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Thermal imager industry: the Chinese triumph


Extracted from :
Thermal Imagers and Detectors 2020 report, Yole Développement, 2020
Guide Infrared’s 17µm Microbolometer Module report, System Plus Consulting, 2020

• Market figures & trends:
2020 has been exceptional for thermal imaging and sensing technologies.
The thermal imaging market will reach around US $7.5 billion market value by 2025, at an 8% CAGR(1) from 2019 to 2025.
The thermal detector market will jump in 2020 by 23% in value to reach US$362 million.
Smart building application is expected to have a positive impact on the total market.
• COVID-19 outbreak:
Some companies suffered a momentary shock to their supply chain early on. However, most of them restarted their activities almost instantly.
This year alone, EST application has surged unsustainably. Next year, the market should go back to normal, as it is already slowing down in Q3 2020. Further lockdowns, no vaccine available and other uncertainties could of course change the situation. One thing is sure: the current situation will create a significant EST subsegment in the thermography market, which will continue to grow in the years to come.
Chinese players have turned the tables, surpassing the market leaders, at least in shipments. However, what to expect next year?
• Competitive landscape & supply chain:
Thermal detector players are mostly vertically integrated, internally producing the pixel, optics, and packaging.
The thermal camera supply chain is more complicated and is scattered worldwide.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has changed our world and will do so for years to come”. asserts Dimitrios Damianos, PhD, Technology & Market Analyst at Yole Développement (Yole).“Given the critical need for thermal detection and imaging systems to stem the spread of the virus by detecting the fever, this market has flourished. As fears about COVID-19 erupted, various organizations rushed to get thermal cameras to monitor people’s temperatures and detecting possible fevers, one of the main symptoms. This made EBT(2) or EST(3) thermography surge unsustainably.”
Traditionally it was a very small market, created in 2002-2003 due to the SARS epidemic. It was sustained at very low volumes thereafter, only to get slightly boosted in years when other epidemics occurred, like H1N1 flu, Ebola and Zika.
However, the current situation will create a significant EST subsegment in the thermography market, which will continue to grow in the years to come. This could stem from the eventual realization of end-users that thermal camera systems can generally come in handy at various sites for isolating sick febrile people, therefore decreasing cross-contamination.
Due to the imminent second and third waves and with no vaccine available, a possibility exists that the interest in this application will surge again. Plus, thermal imaging includes other interesting applications such as surveillance, firefighting, PVS(4) and drones, which show promising growth. Together they will bring the total market value close to US$7.5 billion by 2025, at an 8% CAGR from 2019 to 2025.


In this context, the market research and strategy consulting company, investigates disruptive technologies and related markets in depth. Yole points out today the latest innovations and underline the business opportunities.
Released today, the Thermal Imagers and Detectors 2020 report proposes a comprehensive overview of the imaging industries. This November edition is a complimentary vision of the previous analysis, Thermal Imagers and Detectors 2020 – COVID-19 Outbreak Impact – Preliminary Report, released in May 2020 and delivering a special focus on the COVID-19 outbreak.
The November report gives detailed analysis of the thermal detectors and imagers for defense and commercial applications, including extra color on EBT/EST screening. This study points out market data on key thermal detectors and thermal imagers. Including thermal detectors and imagers volumes, market trends, values, shares, forecasts, metrics and dynamics, this new study offers key technical insights into future technology trends and challenges and delivers an in-depth understanding of the thermal imaging value chain, infrastructure, and players.
In parallel, System Plus Consulting, partner of Yole, releases a reverse engineering & costing analysis, the Guide Infrared’s 17µm Microbolometer Module report, to analyze the Chinese’s first low-definition microbolometer for integration into consumer applications.

Including microbolometer die, module and lens, detailed optical and SEM photos, measurements, cost analysis, this report also compares the technology between the Guide Infrared Module, IRay RTD3172 17µm and Flir Lepton 3.
What is the status of the thermal imaging industry? What are the economic and technological challenge? What are the impacts of the COVID-19? Which are the leading companies to watch? How will the thermal detection/imaging market evolve? What is the role of the Chinese companies?
Yole and System Plus Consulting’s imaging team presents, today its vision of the thermal imagers and detectors industries.

