Car electronics drives magnetic sensor market in 2011

Playing a critical role in diverse applications such as automotive efficiency, cellphone navigation, and solar energy generation, magnetic sensors increasingly are becoming an essential part of consumers’ daily lives, causing market revenue to surge by 22 percent last year.

Global revenue for magnetic sensor integrated circuits (ICs) in 2011 expanded to $1.5 billion, up from $1.2 billion in 2010, according to a new IHS iSuppli report.

“The magnetic sensor market consists of Hall-effect and magneto-resistive semiconductor ICs that are used to track rotational speed and linear angles in machines and devices, or to detect and process magnetic fields to establish positioning,” said Richard Dixon, Ph.D., principal analyst for MEMS & sensors at IHS.

“The sensors are utilized in a wide range of applications — from electronic systems and motors in cars, to compasses in cellphones and tablets, to the monitoring of current in solar inverters, to brushless direct-current (DC) motors in a range of medical systems such as ventilators, dialysis machines and centrifuges.”

Magnetic sensors find attractive markets in cars, wireless and consumer

The largest portion of the magnetic sensor market in 2011 was the automotive segment, with revenue reaching $731.3 million, up 13 percent from $648.9 million in 2010, as shown in the table below.

Growth was more robust in the joint wireless-consumer space, increasing by a stunning 50 percent to $549.9 million in 2011, up from $347.7 million in 2010.

Two other segments also made respectable, if less spectacular, contributions: the industrial-military-energy-medical sector, with $153.3 million, up 6 percent from $145.3 million; and the data processing segment, with $64.6 million, up 2.5 percent from $63.0 million.

Another solid double-digit climb, projected at13 percent, is in store for 2012 when sensor revenue hits $1.7 billion. By 2016, revenue will amount to some $2.3 billion, equivalent to a five-year compound annual growth rate by then of 9.3 percent.

The market drivers for magnetic sensors can be classified into various categories.

For instance, safety applications for the sensors include airbags in vehicles and fault detection in solar panels.

Magnetic sensors can also be found to aid new functionality, comfort or intelligence — utilized in automotive seat-position memory, improved heading resolution for navigation systems in cars and cellphones, and quieter motors in medical equipment.

Energy efficiency is likewise a major market driver of the sensors, found in intelligent fans in cars, as well as in higher-efficiency motors for industrial manufacturing and automation.

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Sensors are king of the road

In the automotive segment where magnetic sensor revenue is greatest, the sensors are significant in innumerable ways.

For instance, the sensors figure in the reduction of power consumption, especially as manufacturers face increasing pressure to reduce carbon emissions by fractions of a gram of carbon dioxide or other unwanted pollutants.

One area of focus here is motors, which migrate from “always on” pulley systems with the associated friction, to electronic equivalents that can be controlled on demand.

These motors at the same time migrate to more efficient and reliable brushed DC varieties that use multiple Hall sensors for their control or commutation.

Other implementations of magnetic sensors in cars include basic wheel-speed sensing for anti-lock braking systems (ABS), torque sensing in steering systems, electronic throttle-by-wire systems and multiple applications in car-battery monitoring.

Navigation is another huge market driver

Magnetic sensors are also big in multiple-axis-measurement electronic compasses, now found as a standard feature in cellphones and tablets equipped with global positioning systems (GPS).

Consumer electronics applications such as gaming consoles, laptops and geotagging-equipped digital still cameras will also benefit from the sensors.

Magnetic sensors also deployed in energy and other segments

In the other segments, magnetic sensors find major use in the measurement of currents and motion-control positioning, particularly in the burgeoning industrial motor space as well as for motor drives and solar inverter markets.

Other implementations for magnetic sensors include their use in data processing and peripherals, such as fax machines and printers; in consumer electronics, such as in white goods like coffee machines for water-level detection; and in various military, agricultural and transport applications.

The top suppliers of magnetic sensors last year were Asahi Micro Devices from Japan; Allegro MicroSystems of Massachusetts, part of Sanken Electric; Infineon Technologies AG of Germany; Micronas of Switzerland; Melexis NV of Belgium; and NXP Semiconductors of the Netherlands.

Together, the six suppliers accounted in 2011 for 80 percent of the magnetic sensor IC market.

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