Automotive applications drive magnetic sensor demand

October 17, 2013 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
The high adoption rate of semiconductor magnetic sensors in automotive environments will bestow this market segment a growth rate of 7% in terms of revenue, states a current report from market watcher IHS Inc.

The global market revenue for magnetic sensors will reach $1.73 billion at year-end, up from $1.62 billion in 2012. Next year will see revenue expand again by approximately 7% to reach $1.85 billion, with growth continuing during the following three years ranging from 4 to 8%. By 2017, industry takings will amount to some $2.20 billion (Fig. 1).

Magnetic sensors are used to track rotational speed and linear angles in machines and devices, or to detect and process magnetic fields to establish positioning. According to IHS principal analyst Richard Dixon, the automotive industry grabbed 52% of the revenue achieved with magnetic sensors and switches globally in 2012; 37% were achieved in the consumer and mobile sector. In this period, more than 5 billion units were sold.

One of the main demand drivers for these sensors was the legislation. For instance, electronic stability control (ESC) systems engineered to help prevent vehicle skidding were a potent driving force in consumption, given the use of steering-wheel-angle sensors and at least four wheel-speed sensors.

ESC mandates helped propel the sensors toward rapid growth during the last several years, especially as they were being enforced in the most important automotive markets such as Europe, North America, Australia, South Korea and Japan.

Overall, Hall-type integrated-circuit (IC) sensors and switches remain the most prominent magnetic sensor device, making up 89 % of market revenue in 2012. Applications for Hall sensors include wheel-speed sensing in anti-lock brake systems; acceleration pedals; electronic throttle valve position; crankshaft sensing and exhaust gas recirculation. In addition, Hall-effect sensors are used in some 30 applications for simple switches in the body of the vehicle. This low-cost application category is dominated by Hall-effect sensors.

Neverthless, the market for Hall-type devices is approaching saturation. For this reason, growth is coming from other areas, including anisotropic magnetoresistance (AMR), giant magnetoresistance (GMR) and tunneling magnetoresistance (TMR). The change in technology mix is driven more by consumer applications—such