Image sensors are devices that possess the ability to convert optical images to electric signals. Image sensors are widely used in imaging devices like digital cameras. Consumer electronics, automotive, medical, surveillance, industrial, aerospace and defense are the main application areas of image sensors. The global image sensors market in 2012 stood at around $8billion.
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The global demand for image sensors is fueled by extensive proliferation of digital cameras and mobile phones and tablets that feature cameras, growing popularity of online social media, developing telecommunications infrastructure in developing regions, innovative applications and product upgrades.
Image sensor technology falls into three categories: CCD – Charge-Coupled Device, CMOS – Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor, and CIS – Contact Image Sensors. CCD sensors are equipped with several capacitors that get charged when light falls on them. A converter changes each pixel’s value to digital value. CCD sensors employ a special manufacturing process that enables the transportation of charge across the chip without distortion thereby creating high-quality, low-noise images, however consuming significant power. CCD sensors have been demanded in medical and scientific applications but are facing stiff competition from CMOS technology.
In CMOS sensors each pixel has its own charge-to-voltage conversion. The design is complex with the sensor including amplifiers, noise-correction and digitization circuits. This reduces image quality, resolution and light sensitivity. However, CMOS sensors consume less power and are inexpensive and portable. Moreover, technological advancements like Backside Illumination (BSI) are leading to better resolution and picture quality. CIS are optical flatbed scanners that do not use CCD arrays but employ a system of mirrors and lenses for projecting the scanned image onto the arrays. They are more compact and consume less power.
The most important application segment is consumer electronics, particularly digital cameras. However, the explosive growth in smartphone usage is expected to drive future demand. The automotive sector is also contributing to demand. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) use image sensors like Radar, Lidar, Ultrasonic, camera and night vision sensors for features like parking assistance, lane departure warning and collision avoidance systems. Consumer electronics and automotive applications secured more than 50% of the market share in 2012.
Healthcare applications like dental imaging, endoscopy, minimally invasive surgery, cardiology, and radiography will constitute the market for image sensors in future.
Growing security concerns are fueling demand for image sensors in surveillance. Image sensors enable IP surveillance cameras to create videos by capturing the light hitting the camera lens and converting it into electrical signals. These signals get recorded as video that can be viewed while monitoring the surveillance system.
Defense sector uses cameras that have image sensors capable of capturing images of fast-moving objects. An important consideration is the ability of cameras to deliver optimal performance in extreme conditions. Other requirements in this area include product durability, compactness, lightness, and low power consumption.
North America accounted for more than 30% of the global image sensors market in 2012. North America and Europe are mature markets for consumer products like compact and DSLR cameras, camcorders, webcams, etc. The main growth for image sensors in these regions will arise from replacement demand in future.
Asia Pacific will prove to be the fastest growing regional market due to factors like rising disposable incomes leading to a high number of first-time purchases of digital cameras, increasing use of smartphones, trend of sharing pictures on social media and incorporation of webcams in laptops.
Key players in the global image sensors market are large businesses like Sony Corporation, Canon Inc., Samsung Electronics, Aptina Imaging Corporation and OmniVision Technologies, Inc. These companies strive to stay competitive by creating innovative products that offer quality. Another factor determining success is the product’s ability to integrate seamlessly in the latest upgrades of end-use devices.
Sony Corporation is the market leader in global image sensors market. In an attempt to retain this position and take advantage of the expanding market for smartphones and tablets, the company, in April 2015, announced its plans to increase the production capacity of stacked CMO image sensors from about 60,000 wafers per month to approximately 87,000 wafers per month by September 2016.
Information Source: Grand View Research