PARIS – Ulis announced a 20 million euros ($24 million) investment in a new infrared facility near Grenoble, France, to penetrate emerging high volume markets such as automotive and low-resolution sensors.
Ulis, a France-based provider of infrared imaging sensors, uses amorphous silicon microbolometer technology (aSi). The technology is today used in a broad range of commercial and military applications like thermography, night vision, surveillance, firefighting, search and rescue, and home energy audits.
For the first time, Ulis said it will introduce to the market a series of low cost IR sensors. "There is a huge market demand now, and Ulis' offer meets market expectations in terms of cost, performance and reliability," declared Jean-François Delepau, managing director of Ulis, to EETimes.
Delepau continued: "Existing offers based on alternative technologies cannot meet market expectations. For example, these low image-resolution IR sensors require a real technological breakthrough in terms of low power and low cost technologies. ULIS owns the competitive advantage here."
According to the recently published report by Yole Développement (Lyon, France), "Uncooled Infrared Imaging: Commercial & Military Applications", sales of uncooled IR cameras will grow from 320,000 units in 2011 to 1.1 million units in 2017. The market share for uncooled IR imagers for commercial applications is expected to represent more than 80 percent of the total uncooled IR imaging market, with the part for military applications declining from about 30 percent to 15 percent.
With the new facility, Ulis said it will move production from 150 mm CMOS wafers to 200 mm CMOS wafers and introduce a series of low image resolution IR sensors for applications such as enhancing energy efficiency of heating/cooling systems or detecting people. The shift to 200 mm will enable the integration of additional functions onto the IR chips. This could include adding more memory for voltage reading.
200mm CMOS wafer
"To fill the capability gaps that cannot be met by single element sensors, such as those used to detect motion, Ulis will develop sensors (less than 100x100) for two types of applications: a small format low image-resolution sensor and a small format sensor with no image," commented Delepau.
First, Delepau explained that the low-resolution imaging sensor will be used to check hot and cold spots in walls, floors and ceilings, as well as for building and electrical systems maintenance etc. to locate areas of temperature loss or gain. These sensors will offer more functionality making it easier and quicker to use than current non-contact infrared hot spot thermometers that need to sweep a whole surface area in order to locate the hot or cold spot.
Ulis’ low-resolution image sensors will be able to map an image and show the user exactly when the hot or cold spots are, Delepau claimed.
Moving to the small format sensor with no image, Delepau said it aims to provide more complex data to systems than currently available with single element sensors, which are limited to detecting signals of motion. They will be able to inform the system about the number of people present in a room, even when the people are static or bring other elements in a room into the calculation that could impact air temperature, such as the temperature of the walls. All this data would be taken into account and the air conditioning/heating system would adjust accordingly.
These high-volume, low cost IR sensors will use new packaging technologies, such as Pixel Level and Wafer Level Packaging technologies (PLP and WLP), Ulis noted. PLP and WLP technologies involve packaging an IR chip at wafer level rather than using the traditional method of assembling the package of each individual chip after wafer dicing.
Thermal image automotive Automotive night vision
The facility, due to be operational mid-2013, will be built at the company's headquarters in Veurey-Vorize, near Grenoble, France.
Delepau said the initial capacity will be 200,000 units per annum. Ultimately, the capacity is expected to reach up to 1,500,000 units per annum.
Founded in 2002, Ulis said it has recorded double-digit compound growth each consecutive year, with the exception of 2009. Revenues amounted to 45 million euros in ($55 million) in 2011.
The company began operation with 35 employees and one product. In 2012, the French company employs 140 people with two product lines covering applications from thermography to the automotive market.