Unconfirmed reports of Sony to discontinue CCDs
A number of camera manufacturers have released statements announcing that Sony will discontinue production of CCD sensors in March 2017. Operations will cease on the company’s CCD 200mm wafer line at the Kagoshima Technology Centre in Japan.
While there is no official confirmation of the move as yet from Sony, IDS, Allied Vision, Point Grey, Framos and Stemmer Imaging have all released statements about the news.
Sony has been a major supplier of CCD sensors for 30 years. The news, once confirmed, would be further evidence of the trend of CMOS technology taking over from CCD sensors - the CMOS market is expected to reach $13 billion by 2018.
Mark Williamson, director of corporate market development at Stemmer Imaging, commented on the rise of CMOS in a statement: 'In 2010, 22 per cent of cameras we [Stemmer Imaging] sold were based on CMOS sensors. This has risen to 58 per cent in 2014 with 32 per cent of cameras using Sony CCDs and the remainder other high-end CCDs. With nearly all new camera designs using CMOS the prediction is that in a further four years the natural shift would make the CMOS market share approximately 80 per cent.'
Sony has released its first global shutter CMOS sensors, the Pregius sensors, which combine aspects of both CCD and CMOS in the pixel design. The sensors have impressive quantum efficiency, dynamic range and dark noise, and, because they are global shutter, are ideal for machine vision. It could be that these CMOS detectors have been developed as a replacement for the company’s CCD product line.
A statement on IDS’s website reads: ‘The early information by Sony gives users of CCD cameras enough lead time to ensure the supply for long-term projects or to switch to CMOS technology.’
Details of exact last-time buy (LTB) or last-time ship (LTS) dates for the affected CCDs have not been released publicly by Sony, Michael Gibbons, director of sales and marketing at Point Grey, said in a statement.
‘We respect the investment our customers have made integrating Point Grey cameras with Sony CCDs into their systems,’ said Gibbons. ‘Our first priority is to continue to support our customers with long product lifetimes, and we will take all reasonable measures to keep those commitments. Point Grey will be approaching customers this year and into 2016 for forecasts that will enable us to continue supplying Sony CCD-based cameras until 2026.’
Axel Krepil, head of sales for the imaging sensor division of Framos, commented in a statement that the March 2017 date relates to the wafer production only, and that assembly of the final CCD housing will continue until March 2020. He said that last orders for CCD sensors could be as early as the end of this year, although this is subject to discussion.
Krepil added that the advice from Framos is to start the transition to CMOS sensors as soon as possible, a feeling echoed by Stemmer Imaging's Williamson who said that 'camera manufacturers will need to commit to quantities much earlier [than 2020]'.
In the past, the great selling point of CCDs was their image quality. Now, however, CMOS sensors are rivalling CCDs in terms of image quality while also providing higher frame rates. Michael Cyros, chief commercial officer at Allied Vision, commented in a statement: ‘Sony’s decision is a logical step… to provide further capacity for CMOS growth.’
Williamson noted the reasons for the move: 'In the last few years there has been a big shift from CCD to CMOS in high volume markets which has left the CCD wafer line very under-utilised, even with the high number of machine vision sensors sold. This makes the factory no longer financially viable.'
He added: 'The higher-end CCDs from On Semiconductor and the full frame CCDs used in professional photography from Teledyne Dalsa are still available for high-end applications, although over time CMOS will affect this market segment also.'
Allied Vision and IDS have cameras based on Sony CCD sensors, but in both cases they tend to be older models. Cyros said: ‘In our latest camera models, we have strongly diversified our sensor technologies and vendors with CCD and CMOS sensors from Sony, Cmosis, e2v and OnSemi so we are well prepared to offer our customers a wide range of options that take advantage of these latest sensor offerings in the direction of CMOS.’
He added: ‘We will work with our customers to evaluate their long term supply needs, so that we build in all contingencies to ensure we can maintain a reliable supply to them. We have enough time to organise that transition in a structured and professional way.’
CMOS takes charge - Greg Blackman on the advances being made in image sensor technology for machine vision, including Sony’s first global shutter CMOS sensor
End of the line for the CCD? - Pierre Cambou at Yole Développement assesses what the move means for machine vision camera suppliers