Automotive leads way in commercial market for uncooled IR imaging, says Yole

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The decline in the military market for uncooled infrared imaging has caused a shift toward commercial businesses employing the technology faster than expected, according to a new report from Yole Développement. Yole says the trend will continue because of established and new consumer applications, such as personal vision and smartphones.

The uncooled infrared camera market experienced a sharp downturn in 2012 and even though total shipments increased by 1 per cent, overall revenue fell by 12 per cent to $1,824 million. This steep fall was mainly due to the weakness of the military market which has been historically the main revenue generator.

Heavy cuts in the US military budget, resulting from federal budget sequestration and reduction of military operations had a massive impact on the global military market. US Department of Defense programme delay consequences were notable because the US market represented more than 80 per cent of the global military market in 2011. This sharp decrease was partly compensated by the commercial markets which grew by 11 per cent in units due to the surveillance and thermography markets.

This shift toward commercial and higher volume markets will be confirmed in the 2013-2018 period. ‘We are expecting 23 per cent growth in shipments fuelled by four commercial markets showing a CAGR above 20 per cent: automotive, surveillance, the young ultra-low-end thermography market, and finally by the rise of infrared imaging in smartphones,' explained Yann de Charentenay, senior analyst at Yole Développement.

Although 2012 sales were disappointing, Yole Développement predicts that the automotive market will be the main growth driver even if sales remain limited to premium cars until 2017. Similarly to automotive, surveillance sales growth was below expectations in 2012 because it took longer than expected to develop this market, but the introduction of affordable sub-$2,000 cameras initiated by DRS, and followed by Flir in 2012, will boost sales.

Thermography market growth is driven by the ultra-low-end market which consists of low-resolution cameras for basic radiometric purposes, reaching a price point low enough to be adopted by technicians or DIY consumers. It is expected that the ultra-low-end will generate nearly half of the total thermography market in 2018 even though it emerged at the end of the last decade.

Finally Yole Développement expects that the ultimate high-volume application will be infrared imaging for smartphones benefiting from their large display to control a plug-and-play IR camera. An additional scenario envisions a rapid ramp up of this application based on huge price erosion.

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