Large-wafer MEMS thermopile production brings IR detectors to new applications

March 5, 2012 — New micro electro mechanical system (MEMS) thermopile players and applications are boosting market growth for infrared (IR) detectors, finds Yole Développement in its new report "Infrared Detector Market, Applications & Technology Trends."

Traditionally, a few players have dominated the business specially for motion detection: Perkin Elmer (which sold its IR detector branch that became Excelitas), Nicera, Murata, and Heimann. Some niche players (Pyreos, Irisys) have also developed innovative pyroelectric technologies (thin film, ceramic hybrid) that enable arrays of sensitive elements, but the volumes sold are still limited to niche markets (counting people, gas detection, spectroscopy).

Large MEMS manufacturers are entering the IR detector business: Texas Instruments, Omron, Panasonic, and Hamamatsu. These companies, boasting substantial revenues and resources, develop thermopile detectors manufactured on large MEMS production lines (6 to 8" wafers). This brings fab costs down, opening up new applications, like the temperature measurement function Texas Instruments (TI) supplies for notebooks, tablets, and other portable consumer electronics.

Figure. IR detector market forecast 2010-2016. SOURCE: Infrared Detector Market, Applications & Technology Trends report, January 2012, Yole Développement.

IR detectors enable motion detectors for applications like lighting controls and alarms. 150 million units were sold in 2010, with low average selling prices (<$1). This mature market will grow at a significant rate (CAGR 2010-2016 in value: +9%), driven by concern for energy savings in buildings, said Yann de Charentenay, senior analyst. IR detector technology will increasingly be used to automatically power on and off lighting, and home appliances such as HVAC and TVs.

IR detectors also are used for non-contact temperature measurement in human ear thermometers, industrial pyrometers, and other applications. They also can detect gas and fire, or analyze materials. Detectors in these applications can cost anywhere from a single dollar to tens of dollars each. These usage sectors are growing, offering robust non-contact measurement with a long lifetime. These applications use small detectors with 1-4 IR-sensitive elements that can be made with pyroelectric sensors or thermopile sensors.

Large detectors (from 16 x 16 to 64 x 64 pixels) are developed to obtain advanced person detection functionalities meaning it is possible to locate the position of a person precisely in a space, to identify immobile persons (not possible with motion sensors) or to monitor large areas. The end markets will be for home automation, healthcare, or security businesses. Pyroelectric, thermopile, and microbolometer technologies all suit this space. Pyroelectric and thermopiles are mature technologies, but for smaller detectors. Microbolometer technology is leading the 10K+ pixel resolution infrared imager business, at prices of several hundred dollars. Microbolometer players (Ulis, FLIR, NEC, DRS) have started to develop or investigate large detector applications, but the low cost target will present a challenge. Expect the dominant technology to emerge next year, forecasts Wenbin Ding, Technology & Market Analyst, MEMS Devices & Technologies.

Also read: Wafer-level packaging emerges for uncooled IR imagers

With the arrival of new MEMS players and the emergence of large detector applications, Yole Développement expects that the overall IR detector business will grow from $152 million in 2010 to $286M in 2016, a 5-year CAGR of 11%.

Companies cited in the report: 3S pocketnet, Agilent, Ametek, BAE , Bosch security, Cerberus, CSST, Delphi, Dias Infrared, DRS, Dostmann, E+e, Excelitas, FLIR, Fluke, Fuji Piezo, G&E, Hager, Hamamatsu, Heimann, Heitronics, Honeywell security, ICX FL IR, Infratec, Intex, Irisys, Korea digital, L3com, Land, Legrand, Leister Axetris, Lumasense ITC, Melexis, Memstech – Ann Arbor, Merten, Mitsubishi Electric, Murata, NEC Avio, Nicera, Omega, Omron, Panasonic, Perkin Elmer, Pyreos, Raytheon, Ritsumeikan University, Samsung, SCD, Schneider Electric, Selex galileo, Sensair, Senseair, Sensource, Shimadzu, Somfy, Sony, Symetrix, Telaire, Texas Instrument, Thermofisher, Tyco security, Tyndall, Ulis, UTC fire & security, Visonic, Winsen, Wuan Cubic, Yongsheng, ZB sensor.

Report authors:
Yann de Charentenay, Senior Analyst covers MEMS, materials and compound semiconductors.

Wenbin Ding is a Technology & Market Analyst at Yole Développement, specializing in MEMS Devices & Technologies.

Yole Développement is a group of companies providing market research, technology analysis, strategy consulting, media in addition to finance services. Access the report at

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