CMOS image sensor market to top $11bn by 2017, according to new report

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The CMOS image sensor (CIS) market is expected to be worth $11 billion by 2017, according to a new report by the French consulting company Yole Développement. The report, entitled ‘Status of the CMOS image sensors industry’, predicts a revenue growth of 11 per cent CAGR in the 2012-2017 period, growing from $6.6 billion in 2012 to $11 billion in 2017.

The report suggests that tablet computers, automotive, and smart TVs are three fast emerging applications of significant size and should drive the growth of the market to an expected CAGR over 30 per cent. In 2011 mobile handsets accounted for around 65 per cent of total shipments of CIS.

Paul Danini, technology and market analyst, imaging technologies and MEMS devices at Yole Développement, forcasts CIS sales for tablet computers to generate nearly $1.5 billion in 2017.

Car manufacturers have begun equipping cars with multiple cameras, pushed by upcoming regulations promoting greater safety and driver assistance. The automotive market is expected to reach $400 million in 2017, according to Yole, and will drive the need for high-performance sensors with special features, such as global shutter, very high dynamic range, and low-light sensitivity. This is completely different from the phone market which is still in the race for higher resolution.

In the report, Yole Développement’s analysts describe in detail each application in terms of market size, competitive analysis, technical requirements, technology trends and business drivers.

The reports suggests that as volumes increase, a clear duality appears between companies that have adopted a growth strategy by focusing on low-end markets and those opting for a specialisation in high-end and higher margin markets to maintain profitability such as STMicroeletronics and Aptina.

Yole makes the point that in 2009, Omnivison was the only major fabless image sensor manufacturer, but that situation is set to change: the fablight/foundry business models will be more and more successful in the future, say the analysts at Yole, fuelled by the new business model adopted by players that are not completely integrated up to the system level.

According to Yole, STMicroelectronics is about to outsource its backside illumination image sensor production to United Microelectronics (Taiwan), and Aptina Imaging already outsources its 12-inch production to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing. The only companies, says Yole, that are financially sustainable with an IDM model are vertically integrated from leading-edge 300mm CIS manufacturing up to the system level: Samsung, Sony, Panasonic and Toshiba.

This report describes in detail market share for each CMOS image sensor vendor and manufacturer, and how the value is distributed along the CIS value chain.

According to the report, backside illuminated CMOS image sensors will represent more than 50 per cent of total revenues in 2017, worth $5.7 billion. Backside illumination technology (BSI) adoption began in consumer markets after its introduction by Sony and Omnivision: mobile phone, camcorders and DSC, but now that TowerJazz, the Israeli specialty open foundry, has developed an operational BSI production line, BSI is expected to find adoption in higher-end markets where CMOS is in competition with CCD, according to Yole.

The report suggests that the technologies that might reshape the imaging industry in the near future are 3D time-of-flight imaging, computational imaging, quantum dot film, and single photon counting.

The next technological breakthrough will likely come once again from Sony, says Yole, which has developed the first stacked sensor architecture for consumer market. Stacking pixels on the signal processing circuit rather than next to each other will optimise the manufacturing process of each circuit and provide sensors with greater sensitivity, faster readout, and much higher signal processing integration. In the report, readers will find a selection of promising technologies that may reshape the CIS industry.

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