The Future of Infrared Cameras

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Lyon, France — Initially developed for the military market by US defense companies, use of uncooled infrared (IR) cameras in commercial applications has been growing over the last ten years. In the infrared spectrum, Long Wave Infrared (LWIR) is the most commonly used wavelength (8-12 microns). Thermography and a variety of vision enhancement applications are the main growth markets for uncooled IR cameras.

This camera cost reduction will continue through 2015 in the thermography business and will also be a strong factor in the vision market (also called night vision or vision enhancement) with the growth of the security/surveillance and automotive markets.

Driven by the continued cost reductions, the volumes of cameras sold will triple by 2015 from more than 200,000 cameras today to more than 700,000 units, meaning +23 % annual growth rate. The revenue growth will be about + 9% as market prices for the cameras decrease.
FLIR (US) has been, and remains, the pioneer of uncooled IR cameras with a vertically integrated business model (internal detector production) and a presence in all markets. This domination will be challenged at two levels in the future:

At the camera level: camera manufacturers specialized in each market have strong distribution networks and market presence. In the thermography business, Fluke will take market share from FLIR. In the security/surveillance market, visible camera leaders will enter the IR camera business (Axis, Bosch, Pelco).
At the detector level: new detector suppliers will arrive on the market from the MEMS and semiconductor industry with low cost/high volume product capabilities (Sensonor, Bosch, Faun Infrared…).
One of the major cost components for uncooled IR cameras is the IR detector. Hence, detector cost reduction is one of the major keys to further widespread use of IR cameras.

Microbolometers are the dominant uncooled IR detector technology with more than 95 % of the market in 2010.

Microbolometer manufacturers were few up to now, often owned by camera manufacturers, which limited the cost competition at the detector level. More than 75 % of the production is based in USA, due the original development of the technology by US Defense Department.

This landscape will change in the next five years: many new players (Sensonor, Faun Infrared, Bosch…), focusing only on selling detectors, often in Europe, will enter on the market place with aggressive price strategies.

Vanadium Oxide (VO x), the current dominant microbolometer material, will be challenged by a-Si material and new silicon based materials introduced by new market entrants, thanks to their cost structure, and easier to manufacture.

Detector/Microbolometer product lines are mainly segmented by format from small format (typically 160 x 120) to large format (640 x 480). Price reduction will be huge with –58 % expected between 2010 and 2015 for small format. Larger format will be under less price pressure.

The following technical trends make detector cost reduction possible:

At the packaging level: Wafer Level Packaging and even Pixel Level Packaging will play a huge part in reducing cost, -20 % at least.
At the pixel level: smaller pixel size (17 microns is becoming a standard) will allow smaller detectors.
At the integration level: 3D integration, wafer bonding techniques will allow the production of microbolometers in standard MEMS or CMOS foundries.

COMPANIES MENTIONED IN THE REPORT:

Axis Communications, Acreo, Aerius, Agiltron, Argus, e2v, Audi, Autoliv, BAE systems, BMW, Bosch, Automotive, Bosch Security Systems, Bullard, Dali, Chauvin Arnoux, Current Corporation, Dalsa, DAS Photonics, Draeger, DRS technologies, Electro Optic Sensors, EO C, ETH , Extech, GE Security, FocalPlane Santa Barbara, Fraunhofer IMS, Faun Infrared, FLIR, Fluke, GM, Goodrich, Guide Infrared, Honda, Honeywell, Infrared Solutions, INO , Ipht Jena, Invisage, Irisys, ISG , Jenoptik, KTH , L3Com, Leti, MetuMET , Mikrosistemler, Mitsubishi Electric, MSA , Murata, NE C Avio, NTT , Noble Peak Vision, OKS I, Omnivision, Panasonic, Pelco, QinetiQ, Raytheon, Redshift, Sarnoff, Satir, Samsung, Scott, SCD Semiconductors, SensArray Infrared, Sensonor, Silex, Sirica, Sony, Sumitomo Electric, Testo, Thermoteknix Systems, Toshiba, Tyco, Tyndall, Umicore, Ulis, Vigo, Xenics, Ziptronix.

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