Lifted by a resurgent automotive sector and rising global demand for digital compasses in smartphones and tablets, the market for silicon magnetic sensors is enjoying accelerated growth, with revenue in 2011 set to rise a strong 23.7 percent, according to a new IHS iSuppli report. Revenue this year for silicon magnetic sensors is projected to reach $1.46 billion, up from $1.18 billion in 2010, following a blockbuster year in 2010 where revenues rebounded 48.6 percent. Given the spectacular recovery of the automotive passenger vehicle industry and the fast uptake of compasses to aid navigation-related functions in handsets and tablets, the magnetic sensor market can look likewise to healthy times in the years ahead, said Richard Dixon, Ph.D., senior analyst for MEMS and sensors at IHS. By 2015, revenue will hit $2.47 billion, equivalent to a five-year compound annual growth rate starting from 2010 of 15.8 percent.
"Magnetic sensors are enjoying big growth again this year, with the market simply flooded with higher-cost parts such as compasses as well as mission-critical automotive sensors," observed Dixon. "Unlike low-cost switches widely used in white goods such as microwave ovens, or in information technology gear like PCs, fax machines and copiers, automotive and handset compasses contain relatively high-priced sensors, which should serve to buoy the market for at least the next four years."
The robust growth, Dixon added, is driven by several factors, including a huge increase in the production of vehicles requiring the sensors. The automotive market accounts for 50 percent of the market for magnetic sensors; the 25 percent rise in passenger car production last year was a major "shot in the arm" for the sensor demand.
More than 65 uses are available for these sensors in the automotive space, a long list that includes wheel-speed sensors in anti-lock brake systems, electric motors requiring accurate control, electronic steering and throttle control, transmission sensors for automatics and new double-clutch systems, and current sensors for battery management.
Digital compass market and other sectors also play major role
Also providing a boost to magnetic sensors is the digital compass sector, responsible for 20 percent of magnetic revenues in 2010. Not only is the digital compass becoming a standard feature in the global positioning systems (GPS) of tablets and mobile phones, the device also is starting to find its way into gaming applications, cameras and other devices. In gaming, for instance, magnetic sensors provide exact orientation reference in high-speed games and can also be used to recalibrate for drift in inertial sensors.
Magnetic sensors also are used in the industrial space. Here, up to three Hall switches provide commutation for brushless direct-current motors, or measures current in inverters in solar installations and wind turbines, either as open- or closed-loop Hall effect switches in competition with other technologies like resistive shunts.
Other important applications for magnetic sensors include consumer electronics, where digital compasses are utilized for geotagging in cameras or display management in laptops, MP3 players and portable navigation devices; PC applications, which include miniature motor sensors for cooling fans, DVD and CD optical drives; and other miscellaneous uses ranging from pacemakers to switches in fax machines and copiers.
The largest supplier in 2010 of silicon magnetic sensors was Japan’s Asahi Kasei Microsystems, followed by Allegro Microsystems of Worcester, Mass.
The top magnetic sensor devices were Hall-effect integrated circuits and elements, designed to sense changing magnetic fields and to measure current and rotational position, along with speed and linear position. Growth in the magnetic sensor space will cool slightly after 2015, due to the rapid erosion in price of electronic compasses, as well as to an eventual slowdown in automotive applications after fitment rates are achieved for safety mandates in electronic stability control systems and tire-pressure monitors.