Driven by dramatic cost reduction of detectors, the market volume for thermography and IR vision will triple by 2015.
Initially developed for the military market by US defense companies, use of uncooled IR cameras in commercial applications has been growing over the last ten years. In the IR spectrum, long-wave IR (LWIR) is the most commonly used wavelength. Thermography and a variety of vision enhancement applications are the main growth markets for uncooled IR cameras. Camera prices have been significantly reduced in the thermography business, which has allowed expansion of the use of IR cameras to maintenance engineers and building inspectors. This camera cost reduction will continue through 2015 in the thermography business and will also be a strong factor in the vision market (also called night vision or vision enhancement) with the growth of the security/surveillance and automotive markets. Driven by the continued cost reductions, the volumes of camera sold will triple by 2015 from more than 200,000 cameras today to more than 700,000 units, meaning 23-percent annual growth rate. The revenue growth will be about 9 percent as market prices for the cameras decrease. FLIR has been, and remains, the pioneer of uncooled IR cameras with a vertically integrated business model (internal detector production) and a presence in all markets. This domination will be challenged at two levels in the future:
At the camera level: Camera manufacturers specialized in each market have strong distribution networks and market presence. In the thermography business, Fluke will take market share from FLIR. In the security/surveillance market, visible camera leaders will enter the IR camera business (Axis, Bosch andPelco).
At the detector level: New detector suppliers will arrive on the market from the MEMS and semiconductor industry with low cost/high volume product capabilities (Sensonor, Bosch,Faun Infrared).
One of the major cost components for uncooled IR cameras is the IR detector. Hence, detector cost reduction is one of the major keys to further widespread use of IR cameras. Microbolometers are the dominant uncooled IR detector technology with more than 95 percent of the market in 2010. Microbolometer manufacturers were few up to now, often owned by camera manufacturers, which limited the cost competition at the detector level. More than 75 percent of the production is based in U.S., due the original development of the technology by US Defense Department. This landscape will change in the next five years: many new players (Sensonor, Faun Infrared, Bosch), focusing only on selling detectors, often in Europe, will enter on the market place with aggressive price strategies. Vanadium Oxide (VO x), the current dominant microbolometer material, will be challenged by a-Si material and new silicon-based materials introduced by new market entrants, thanks to their cost structure, and easier manufacturability. Detector/Microbolometer product lines are mainly segmented by format from small format (typically 160 by 120) to large format (640 by 480). Price reduction will be huge with 58 percent expected between 2010 and 2015 for small format. Larger format will be under less price pressure. The following technical trends make detector cost reduction possible:
At the packaging level: Wafer Level Packaging and even Pixel Level Packaging will play a huge part in reducing cost, with 20-percent drop at least.
At the pixel level: Smaller pixel size (17 microns is becoming a standard) will allow smaller detectors.
At the integration level: 3-D integration, wafer bonding techniques will allow the production of microbolometers in standard MEMS or CMOS foundries.
Thanks: Research and Markets/Asmag