YOLE Développement interviewed New Infrared Technologies in order to have a different view on the uncooled infra-red imaging markets: let’s deep dive into the uncooled MWIR…markets: let’s deep dive into the uncooled MWIR…
Can you introduce NIT Europe activities, products and technologies?
NEW INFRARED TECHNOLOGIES (NIT) manufactures uncooled MWIR (1-5 microns) infrared detectors and systems for defense and industrial applications. NIT has a proprietary technology and is the only company in the world capable of manufacturing uncooled MWIR image detectors.
NIT’s Vapor Phase Deposition technology (patented) is compatible with CMOS substrates which allows manufacturing thousands of detectors at a very low cost. Today, with microbolometers (LWIR 8-12 microns), NIT’s Vapor Phase Deposition is the only IR technology able to fulfill mass market requirements in terms of cost and production volumes. NIT has a product portfolio of uncooled MWIR single, linear and arrays detectors. Together with the detectors, NIT offers optimized electronic systems for each detector type, which can achieve up to 10,000 frames per second.
- TACHYON SERIES: imaging FPA with ROIC on-chip and digital interface (80x80 and 32x32)
- MATRIX 1024 SERIES: imaging FPA
- LUXELL SERIES: linear arrays (1x64, 1x128, 1x256)
- LEPTON SERIES: point detectors (1x1 mm², 2x2 mm², custom)
The TACHYON SERIES is the first monolithic FPA based on photoconductive sensor on the market, capable of registering more than 2000 fps @ full frame, and making it an unique product onto the market of cooled & uncooled IR systems.
In 2015 NIT will launch onto the market a new 128x128 pixels imaging FPA with on-chip ROICp, snapshot acquisition and capable to operate with frame rates over 2 kHz.
NIT’s products main characteristics are:
- Uncooled operation at room temperature
- Detection in the 1-5 micron window
- No vacuum packaging required (lower manufacturing costs)
- Extremely fast and responsive (photonic)
- Monolithically integrated with interference filters for multicolor devices
- Affordable detectors for defense and industrial applications
NIT also manufactures customized uncooled MWIR detectors according to specific custom requirements, and offers consultancy services.
What are the applications targeted by your company?
New Infrared Technologies targets both defense and industrial applications.
NIT technology bandwidth is 1 to 5 microns (SWIR+MWIR). Therefore, do you compete with SWIR (1-3 microns) manufacturers?
Our detectors can compete with other SWIR technologies in some specific fields of applications. The VPD PbSe is a quantum detector with peak responsivity at room temperature around 4 microns.
However, the material has also good sensitivity in a wide spectral band ranging from 1-5 microns, allowing it to compete with other technologies in the SWIR band. In our point of view, a broadband SWIR+MWIR detector, in combination with efficient and affordable SWIR & MWIR light sources, has clear advantages for a large number of applications, such as gas detection or spectroscopy for industry.
The use of low cost, wide band infrared detectors will allow to increase the system performance at a reduced cost and complexity.
What are the advantages of MWIR (3-5 microns) vs. SWIR (1-3 microns) vs. LWIR?
Each infrared spectral band has its own applications and specificities. From the thermography point of view, low temperatures suit long wavelength detectors, and high temperatures demand short wavelength IR detectors. MWIR is in the middle and able to be used in a very wide range of applications and temperatures. In the case of spectroscopy, MWIR is a very interesting region.
For example, most of the industrial gases have their strongest features in the MWIR spectral region (between 3-6 microns). In the surveillance side, MWIR spectral region has better contrast than other infrared regions.
About the applications, the MWIR spectral region is one of the most interesting infrared regions. In the past, the lack of affordable MWIR FPAs has prevented the development of MWIR systems and tools, and NIT technology fills that existing gap. A huge amount of applications are waiting for MWIR uncooled detectors, which are now offered by our company.
What is NIT production in units in 2013 (matrix, linear and single pixel)? Expected growth for 2014? How do you plan your market evolution?
We are expecting an increase of about 40% from 2013 to 2014. In 2013 we have produced over 1,000 image detectors, 500 linear array detectors and 4,000 single element detectors.
Market evolution will increase thanks to industrial applications. NIT’s goal is to introduce uncooled MWIR image detectors in many applications in which single point detector is actually used for the infrared sensing. Price difference would not be a barrier for big volume orders compared to all the information recorded by an image detector.
There is an important need on the market for low-resolution image detectors (32x32 and 80x80) completely uncooled, fast and affordable. The SWaP concept: Size, Weight and Power is the trend characterizing all electronic devices. Recently, the “Cost” concept has been introduced, with a current trend towards SWaP-C. NIT products fulfill all these requirements by adding “speed” as another very important characteristic. The commercial industry traditionally controls processes at a very low speed, between 10 and 50 images per second, missing a large amount of essential information in their processes and not being able to detect possible defects. In the defense industry, speed is a very important factor for many different applications.
With the new FPAs, it is possible to obtain much more information than with single-element detectors. Concerning volume, NIT FPA can compete in price against single-element detectors sold by third-party competitors.
What was the main business for your company in 2013 (in units): commercial or military applications?
In 2013, the main part of our turnover (approximately 60%), came from customers in the industrial / commercial market, whereas another 20% came from companies in the defense market. The 20% left came from consultancy and other services.
