IR (infrared) cameras are non-contact devices that detect infrared heat & convert it into electrical signals. When processed, these signals produce thermal images on video screens and calculate the temperature. The ‘precision’ offered by these cameras help in identifying & evaluating the severity of heat-related problems. The global infrared camera market stood about USD 3.2 billion in 2015. It is foreseen to grow lucratively at over 9% CAGR during 2016 to 2024 (forecast period).
This growth will be attributed to technological advancements (that have led to miniaturized models and cheaper products). Some of these innovations (that have boosted ‘cost-effectiveness’) are automatic functionality, built-in visual imaging, and infrared software development.
The market finds applications in spotting electrical deficiencies, assessing moisture, and identifying plumbing blockages & leaks. Proliferation of smart phones (having high resolution cameras) will have a positive market impact. Less eco-impact also favors the industry. However, what works against the industry is reduced defense spending across developed countries & regions.
Rising novel consumer applications, like personal vision for radiometrics are anticipated to further market incomes. IR cameras have deeply penetrated the residential sector owing to their affordability. Demand from various applications is leading to higher investments by players. The same bodes well for the market.
A key use of IR cameras is ‘night-vision’ solutions for automobiles. These devices face stiff competition from thermal imaging. Although their prices have lessened with time, they are unaffordable for certain sectors. Also, since the functioning of these cameras is based on temperature variations, they cannot differentiate between objects with similar temperatures. This factor compromises on their accuracy and limits their adoption.
Mass production of these devices has resulted in lowered prices. At present, the IR camera market is characterized by devices catering to various price points. They include entry-level products, industrial thermal cameras, infrared imagers, professional & universal cameras, etc.
Presently, IR camera market devices come in different wavelengths. They comprise NIR (near-infrared), MWIR (mid-wave infrared), FIR (far-infrared), LWIR (long wave infrared), and SWIR (short wave infrared). ‘Hyper spectral imaging’ and ‘remote sensing’ present opportunities to vendors.
Falling ‘long wave infrared’ prices spur its consumption across security, surveillance, & automotives. This camera is useful in sports medicine, where it helps locate the injury site. LWIR camera is also used in airports to screen travelers with high body temperatures, during epidemic diseases.
The infrared camera market is split according to materials, applications and geographies. Four primary materials used for manufacturing IR cameras are silicon, germanium, sapphire, and zinc selenide. Germanium has been a key segment. In 2015, it accounted for almost 41% of the total revenues. Its advantage lies in its good mechanical properties.
This material is ‘non-hygroscopic’ and a good transmitter of infrared radiations. It has better carrier mobility and high nonlinear coefficients. Germanium also bears the capability of producing active devices from its alloys. Zinc selenide would experience significant demand. It is suitable for optics used in high power carbon dioxide laser systems.
The mentioned segment offers strong resistance to thermal shock and has low absorption coefficient, augmenting its adoption in medical imaging. Sapphire is very hard and durable. It offers good transmission range from UV to IR. This makes it ideal for high-power & high-pressure uses.
Amorphous silicon microbolometers developed using MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) promise all advantages of silicon processing. Some of these are yield, costs, and high sensitivity to infrared radiations.
The IR camera market has a wide range of applications. These include medical imaging, industrial, military & defense, commercial, and others. Commercial is anticipated to grow at a fast pace during the forecast period. This should be credited to advancing technologies and significant price reductions.
Medical imaging can grow owing to detection of cancerous & other tumors. Moreover, IR technology is preferred due to its non-invasive nature. Military & defense garnered the highest revenues in 2015. It demands reliability, ruggedness, and temperature tolerance. The segment would continue its dominance till 2024.
Rising defense investments in Asia Pacific and the Middle East could favorably impact military & defense applications. Night vision goggles and related devices contribute better ‘situational’ awareness. Other applications such as surveillance, security, and automotives are expected to increase the adoption of IR cameras owing to falling prices.
Moreover, these cameras provide ‘night-vision’ in vehicles. Security and surveillance is the focus area of key manufacturers from the U.S., Sweden, and South Korea. Apart from the above, some promising applications encompass maritime vessel inspections, veterinary science, food service & distribution, and aircraft inspection.
Geographical segments of the worldwide IR camera market are North America, Asia Pacific, Europe, and RoW (Rest of the World). North America captured the maximum shares in 2013. It will be the key market due to its major players and different technological advancements.
Regional demand is expected to be high from the sectors of video surveillance cabling and infrastructure. These products offer non-contact, non-invasive, quantifiable, and definitive thermal imaging. Europe will benefit from regulations that demand EPCs (Energy Performance Certificates) for new and refurbished buildings.
Asia Pacific should exhibit higher demand due to regional consumption in oil & gas, automotives, and other commercial applications. Defense spending, especially in Japan, India, and South Korea, is predicted to have a favorable regional impact. Asia Pacific is projected to observe a CAGR of 10.5% during 2016 to 2024. It may exceed USD 1.8 billion by 2024.
Samsung Techwin, Seek Thermal, Axis Communications AB, FLIR Systems, Fluke Corporation, and DRS constitute well-known players in the global infrared camera market. Others reputed vendors comprise Raytheon Company, Testo AG, Seek Thermal Inc., etc.
Many players aim at the vertical integration of their operations to meet customer expectations and foster product developments. Mergers & acquisitions are their one more expansion strategy. All vendors compete on the basis of price, product reputation, performance, customer services, and training.
‘FLIR Systems’ introduced smart phones with ‘thermal imaging’ capability to enhance its product portfolio. Partnership with ‘Autoliv Electronics’ has helped it supply device cores for automobile brands; like Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Rolls Royce, and BMW. Market barriers encompass high capital investments, large & established participants, and technical expertise.
Research Support Specialist, USA