MEMS and image sensors are shining stars in the chip industry as technology companies worldwide accelerate innovation in the fight against COVID-19. The tiny devices are behind advances in areas of electronics ranging from thermal imaging and faster point-of-care testing to microfluidics-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tools and techniques to detect SARS-CoV-2.
SEMI recently spoke with Yole Développement analysts Dimitrios Damianos and Chenmeijing Liang about MEMS and imaging sensors market trends and how microelectronics-enhanced technologies are supporting the worldwide push to contain the spread of COVID-19.
SEMI: Despite the global pandemic, the MEMS and sensors market is still growing and is one of the healthiest industries, not only in Europe, but globally. What is driving this growth?
Damianos: MEMS have been continuously evolving from the first sensors that were measuring pressure and acceleration to rotation sensing and visible light management followed by light sensing beyond visible and the expansion to ultrasound and multi-spectral. Now we are heading towards an era where we want to sense every aspect of our environment, with more processing and eventually analytics bringing more quality to the data.
COVID-19 has impacted various global markets in very different ways. While automotive, mobility and civil aviation have suffered, the impact on telecommunications and medical has been positive. The effects on the consumer, mobile and industrial markets have been moderate. Moreover, COVID-19 is changing the perception of the current global supply chain in manufacturing, potentially leading to more localized value chains and further regionalization in order to minimize similar risks posed by the pandemic and the first lockdown.
SEMI: Who are the main MEMS players based on your research?
Damianos: For MEMS players, the picture in 2019 was not the same as 10 years ago, when Texas Instruments (TI) and Hewlett-Packard (HP) were leading the scene, with Bosch and ST Microelectronics following, all at comparable revenue levels. Now, Broadcom and Bosch lead with almost $1.4 billion in revenue each, and the rest of the MEMS key stakeholders compete in the $400 million to $600 million league. Microphone players profited from the voice interface adoption trend, while players active in MEMS for mobility and smartphones suffered slightly due to weak end-system demand.
SEMI: What scenarios can we expect for each market with regard to the impact of COVID-19 on MEMS for 2020?
Damianos: For 2020, at Yole Développement we expect the consumer market to contract slightly by 2.6%, with the automotive market to dip by 27.5%, and defense and aerospace by 20.5%. For the defense market, no major effect is expected, as all major programs still run for the year. The market may experience some slight delays in deliveries due to supply chain and logistics problems. However, sensors integrated in commercial/civil aerospace applications will suffer due to the general paralysis of the air travel industry. On the positive side, telecommunications could increase by 4.7%, medical applications by 10.6%, and industrial by 11.5%.
Due to the global pandemic, some types of MEMS have spiked in demand this year. For example, demand for thermopiles and microbolometers used in temperature guns and thermal cameras has increased because of the need for contactless monitoring of people’s temperatures. Moreover, microfluidics for DNA sequencing and real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic tests for detecting COVID-19 are gaining market relevance, with the latter serving as a premier method of detecting a bacteria or virus on the molecular level with high degrees of accuracy. Furthermore, pressure and flowmeters in ventilators will grow because of huge demand by hospital intensive care units (ICUs).
SEMI: What growth trends do you predict for the long haul?
Damianos: In the longer term, we expect global MEMS volumes to almost double, from 24.4 billion units in 2019 to 50.8 billion units in 2025, with a 13% CAGR during the same period. The global MEMS market could reach $17.7 billion in revenue by 2025.
We see a trend to more wearable devices integrating a lot of sensors but also a move to a more consumer-oriented healthcare. Moreover, everything related to voice interfaces and voice/virtual-personal assistants (VPAs) will continue to see strong growth, increasing demand for MEMS mics with better quality and high-fidelity voice capture. MEMS devices are shifting to higher accuracy, ultra-low power, embedded intelligence and possibly some bio-compatibility for medical applications.
MEMS players will try to escape the commoditization cycle and deliver more value by increasing the value of the data, either grouping many sensors to create sensor hubs or by adding processing, algorithms and software. Industry players are employing strategies such as adding extra processing close to the sensor (e.g. Knowles) or ameliorating the use cases of their applications of their clients (e.g. Bosch or ST). AI on the edge seems very alluring for extra value acquisition, with many startups already working on it. Some examples include always-on-sensing (Aspinity in collaboration with Infineon, Syntiant), echolocation (IMERAI) and predictive maintenance using inertial sensors (Cartesiam). This will be the next pit stop for MEMS technology for sure.
