In a technologically ever-advancing world, where autonomous cars and smart buildings are just around the corner, a spike has appeared in thermal imaging demand. Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) need extra sensors for redundancy in order to be safe both for drivers and pedestrians. Smart buildings that exploit the Internet of Things (IoT) must sense the people inside them for energy savings, security and increased functionality. Microbolometers can cover the needs of both of these markets, expanding to applications other than traditional thermography. According to the 2019 version of the “Uncooled IR imagers and detectors” report from Yole Développement ( Yole), microbolometer shipment volumes reached 1.4M units in 2018 and are expected to grow to more than 3M units in 2024. In this context, Dimitrios Damianos, MEMS & Sensors Analyst and Eric Mounier, Fellow Analyst at Yole have interviewed David Billon-Lanfrey, Chief Strategy Officer of Lynred, an established microbolometer manufacturer, in order to understand its view on these emerging applications.
Dimitrios Damianos (DD): ULIS and Sofradir are now combined under the same name: Lynred. Could you briefly present the motivation behind this merger?
David Billon-Lanfrey (DBL): The infrared market is growing. Our revenue has increased steadily over the past several years. In 2018, we reported €225 million ($259 million) in revenue. At the same time, the global infrared market has become more competitive than ever. The number of infrared technology market players has almost doubled over the past five years. This dynamic business environment is what spurred us to form Lynred, a company with a single identity and optimized product lines, under one brand name. Our ambition is for Lynred to become the partner of choice for infrared technology worldwide. This more robust company is better positioned to meet the needs of the aerospace, defense, industrial, and consumer markets, with the broadest range of high-quality infrared detectors available anywhere. This transformative merger will respond effectively to the changing needs of our customers around the globe and empower us to deliver a decisive competitive advantage in all of the markets we serve. It will also enable us to more efficiently focus our resources on our comprehensive portfolio of infrared products and our industrial performance with a view to accelerating the time-to-market of innovative products.
Eric Mounier (EM): Sofradir has traditionally served the aerospace/defense markets with its cooled IR technology products, while ULIS served commercial markets. Will Lynred focus on specific markets, and why?
DBL: Lynred was created to respond to a need for an all-inclusive infrared product offering to the global aerospace, defense, industrial and consumer markets. In response to increasing market requirements, the company has attained critical mass geared to shortening the time-to-market for new products. The new identity Lynred, under which its 1,000 staff will provide the widest range of advanced IR technologies to global markets, assures a long-term and reliable product supply and provides accompanying client projects with the best possible IR design and equipment integration support.
DD: What is your view on emerging applications like smart buildings and automotive?
DBL: Both smart building and automotive applications are fully in line with Lynred’s vision to use IR to protect people and preserve the environment. We can see huge traction in people counting applications where our customers are seeking value in energy savings and security. On the automotive side, cost reductions in thermal vision technology enable current Night Vision market expansion towards midsize premium vehicles. IR is ready to support two key challenges of ADAS in making them more reliable and available in all-light conditions.
Both smart building and automotive markets require lower costs while increasing volume production capability to several million units per year. This is why Lynred will advance developments of next-generation IR detectors with the €150 million ($167.4M) financial investment it is making in the Nano2022 project over the next five years. These IR devices will be designed to address trends in autonomous systems for smart buildings such as workspace management and energy savings, road safety and in-cabin comfort of vehicles.
EM: Lynred recently released a product for smart buildings, ThermEye. What opportunities do you see in this application? How could microbolometers address them and compete with traditional smaller IR detectors?
DBL: As part of our Smart Building Alliance partnership, we can learn lessons from the smart building market. Market players are facing new challenges: urbanization with less space and more occupants; the need for energy efficiency to reduce power consumption; and the trend in digital technologies, such as the significant growth in IoT that makes buildings more connected. To address these new challenges, facility managers and building owners require new solutions to analyze and understand human activities. ThermEye, a cost-effective 6400-IR pixel sensor, is the key element to perform simultaneous real presence detection, localization, people counting, activity and posture classification, intrusion detection or hot spot detection. Compared to traditional smaller IR detectors, ThermEye offers so much more to enable our customers to easily achieve advanced functions.
DD: For quite some time, we have been hearing about IR cameras in autonomous cars/robotic vehicles as redundant sensors for situational awareness. Do you foresee this market as a future opportunity for microbolometers? Would you try to address it?
DBL: Autonomous cars or robotic vehicles will rely on a set of sensors to sense their environment. Ultrasonic and radar are really suitable to perform short- to long-range measurement, while visible imaging sensors are very effective in performing object recognition and classification. Lidars could be a good candidate in both achieving range and classification – assuming that they remain powerful enough when facing cost, size and power reduction. The IR camera is the only technology that enables object classification in all light and weather conditions without compromising performance, size and power. Using the natural light directly emitted by all objects, analytics are also simplified when doing classification tasks in complex environments.
