Bosch, with its vertically integrated business model, will be a traditional challenge for traditional infrared camera manufacturers.


(2) Automotive: The European New Car Safety Assessment Association (Euro NCAP) released the European new car crash test will promote the market growth. It is expected that 2016-2017, the leading manufacturer of Autoliv will be in the mid-range models in the introduction of infrared night vision system. In addition, automatic driving technology is also a first-line brand car manufacturers to increase the important driving force of infrared thermal imager, but faced with other competitive technologies, such as visible light camera, laser radar, ultrasonic detectors and so on.


(3) Surveillance (Surveillance): Benefit from the decline in prices (down about 10% per year and below $ 1,000, such as FLIR's TCX), the market will continue to grow, mainly for intelligent buildings for security monitoring and low-energy buildings design. New monitoring system vendors (Panasonic and Mobotix) have entered the market, competition will enter the day of the stage.


This report examines the details of the three markets (more than 20 ppt per application) and analyzes in depth the different thermal imager products, supply chains and market trends.


2014-2015, the consumer market has entered a new growth stage, the next few years will achieve rapid growth, especially in terms of shipments (compound annual growth rate of about 41%):


(1) Personal vision system (goggles, safety vision, hunting, outdoor observation): The market was first developed by FLIR and will continue to grow. In addition, military infrared detector manufacturers (such as BAE, L3Com, Raytheon) also developed related products into the market.


(2) smartphone: 2014-2015, when the new challenger - Sek Thermal hit, making the infrared imaging module prices quickly erosion (down 30% to $ 249), and prompted FLIR to quickly launch FLIR One second generation. It is expected that sales will continue to grow and new technologies will continue to evolve, such as enhancing the reality and opening up a whole new market opportunity. In fact, in June 2015, Apple acquired Metaio, hoping to achieve the application of enhanced reality technology based on infrared thermal imager in smart phones in the future.


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Another hypothesis in this report is that the rapid growth of the infrared imaging market will drive the integration of smart sensors based on huge price erosion and infrared sensors. In fact, the smartphone shipments in 2014 about 1.1 billion, the use of any new sensor needs a great production support. If infrared imaging can greatly reduce the cost (infrared imaging module costs about 10 US dollars), it is possible to a large amount.


Technological innovation continues to reduce manufacturing costs


In the field of infrared imaging, technological innovation is the key factor leading to a significant decline in prices. Over the past few years, key vendors have been innovating in thermal imaging core technologies, including FLIR, ULIS (with Sofradir EC), BAE, Heimann / Bosch and Seek Thermal (based on Raytheon sensors). Especially FLIR, in 2014 made remarkable sales performance. The following are some of the future trends:

1) The first major trend is to reduce the size of the sensor chip to reduce chip costs and optical costs. Thus, the "competition" that narrows the pixel pitch is staged between the vendors. BAE has pioneered a 12-micron pixel architecture. All key vendors are developing 12 micron pixel technology, and 6 microns are also included in the product roadmap.


(2) The second major trend is imaging and optics to turn to wafer-level manufacturing, to maximize the advantages of mass production, improve the scale of efficiency. FLIR, Raytheon and Bosch use wafer-level packaging (WLP), FLIR also uses wafer-level optical lens (WLO).


(3) The third major trend is that the market requires low-cost, low-resolution sensors. Low-cost technologies such as ferroelectric, thermal diodes or thermocouples are gaining access in the marketplace. For example, 2012 Irisys / Fluke Pyroelectric Technology, 2014 Bosch / Heimann Thermal Diode Technology. FLIR and ULIS with low-resolution micro-bolometer (Microbolometer), compared to competitors, higher sensitivity.


(4) The fourth major trend is the core of electronic device integration: now the core electronic devices or integrated in the PCB board. The FLIR infrared sensor Lepton using ASIC chip, significantly reduced the size. With the increase in shipments, other manufacturers will also use this approach and 3D packaging technology.


In this report, you will see a detailed analysis of current and future infrared imaging techniques.


Increased shipments and price increases cause sensor cost pressures to increase, what is the best survival strategy?


Over the past few years, the military market downturn, the price of serious erosion has deeply affected the traditional infrared imaging margins, whether it is a sensor, or imager. Now, low-end applications drive the overall market growth and therefore require lower costs (including materials and manufacturing). In addition to technological development to reduce costs, economic scale has become a key competitive advantage. As a result, market leaders FLIR and many vendors are trying to get as many business opportunities as possible at both levels of sensors and thermal imagers to increase shipments.


Some manufacturers bear the cost of pressure:


(1) Lumasense ITC's micro-bolometer foundry has been shut down.


(2) DRS has withdrawn from the infrared surveillance camera business.


In response to strong price pressures, according to the company's business model, we see a different trend:


(1) Vertical integrator: These companies have internal sensor design and manufacturing capabilities, with cost-effective structure, and then lead to price war: DRS and FLIR in the monitoring market competition; FLIR and Fluke (pyroelectric) in the thermal imaging market On competition. Thermal imager manufacturers focus on core modules and camera manufacturing and outsource sensor manufacturing to foundries (FLIR, DRS and Raytheon) to use the foundry wafer level technology to reduce sensor costs. Other vertical integrators (BAE, L3com and Lumasense ITC) will follow this path in the future.


(2) sensor suppliers: these manufacturers are faced with strong pressure, because their thermal imager customers have to follow the vertical integrator price war. In order to ensure the competitiveness of semiconductor foundry, sensor suppliers have upgraded the foundry line to 8 inches, to improve the integration of sensors, and infrared imaging research and development of innovative MEMS technology.

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