Automotive, smartphone applications drive silicon magnetic sensor revenue

September 12, 2011 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Lifted by the strong 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 MEMS & Sensors Special Report from information and analysis provider IHS.

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, senior analyst for microelectromechanical systems (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, the analyst said.

“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