Industrial magnetic sensors get a boost from green energy

October 5, 2012- The market for semiconductor magnetic sensors used in industrial and medical applications expanded by 6% in 2011 to $118.2 million, with green energy initiatives acting as a major growth driver, according to IHS iSuppli. This market is small compared to other areas, most notably automotive and wireless/consumer, but the technology will continue to grow at a 8% CAGR through 2016, topping $175.5M, the firm says. (Here’s a list of the top makers of magnetic sensors.)

Improving energy efficiency is a big opportunity in motors of all kinds, which collectively consume an estimated 45% of all electricity generated worldwide. "As government legislation comes into play, this is acting as a boon for the sensors, implemented with an eye toward reducing energy consumption," says Richard Dixon, principal analyst for MEMS and sensors at IHS. "In the industrial market, a main growth driver for magnetic sensors is renewable energy, such as solar installations, and to a smaller extent, wind turbines," he notes.

Magnetic sensor technologies include Hall-effect and magneto-resistive semiconductor integrated circuits (ICs) that are used to track rotational speed and linear angles in machines and devices, or to detect and process magnetic fields to establish positioning. In industrial and medical applications (which split about 70%/30% of total usage), these sensors are used in motors to improve their energy efficiency and other applications where motor control is involved, such as pumps. They are also used in uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) for a host of industrial applications and environments: computer servers, welding systems, robotics, train transport infrastructure, off-road vehicles, and forklift trucks.

Most magnetic sensors used in industrial applications are electronic current sensors: shunt resistors, Hall-effect integrated circuits, current-sensing transformers, open- and closed-loop Hall devices, and fluxgate transducers. Residential solar inverters, for example, and smaller UPS settings, use simple resistive bars or shunts to measure lower currents (>50A), while higher-current measurements such as large inverter motors use Hall IC sensors packaged with an amplifier. Industrial washing machines pair Hall ICs with ASICs.

In medical applications, magnetic sensors are used for motion control in things like ventilator machines, pumps for infusion/insulin/syringes, and kidney dialysis machines. These sensors also are used in simple centrifuges for preparing samples to smooth control of small motors. They are also found as switches for medication-dispensing cabinets, bed-positioning systems, and hearing aids.

  2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
US $M 111.9 118.2 123.2 131.9 144.3 160.4 175.5

Worldwide revenue forecast (in US $M) for magnetic sensors in industrial and medical applications. (Source: IHS iSuppli)

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