As analyzed in this new Thermal Imagers and Detectors 2020 report, the current surge of EST applications has transformed the thermal imager manufacturer landscape, at least for thermography. In 2019, American and European players were leading this market. Enter COVID-19, and Chinese players have turned the tables, surpassing the market leaders, at least in shipments.

One leading Chinese company, Guide Infrared, belongs to the Chinese competitive landscape but not only… Indeed, founded in 1999, Guide Infrared is now a leader in infrared technology in China and in the world. After developing microbolometer dies, thermal imagers for military, industry and security, Guide Infrared and Global Sensor Technology have developed a tiny module with low pixel count for smartphones. The Guide Infrared module is a direct competitor to Flir’s Lepton3 module and the Seek Thermal smartphone module.

System Plus Consulting, partner of Yole, performs a valuable reverse engineering & costing analysis of its 17µm Microbolometer Module.

“This study has been conducted to provide insight into technology design, the manufacturing cost and selling price of microbolometer detector GST117W and the infrared module with the ceramic substrate, the plastic support and the infrared lens”, explains Sylvain Hallereau, Project Manager at System Plus Consulting. “Guide has selected O-Film, the leader in the camera module assembly, to make the module,” he adds.

The microbolometer use vanadium oxide technology and a 17µm pixel width. The integration into a 680mm3 volume is allowed by the wafer level package technology developed by Guide. With a definition of 120×90 pixels, the microbolometer is designed for consumer low definition markets, including smartphones, pocket thermal imagers and intelligent buildings… A detailed description of this analysis is available on System Plus Consulting website.


So, for sure, the current situation has strengthened the Chinese thermal imaging industry and ecosystem, both in terms of internal market demand and technological development. They rapidly addressed the great domestic demand for thermal imaging systems. As the epidemic spread across geographies to the west, the rest of the companies reaped the benefits from this hype. But western countries were slower in adopting thermal cameras en masse, due to privacy concerns.

According to Eric Mounier, PhD, Director of Market Research at Yole: “In general, thermal imager production lines are not like other IC(5) production lines that work at more than 90% of production capacity. Therefore, for some companies there was not a particular need for investment, besides some increase in consumables and possibly workforce. But for some Chinese companies, it is highly possible that the government has supported their production ramp ups. Moreover, this situation could push Chinese companies to chase investments for future growth, which could rapidly develop the market in the future”.

And so, what could we expect for the next few years? Chinese manufacturers have enormous production capacity which risks being left unused. We could be spectators to huge changes in strategy where they could, comments Yole’s imaging team:

• Revert back to applications such as traditional thermography and surveillance. For example, companies with existing strong sales channels in traditional non-thermal surveillance can push forward thermal imaging technology. This could potentially lead to big price wars.

• Find new growth drivers, for example from big markets that are still left untapped. These include consumer applications such as smartphones and smart homes, industrial applications including smart buildings. They could enter the IoT(6) world by leveraging megatrends such as 5G and AI(7) in an ultra-connected, intelligent world.

At this point, many uncertainties exist. But one thing is sure: exciting times lie ahead for the thermal imaging industry. Make sure to follow Yole on i-Micronews to discover the industry news and future reports & monitors!

All year long, Yole Développement publishes numerous imaging-related reports and monitors. In this regard, do not miss the Thermal imaging: The rise of fever detection – global market applications and evolution – Webcast on December 8, 2020. Make sure to be aware of the latest news coming from the industry and get an overview of our activities, including interviews with leading companies and more on i-Micronews. Stay tuned!

(1): CAGR : Compound Annual Growth Rate
(2): EBT: Elevated Body Temperature
(3): EST: Elevated Surface Temperature
(4): PVS: Personal Vision Systems
(5): IC: Integrated Circuit
(6): IoT: Internet of Things
(7): AI : Artificial Intelligence





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