Our current customer portfolio is structured in the following way:
- End users and companies which have their own production and acquire NIT’s systems in order to improve their quality control processes. These customers are for example FIAT in automotive industry, Saint Gobain in the glass manufacturing industry, or Arcelor Mittal in the heavy manufacturing industry.
- Systems integrators and contractors (defense industry) who produce manufacturing or tool machines to other companies, which are seeking to incorporate the infrared sensing as an added value component or functionality to their products. For example, Boeing and Lockheed Martin in the defense market, or Ametek and MSA Safety in the industrial sector.
- Universities and R&D Centers which acquire the products offered by NIT in order to conduct researches based on new technologies or methodologies. Even though these customers do not represent a high volume of sales, it’s vital for NIT to support their activities. NIT collaborates with some centers of excellence and universities in order to develop solutions for specific industries, as, for example, Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, Aimen, Tecnalia and INTA (National Institute for Aerospace Technology) in Spain, MIT in the USA, and more.
We understand that your company is looking at new applications in process control, which is really a new application area for IR imaging.
- What are the main process control applications in terms of importance ?
- Welding process monitoring
- Glass manufacturing / inspection monitoring
- Gas and fire detection
- Food inspection
- Do you have some process control customers’ examples?
- Metallurgy Industry: Arcelor Mittal factory
- Automotive Industry: Fiat Research Center
- Glass Industry: Saint Gobain Factory
- Aerospace Industry: Spanish National Institute for Aerospace Technology (INTA)
- Is it mainly linear or matrix sales?
It is a combination of both types of detectors. For some applications, the best solution is to use linear array detectors whereas, for some others, there is a need of an area measurement, making the imaging detector the most suitable solution. It also depends on the customers’ requirements and needs.
Compared to other technologies, what is your product price positioning? Can you give us an example?
The technology offered by NIT has two advantages compared to other sensing technologies on the market. The first one is the capability of our sensors to operate at ambient temperature in uncooled mode with no need of expensive cooling systems.
The second, in terms of cost of fabrication, is the full compatibility of our PbSe deposition method with CMOS substrates, which is translated into the monolithic integration between the sensor and the ROIC, and the possibility to process substrates as large as 8” (what we do in our production line).
This last fact has a great impact on the manufacturing costs per manufactured device. The combination of these factors allows NIT to offer FPAs at a much more competitive price than other technologies resulting into more affordable high value systems based in our technology. It also opens the path to the development of SWaP-C MWIR imaging devices.
For example, the cost of the TACHYON sensors offered by NIT, is more than one order of magnitude below other MWIR high-speed sensors commercially available, starting in prices below 10,000 EUR for the module, plus a generic lens and an optics holder housing.
What is the percentage of sensor sales versus cores versus cameras for your company? Will it change in the future?
Currently, our sales ratio detectors / cores is approximately 10%. The main reason is that our customers have opted for higher added value solutions which include the detector & FPAs and the surrounding electronics (amplification, ADC, pre-processing, communication). This scenario will indeed move in the future towards a more balanced situation, with the introduction of more FPAs with ROIC on-chip and digital interface - which makes easier the integration into the electronics of complex systems.
More complex systems such as ‘cameras’ are not included in this classification because NIT is a company specialized in supplying ‘components’ targeted to a later integration into final solutions, as the sensing part, and does not supply ‘final systems’ (defined as a complete product: sensor, core, specific housing, specific lens, specific software, etc.), even though we would have the capability to build such.
What is your production infrastructure today and for the future ?
Our facilities in Madrid are prepared for processing IR detectors on 200 mm Si CMOS wafers. 8” substrate is our standard fabrication but 150 and 100 mm wafers can be also processed.
Our current production line has the capacity to produce around 100,000 units per year, based in a mature production technology resulting from more than 20 years of research and continuous improvement. During this time we understood what the key processes to maintain in house production were and what the processes adding only small value were.
From the manufacturing of detectors point of view, the policy of the company can be summarized in the following statement: all the processes related with the sensitive material are done in house. The rest of processing is outsourced to different European foundries and service providers.
Who are your competitors: cooled MWIR, SWIR, LWIR players? How do you see the evolution of this market towards more industrial and consumer applications?
In principle, our main competitors would be the cooled MWIR imaging sensors (InSb, MCT) and the uncooled LWIR imaging sensors (microbolometers), but, due to the extended response through the SWIR, we are also coping the market of the shorter wavelengths sensors.
Our technology fits the needs of applications with technical requirements not fulfilled by the bolometers, such as speed of acquisition (our detectors are photosensors with high speed of response, in the order of tens of kHz), or focus on the spectral region between 2.5 and 3 µm, traditionally ‘blind’ to the SWIR sensors, or inspection systems not possible until now due to the high costs of the cooled MWIR sensors. This is very important in some industrial applications, like the monitoring of industrial processes that are very sensitive to the deployment and maintenance costs and require very high speeds in order to improve the process’ yields.
Cost reduction of the systems will be a key driver for the development of more and more industrial and consumer applications and, in this way, NIT is well positioned to be considered as a key player in the future, bringing affordable and high-performance MWIR sensors into the market.