The IR microbolometer is fundamentally one of the best technologies for supporting autonomous cars or robotic vehicles. It is a matter of time when we will see the automotive industry adopt IR cameras more widely.
EM: How do you perceive China as an emerging market for domestic microbolometer production? What are the implications of its emergence?
DBL: Microbolometer technology developed by Chinese manufacturers has now reached the state-of-the-art, as illustrated by their 12µm pitch detector product offerings. Nevertheless, they have yet to demonstrate industrial maturity and production capacity to deliver high volumes. In terms of a business model, most Chinese microbolometer manufacturers are vertically integrated, which differs from Lynred’s. Lynred is an imaging sensor supplier, and thus does not compete with its customers.
DD: What are the future perspectives of Lynred regarding product development?
DBL: In its product portfolio, Lynred possesses a large range of technologies: microbolometers, InGaAs, and mercury cadmium telluride IR detectors. Product developments are fourfold:
• Reduce cost with integrated technologies
• Address compactness with the smallest pixel pitch and thereby reduce power consumption
• Enhance performance with high frame rate, high thermal sensitivity and high pixel count
• Provide easier-to-calibrate sensors, making our customers’ lives easier
EM: What are your future perspectives more specifically in the uncooled IR domain? Can you detail your outlooks on your technology roadmap, new markets and business development?
DBL: With regards to microbolometers across all of Lynred’s market applications, from smart buildings, automotive, leisure, security to industry and defense, the company’s roadmap is directed towards both lowest cost and compactness. That includes the Wafer Level Package technology or Pixel Level Package used in ThermEye, and the 12 µm pixel pitch in Lynred’s ATTO product family, extended this year to a VGA sensor. In addition, Lynred also works on performance improvements, such as publishing record performance in 2019 of a 150 mK.ms figure of merit, meaning that the thermal sensitivity was below 50mk with a thermal time constant below 3 ms. This result is four times higher than previous achievements and set a new standard in the industry.
Mr. David Billon-Lanfrey was appointed Chief Strategy Officer of Lynred, a merger between Sofradir, ULIS and Sofradir-EC, in 2018. Previously, he was Chief Technology Officer of Sofradir, a post he held for seven years. Prior to that, in 2006, he headed the R&D optronics characterization team and carried out that role for five years. Having joined Sofradir in 1994, he served 12 years as project manager in R&D and product development at the company. Mr. David Billon-Lanfrey is a graduate of optronics at Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble.
Dimitrios Damianos, PhD joined Yole Développement as a Technology and Market Analyst and is working within the Photonics, Sensing & Display division.
Dimitrios is daily working with his team to deliver valuable technology & market reports regarding the imaging industry including photonics & sensors.
After his research on theoretical and experimental quantum optics and laser light generation, Dimitrios pursued a Ph.D. in optical and electrical characterization of dielectric materials on silicon with applications in photovoltaics and image sensors, as well as SOI for microelectronics at Grenoble’s university (France).
In addition, Dimitrios holds a MSc degree in Photonics from the University of Patras (Greece). He has also authored and co-authored several scientific papers in international peer-reviewed journals.
With more than 25+ years’ experience within the semiconductor industry, Eric Mounier PhD. is Fellow Analyst at Yole Développement. Eric provides daily in-depth insights into current and future semiconductor trends, markets and innovative technologies (such as Quantum computing, Si photonics, new sensing technologies, new type of sensors …). Based on relevant methodological expertise and a strong technological background, he works closely with all the teams at Yole to point out disruptive technologies and analyze and present business opportunities through technology & market reports and custom consulting projects. With numerous internal workshops on technologies, methodologies, best practices and more, Yole’s Fellow Analyst ensures the training of Yole’s Technology & Market Analysts.
In this position, Eric Mounier has spoken in numerous international conferences, presenting his vision of the semiconductor industry and latest technical innovations. He has also authored or co-authored more than 100 papers as well as more than 120 Yole’s technology & market reports.
Previously, Eric held R&D and Marketing positions at CEA Leti (France).
Eric Mounier has a PhD. in Semiconductor Engineering and a degree in Optoelectronics from the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble (France).
Uncooled Infrared Imagers and Detectors 2019
New applications drive greater shipment volumes, which drive new applications, bringing the uncooled IR sensing market into a virtuous cycle.
Related past event
Executive Infrared Imaging Forum, a fourth edition for the crossing of the million unit threshold – Sept. 6, 2019 – Shenzhen, China
Gathering more than 60 attendees, covering the whole supply chain of the infrared imaging industry, the forum included presentations from key players: Lynred (formerly ULIS), FLIR Systems, chinese companies as HIK Vision and Ningbo Sunny Infrared, Yole Développement and System Plus Consulting, and more. Get access to the presentations of Eric Mounier from Yole Développement and Romain Fraux from System Plus Consulting.
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