SEMI: The CMOS Image Sensor (CIS) is a cornerstone technology in the development of devices powered by machine sensing and artificial intelligence (AI) for applications such as advanced driver assistance system (ADAS). CIS powers many of the ongoing revolutions in new technical products and use cases. What is the status of the image sensors industry?
Liang: Last year was exceptional with a combination of high demand and high prices due to capacity limitations. Q4 2019 went way above the forecast, and, in the end, the CIS industry reached $19.3 billion for the full year. This year, we think it will return to normal, and, despite the pandemic impact, we expect significant growth in the range of 7% to 12%. Last year’s 25% year-over-year (YOY) growth was the highest we’ve seen over the past decade. Mobile still dominates the marketplace for CIS with 69% market share. Two markets, computing (8%) and consumer (5%), are adjacent to the mobile market but progressively losing ground due to the smartphone disruption.
Security, at 6% market share, will probably be the second largest CIS market in the future. Although this is an area of excellence for the emerging Chinese players, unfortunately, they could be hit by the current trade war. The automotive market did very well from 2018 to 2019 because of the numerous applications recently developed for ADAS, viewing, and in-cabin applications. Lastly, the industrial camera applications benefited from large investments in automation, especially in the semiconductor and automotive industries, but here again many uncertainties remain as these markets will reshuffle in the post COVID-19 world.
SEMI: Which CIS markets are most susceptible to seasonality and the impact of COVID-19?
Liang: According to our quarterly CIS monitor, automotive and security were both negatively impacted by the pandemic beyond what we expected in terms of seasonality. For computing, the situation improved just prior the lockdown. Q1 got a positive impact with high sales results for laptops and tablets, but no significant impact was seen for security equipment. For automotive, the demand for cameras was very high in Q1, which is seasonally normal, despite the decrease of car shipments that followed later. The automotive CIS market in 2020 should remain relatively flat compared to 2019 due to the higher attachment rates of cameras despite the lower number of cars produced. Consumer and industrial segments dropped in Q1, which is typical early in the year.
The next five years might be a bit slow, and although we forecast growth for the next year, in the future the market share will be lower in mobile. In fact, mobile CIS growth will fall below the CIS growth average, but we will see an increase of market share for the security, automotive and industrial segments. The CIS market could reach $28 billion in 2025.
At first, COVID-19 had a limited impact on the production side, as factories in China are usually closed for the New Year holiday, when the pandemic started. While supply is currently recovering, we still consider the limited impact on demand. Smartphone production for 2020 will be down 6%, but camera shipments for mobile should increase about 10% this year. Another positive trend for the mobile market is optical fingerprint implementation. Currently, high-end Android phones use this kind of technology. For 2023, we estimate optical fingerprint technology revenue to be over $1 billion.
The roadmap for the automotive market is driven by camera proliferation. We’ll see 10 cameras per car and more for some high-end vehicles. Increasing demand for safety and convenience will mean more cameras per car in the future. With a strong attachment rate, the market average in automotive is around 2.0 cameras per car nowadays, and we expect the market average to reach 3.5 cameras per car in 2025. In security, Charge Coupled Device (CCD)-based cameras are nearly out of the market, as CMOS-based IP cameras are most important now.
SEMI: What are current key technology trends?
Liang: 3D semiconductor technology is the hot topic. CIS wafer staking technology is indeed at the center of the CIS technology race. Future applications could be AI analytics or recently developed applications on new types of CIS. So far, we have seen the introduction of variants of the CIS pixel. Global shutter (GS) and indirect Time of Flight (iToF) were recently introduced, and now direct time-of-flight (dTOF) pixels are being used in high volume. 3D semiconductor technology is a bonanza for the industry, as it allows to pack more value in a single chip. While the surface of silicon is still increasing, additional silicon is added through stacking.
With COVID-19 still a problem, the endpoint for smartphones in 2020 remains uncertain. The short-term impact for CIS will be slower growth with respect to the 25% YoY of last year. The downturn in car production will be mitigated by an increased attachment rate for automotive cameras. The security market will also help maintain CIS growth.
For more insights, see the following reports:
Dimitrios Damianos is a technology and market analysts at Yole Développement covering MEMS, Sensors, Photonics and Imaging.
Chenmeijing Liang is a technology and market analysts at Yole Développement covering Imaging.
Serena Brischetto is senior manager of Marketing and Communications at SEMI Europe.