EL SEGUNDO, CA -- Boosted by key design wins in Apple Inc. products like the iPad and iPhone, Asahi Kasei Microsystems (AKM) in 2010 retained its position as the world's largest supplier of silicon magnetic sensors, according to an IHS iSuppli Magnetic Sensors Special Report from information and analysis provider IHS (NYSE: IHS).
IHS estimates that Japan's AKM in 2010 accrued revenue of $300 million for magnetic sensors, up 58 percent from $190 million in 2009. This allowed it to reprise its No. 1 rank from 2009.
AKM led the market because of huge strides in supplying Hall electronic magnetic compasses, which are used in products like cellphones, tablets, digital still cameras, portable navigation devices and MP3 players.
"An important segment of the magnetic sensor market is the digital compass, which has become a standard feature in GPS enabled smartphones and tablets," said Richard Dixon, senior analyst for MEMS and sensors at IHS. "AKM has scored design wins for its 3-axis electronic compasses in the iPad, iPad 2, iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4, among other notable smartphone and tablet products. Because of this strong adoption, more than one-third of Asahi Kasei's overall magnetic sensor revenue in 2010 came from 3-axis electronic compasses."
The remaining two-thirds came from low-cost switches and sensors for consumer electronics and appliances, in which AKM also has undisputed worldwide dominance.
"AKM enjoys tremendous economies of scale in producing commodity Hall devices and integrated circuits that few other manufacturers can match," Dixon said. "Meanwhile, the high prices for compasses have served to keep the company at the top rank."
Magnets for Growth
AKM and four other top players together accounted for more than 80 percent of the global market for silicon magnetic sensors, which in addition to compasses are used extensively in automotive applications.
Revenue in 2010 from the Top 5 magnetic silicon suppliers reached a combined $962.0 million, or 82 percent of the market's $1.18 billion value. The Top 5 consisted of AKM, Massachusetts-based Allegro Microsystems Inc., Infineon Technologies of Germany, Micronas of Switzerland, and Melexis N.V. of Belgium.
Other Four Players Also Show Strong Performance
Second-ranked Allegro Microsystems, which had $264 million in revenue, was also the foremost supplier of automotive magnetic sensors. Magnetic sensors are found in more than 70 automotive applications, including anti-lock brake systems, electronic steering and throttle control, battery management and automatic transmission systems.
Allegro is putting increasing emphasis on higher-value automotive products, such as camshaft position sensors. Allegro is strong in supplying current sensors for battery management in automotive applications. Its revenue growth was strongest among the Top 5, up 75 percent from $151 million in 2009.
The No. 3 company, Infineon, was the leading supplier of automotive wheel-speed sensors. Revenue in 2010 for Infineon amounted to $148 million, up 40 percent from $106 million in 2009. Although most of its revenue comes from Hall magnetic ICs, Infineon is also pioneering an integrated giant magnetoresistive sensor element and application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) that has higher spatial resolution than Hall sensors, suitable for precision applications like steering-wheel angle measurement. The company has no consumer electronics focus.
Fourth-ranked Micronas, with magnetic sensor revenue of $143 million, was also the top supplier of linear Hall sensors. It has a wide-ranging portfolio—a majority of it in automotive—but also benefits from a growing focus on industrial sensors. Micronas has been developing 3D Hall technology, but lags behind Melexis, a company that already has an established market presence for this new technology. The 3D Hall devices extend the spatial revolution of existing Hall sensors, allowing them to continue to compete against higher-performance magnetoresistive magnetic sensors. Micronas revenue in 2010 was up 36 percent from $105 million.
Melexis, the No. 5 company, concentrates on automotive applications and recently has gained significant presence in the emerging Chinese car markets. With revenue of $107 million, Melexis also supplies commodity Hall switches for cellphone display management applications. The company is unchallenged as the top supplier of acceleration pedal sensors, where its Hall sensors and 3D Hall sensors are deployed in electronic throttle control systems widely used on many cars today. Revenue in 2010 was up 43 percent, the third highest in the group, from $75 million in 2009.
To learn more about the latest developments in the sensor market, see the IHS iSuppli report entitled: "Digital Compasses Pick Up Reins of Magnetic Sensor Market."