Analyst: Strong growth in silicon magnetic sensors - Small Times
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Analyst: Strong growth in silicon magnetic sensors

January 4, 2010 -  Silicon magnetic sensors, among the most ubiquitous types of sensors sold, will continue to see strong growth in 2010 thanks to demand from a trio of key markets, according to a report from iSuppli.

Sales of these sensors, used in everything from industrial motors (rotator positioning and control loads) to automotive (rotation speed angle and position) and low-cost consumer products, will surge from $821M in 2009 to $1.4B in 2013; that translates to about 2.8B magnetic sensor ICs and switches to 5B units. Their varying use also translates into varied costs, from 10¢ to several dollars each, notes Richard Dixon, senior analyst for MEMS and and sensors at iSuppli, in a statement.

Generally speaking, silicon-based magnetic sensors (Hall effect and magnetoresistive) are taking over for legacy technologies that can't keep up with performance and formfactor demands, Dixon explains. "Silicon sensors are outgunning competition from potentiometers, Reed switches, and microswitches by eliminating issues with wear, by incorporating electronics on-chip for more intelligence per area, on robustness, and on cost and size," he writes. "Hall effect sensors ICs and switches largely dominate the silicon magnetic sensor IC market, but increasingly, AMR and also giant magnetoresistance (GMR) sensors are used for high-performance applications."

Global magnetic silicon sensor forecast (US $M). (Source: iSuppli)

In autos, body and powertrain systems are areas of biggest growth potential; in the body segment alone, an average of 9.4 sensors/switches will be used by 2013, up from 6.7 in 2009. Five or more different magnetic technologies could be used, for example, in precise measurement of steering wheel angle and safety systems. In electronics, switches are used for noting when appliance doors or computing/camera cases are opened and shut. In other consumer products, linear sensors and switches monitor fluid levels in drug delivery systems and even automatic coffee dispensers.

One key emerging application is electronic compass functionality in GPS-equipped mobile phones, which relies on 3-axis silicon magnetometers. Look for these types of devices to account for a third of all magnetic sensors by 2013, vs. just 10% in 2008.

Currently, top vendors for magnetic sensors are Asahi Kasei Microsystems and Allegro, who dominate the market for magnetic sensors used in low-cost switches for consumer applications, PCs and notebooks, Dixon notes (AKM snatched the top spot thanks to its exposure to those electronic compasses). Other players including Micronas, Infineon, and NXP, eyeing emerging markets in those compasses as well as rotation sensors in car engines. Newer entrants include Sensitec -- which is levering older asymmetric magnetoresistance (AMR) technology from an IBM plant -- and austriamicrosystems.