The COVID-19 pandemic is a health disaster but thermal imaging and sensing technology will certainly be, among others, one line of defense against this virus...
The COVID-19 outbreak will have a big impact on the thermal detector and imager markets and industrial landscape at different levels.
For thermal imagers, some markets will suffer from the economic crisis due to the virus outbreak, such as automotive and personal vision systems for example. “Indeed the automotive market did not show impressive interest for thermal technologies in the past,” explains Dimitrios Damianos, Technology and Market Analyst within the Photonics & Sensing division at Yole Développement (Yole). “In addition, such technology is not yet considered as a very important ADAS system in a car.”
For thermal detectors, habits change and people are increasingly concerned with their own health, thus monitoring their body temperature on a daily basis. This will create an exploding demand for thermopile-based thermometers and associated temperature guns.
In its latest report, Yole announces an impressive growth between 2019 and 2020, reaching +76% and +20% for thermal imagers (and cameras) and thermal detectors markets, respectively.
In term of volumes, Eric Mounier, Fellow Analyst at Yole explains: “For thermal imagers, we expect more than 1.5 million fever detection cameras to be deployed in 2020 and in the next 3-4 years cumulatively at airports, businesses and other infrastructure. In US$ value, we estimate the total market to be US$7.6 billion in 2020, generating an impressive 76% YoY growth”. Thermal cameras for fever detection are split between the thermography and surveillance segments. On the other hand, some high-volume applications that we previously expected to boom, like automotive and ruggedized smartphones, will stagnate, especially as production shifts towards more cameras for fever detection application.
In parallel, the demand for surveillance and thermography systems linked to fever monitoring will increase in various infrastructure such as airports, hospitals, public areas and warehouses. Therefore, Yole expects a positive impact in this specific industry.
For thermal detectors, volumes are expected to skyrocket in 220 due to more shipments of thermal detectors based on thermopile technology that are used in low-end and highend temperature measurement. These include ear thermometers and temperature guns or other thermometry devices both personal and professional/medical. By 2020, the market value should be $350M, representing 20% YoY growth.
COVID-19 has dramatically disturbed the infrared industrial supply chain. Some companies will suffer a supply chain shock as well as a temporary shutdown of factories, thus delaying production by a few weeks.
One of the reasons is that a complete thermal camera requires parts from various suppliers, including Focal Plane Arrays/Read Out Integrated Circuits, retinas, lenses, packaging, and system assembly, scattered worldwide.
Moreover, at the very start of the outbreak, most factories have been totally shut down and it took time to set up strict rules to protect workers going back to work. Transportation is affected by the COVID-19 crisis and there is a possibility of delay in supplying parts.
On the other hand, some players rely on different suppliers that can be geographically close to the main assembly factory, thus minimizing the manufacturing impact. They also have organized themselves to work seven days a week.
As the Asia region begins to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, production is ramping back up. Some of the factories closed only for one to two weeks and then functioned at lower capacity, but functioned nevertheless.
Although there are restrictions for China to sell thermal cameras to US defense and government contractors, at Yole we believe the COVID-19 situation will still strengthen the Chinese thermal imaging industry both in terms of internal market demand and technological developments. Indeed, during 2019 the thermal imaging market grew slightly in general, but we have seen an important strengthening of some Chinese players such as IRAY Technologies and Hikvision.
As China was the first place where COVID-19 surged, the country quickly realized the benefits of thermal imaging technology facing the pandemic.
In 2019, they made a lot of progress in thermal imaging technologies and this effort will continue.
Moreover, China has fewer regulations and privacy concerns compared to Europe and USA that would prevent installing thermal cameras in public places.
This will prove beneficial for its domestic market.
Yole believes China will continue to invest heavily in thermal imaging technology to be independent from external suppliers, to serve its large local market and to partake in this market’s global growth.
In the current context, Yole’s analysts explore a new hypothesis: what if a thermal imager gets inside every smartphone? What if a major smartphone maker, like Huawei, Oppo, Xiaomi, Samsung or Apple, introduces a phone with a temperature measurement option now?
Dimitrios Damianos asserted: “Naturally people are worried about COVID-19. It wouldn’t be outrageous to use something to measure their body temperature frequently, which happens to be constantly in or near their hands, namely their smartphone or their smartwatch”.
Domestically in China, 850 million people have smartphones and 60% of the Chinese population is equipped. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if 10 million people, about 1%, could buy a smartphone with this added body temperature measurement functionality. This is a hypothesis where only people in China adopt such a smartphone, due to higher awareness.
The technology is here and the time is (probably) right. Some thermal detectors or imagers are tiny enough to be integrated into a mobile. And some smartphones already integrate one, albeit for another use case, more professional. What is needed is an accuracy better than 0.5°C, reliable electronics and processing to avoid false alarms, along with educating properly consumers on how to read and interpret the thermal images.
Of course, price must be low enough, in the range of a few US$. Cost would drop with volume production, benefiting from large wafer scale manufacturing capabilities on 8” or even 12” diameter wafers.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a health disaster but thermal imaging and sensing technology will certainly be, among others, one line of defense against this virus.