Silicon Magnetic Sensor Revenue to Grow $1.4 Billion

The silicon magnetic sensor market is set to commence a period of strong growth in 2010 as demand surges from the automotive, industrial and consumer markets, according to iSuppli Corp. Global silicon magnetic sensor revenue will reach $1.4 billion in 2013, up from $821 million in 2009. This equates to slightly more than 5 billion magnetic sensor ICs and switches, up from about 2.8 billion units in 2009.

“Magnetic sensors represent one of the most pervasive types of sensors sold today,” said Richard Dixon, senior analyst, Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) and sensors, for iSuppli. “These devices are used in areas ranging from high-cost applications like industrial motors that require accurate knowledge of rotor position to control loads; to mid-priced automotive sensor ICs that measure rotation speed angle, and position; to low-cost consumer products. Because of this wide variety of uses and products, pricing for such sensor ranges from less than 10 cents for simple switches to several dollars for sophisticated programmable sensor Integrated Circuits (ICs).”

Automotive applications drive sensor sales
Many sensors are needed in today’s cars, and many more will be required in the future. The body and powertrain segments show the greatest potential for new magnetic sensor penetration and will be important target markets for silicon sensors in the future. In the automotive body segment alone, the number of magnetic sensors and switches will grow from 6.7 on average in 2008 to 9.4 in 2013.

Inexpensive switches are needed to indicate when a washing machine or refrigerator door is shut, or a folding display in a phone, notebook PC or digital camera is open, or to adjust motors that help a deliver sharp, blur-free pictures. Linear sensors and switches are used to provide fluid levels in everything from drug delivery systems to automatic coffee dispensers found in the home.

Electronic compass is a market hit in 2009
A major new product category — the electronic compass for GPS-equipped mobile phones — emerged in 2009 and will accelerate the market opportunity for 3-axis silicon magnetometers measuring small magnetic fields out to 2013. This application, in addition to other sensors and switches in mobile phones, will help drive this category from just 10 percent of the magnetic sensor market in 2008 to 33 percent in 2013.

Asahi: A rising sun in sensors
Asahi Kasei Microsystems in 2009 stole the top spot in magnetic sensor revenue from Allegro Microsystems thanks to its leadership in the fast-growing electronic compass market. Other major magnetic sensor players include Micronas, Infineon and NXP, as well as emerging companies like Sensitec and austriamicrosystems.

“The vast majority of unit shipments of magnetic sensors are for low-cost switches used in consumer electronics and appliances, PCs and notebooks — areas dominated by companies like AKM and Allegro,” Dixon said. However, there are growing opportunities for higher-priced products, such as electronic compasses or rotation sensors in the engines of cars. Sensitec is an example of a company that is leveraging legacy Asymmetric Magneto-Resistance (AMR) technology — partly from an older IBM read-write head manufacturing plant — which is experiencing fast growth in these higher-value sensor applications.”

Many flavors of magnetic sensors
Magnetic sensors come in many flavors. Five or more different magnetic technologies compete for applications such as the precise measurement of the steering wheel angle as a part of a vehicle dynamics automotive safety system. Silicon solutions — whether Hall effect or magneto-resistive — increasingly are taking market share from incumbent solutions, which can no longer compete as the demands on performance grow, (e.g. to reduce the emissions in cars or to make smaller, highly integrated sensors for the densely packaged PCBs of mobile phones).

“Silicon sensors are outgunning competition from potentiometers, Reed switches and micro-switches by eliminating issues with wear, by incorporating electronics on-chip for more intelligence per area, on robustness, and on cost and size,” Dixon added. “Hall effect sensors ICs and switches largely dominate the silicon magnetic sensor IC market, but increasingly, AMR and also Giant Magneto-Resistance (GMR) sensors are used for high-performance applications.“

To learn more about this topic, see iSuppli’s new report entitled: Magnetic Sensors Headed for the Big Time.