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Medical, industrial magnetic MEMS getting green boost

Posted: 28 Sep 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:magnetic sensor? renewable energy? magneto-resistive ICs? Hall and Reed switches?

Accordong to IHS iSuppli's latest magnetic sensor report, the market for semiconductor magnetic sensors used in industrial and medical application has expanded by 6 per cent last year. This expansion was primarily driven by green energy initiatives.

The report states that in 2011, revenue for industrial and medical magnetic sensors amounted to $118.2 million, increasing from $111.9 million in 2010. Although revenue in this segment is minute when matched to other magnetic sensor areas like automotive and wireless-consumer, the industrial and medical categories will fuel continued expansion for the sensors in the years to come.

The report also projects that by 2016, revenue for this particular magnetic sensor segment is forecast to climb to $175.5 million, equivalent to a five-year compound annual growth rate of 8 per cent.

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Figure: Worldwide Revenue Forecast for Magnetic Sensors Industrial and Medical Application (Millions of US Dollars) Source: IHS iSuppli, September 2012


Richard Dixon, Ph.D., principal analyst for MEMS and sensors at IHS, stated that the main growth driver in the industrial market is renewable energy, such as solar installations and wind turbines. Meanwhile, motors of all kinds consume an estimated 45 per cent of all electricity generated worldwide, and huge energy savings are possible by improving their efficiency. Government legislations implemented with an eye towards reducing energy consumption have also acted as a boon for the sensors.

Industrial apps start maximisation of Magnetic Sensors
The semiconductor magnetic sensor market consists of Hall-effect and magneto-resistive semiconductor integrated circuits (ICs) that are used to track rotational speed and linear angles in machines and devices, or to detect and process magnetic fields to establish positioning. For the industrial and medical applications in particular, the sensors are utilised in motors in order to improve their energy efficiency. Sensors also are present in a range of medical devices in which some form of motor control is involved, such as pumps.

The bulk of revenue last year, at 70 per cent, was from industrial applications, with medical uses accounting for the remaining 30 per cent.

Examples of motors in which magnetic sensors are used include low-voltage AC and DC motors, three-phase inductive motors, stepper- and servo-type motors, single-phase motors and compact motor drives.

Elsewhere for industrial uses, magnetic sensors are implemented in the uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) for machines like computer servers, welding systems, robotics, train transport infrastructure, off-road vehicles and forklift trucks.

The most prevalent types of magnetic sensors being used for industrial applications are electric current sensors, including shunt resistors, Hall-effect integrated circuits, current-sensing transformers, open- and closed-loop Hall devices, and fluxgate transducers. In many applications measuring lower currents at less than 50A, such as residential solar inverter applications or smaller UPS settings, simple resistive bars or shunts are used.

But as the size of the current to be measured increases, shunts become bulky and expensive. In higher- current applications like large inverter motors, open- and closed-loop Hall sensors deploy Hall-effect ICs in a small package with an amplifier; more integrated versions with an application-specific integrated circuit inside the package are also possible. Hall ICs likewise are designed into industrial washing machine inverter-control applications.

Outside of electric current sensors, smaller magnetic sensor markets exist for either stand-alone Hall effect ICs or magnetoresistive sensor switches, which are used for motor commutation to reduce ripple and improve performance, or for position measurement.

Magnetic sensors crucial to Medical Applications
Magnetic sensor use in medical applications, although much smaller than in the industrial sectors, can be life-saving or life-enhancing. Usage can found mostly in medical devices using commutation sensors for motor control, in applications such as ventilator machines; infusion, insulin and syringe pumps; or kidney dialysis machines.

Another example of medical use for the sensors is in simple centrifuges for preparing samples. The sensors contribute to smooth control of small motors, making them quieter and more reliable.

Switches are similarly a salient application, finding their way into medication-dispensing cabinets that can be operated remotely, or in bed-positioning and hearing aids. For hearing aids, giant magneto resistive sensor ICs (GMR) competes with Hall and Reed switches.

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