CMOS Image Sensors Begin Breaking Sales Records Again
After hitting a rough patch in the second half of the last decade, CMOS image sensors have finally regained growth momentum, and this once high-flying optoelectronics market segment is now expected to set record-high sales each year through 2016 (see Figure), according to IC Insights’ new 2012 Optoelectronics, Sensors/Actuators, and Discretes (O-S-D) Report.Stronger, more consistent sales growth in CMOS image sensors is being driven by a new wave of camera-equipped portable products, such as touch-screen smartphones and tablet computers, as well as embedded digital-imaging applications being designed into automobiles, medical equipment, security networks, and other vision-recognition systems, says the 2012 O-S-D Report.
The new report forecasts an 8% increase in CMOS image sensor sales in 2012 to a record high of $6.3 billion compared to $5.8 billion in 2011, when the market climbed 29% from $4.5 billion in 2010. The 2011 increase pushed CMOS image sensor sales above the previous record of $4.6 billion set in 2008. More importantly, the 2011 increase was the first back-to-back annual sales gain for CMOS image sensors since 2006. CMOS image sensor sales fell 16% in the 2009 downturn and declined nearly 14% in 2007, primarily due to inventory corrections in camera cellphones.
The 2012 O-S-D Report shows the CMOS image sensor market climbing to $10.8 billion in 2016, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13% over the next five years compared to a CAGR of just 5% between 2006 and 2011. Ten years ago, CMOS image sensors were racking up colossal sales increases primarily due to the rapid spread of camera phones and the introduction of embedded digital cameras in portable notebooks and personal computer monitors, but growth rates began to decline in the middle of the last decade as these market-driving applications became saturated and matured. By 2006, the market was also bogged down by an oversupply of CMOS image sensors—especially those aimed at camera phones—after explosive growth attracted a crowd of suppliers and manufacturers to the business.
When growth stalled five years ago, a number of manufacturers decided to close or sell their image sensor businesses. However, intense competition among leading CMOS image sensor suppliers is on the rise again as new applications begin to fuel new growth. In Japan, Sony and Toshiba—ranked third and fifth in 2011 CMOS image sensor sales, respectively—are increasing fab capacity for products on 300mm wafers. Second-ranked Samsung in South Korea is also boosting its 300mm capacity for image sensors. These moves are pressuring fabless companies OmniVision and Aptina Imaging—ranked No. 1 and sixth in CMOS image sensor sales—to use 300mm foundry capacity for their products. Fourth-ranked STMicroelectronics is also under the gun to move production from 200mm to 300mm wafers.
The 2012 O-S-D Report shows automotive systems as the fastest growing CMOS image sensor application with sales reaching $1.8 billion in 2016, or about 17% of the market’s total dollar volume that year. Though growing much slower, camera cellphones will continue to be the largestCMOS image sensor application in 2016 with sales expected to be $5.4 billion or 50% of the revenues overall, compared to about $4.2 billion or 72% of the total in 2011. Standalone digital still cameras and video camcorders represent growth potential for CMOS devices, which are replacing charge-coupled device (CCD) image sensors in these systems, but improved camera phones have ironically reduced the size of this consumer market, says the new O-S-D Report.