Engineering 101

High-End Inertial Sensors: Dawn of a Mass-Adoption?

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“In 2019, we estimate that the global high-end inertial systems market reached more than US$3 billion, which remains a highly fragmented market with many applications,” said Dimitrios Damianos PhD, Technology and Market Analyst within the Photonics and Sensing division at Yole Développement (Yole). “There is strong potential that the high-end inertial market will surpass the $4 billion milestone by 2025. At Yole we announce a 4.7% CAGR during this period.”

Guillaume Girardin, Director of the Photonics and Sensing Division at Yole added: “In the long term, the market should be driven by long-awaited industrial applications. Yole predicted it before and these applications have already made their first baby steps: robotic cars, autonomous robots, IIoT and microsatellites.”

New players in these domains come from various backgrounds and are ready to adopt inertial technologies. “Honeywell is a good example,” commented Sylvain Hallereau, Senior Technology & Cost Analyst at System Plus Consulting. “This company is leading the high-end inertial industry for a while. Honeywell develops its own technologies and also integrates solutions proposed by devices makers such as STMicroelectronics. Behind this strategy, its aim is to offer to its customers a wide portfolio including the main inertial technologies, and especially MEMS”.

In these high-volume applications, integrators will be probably technology-agnostic and a good C-SWAP could prove beneficial for MEMS , FOG and HRG -based inertial systems. Nonetheless, with almost a 4.7% annual growth rate for the forecast period, the historically stable high-end inertial systems market looks promising.

Yole Group of Companies including System Plus Consulting and Yole are combining their expertise to release valuable analyzes dedicated to the high-end inertial sector. Both companies investigate this industry with emerging and existing technologies, competitive landscape and market quantification to deliver today a comprehensive description of this industry and a detailed analysis of technology choices made by the leading players.

In this dynamic environment, defense accounted for 40%, while commercial aerospace comprises 26% of this market. Other markets, highly dependent on inertial systems are commercial naval and industrial markets. Both segments are showing 18% and 16% market share respectively. Defense, commercial aerospace and maritime should have between three and four percent CAGRs moving forwards, while industrial applications look the most promising with more than ten percent CAGR in the next five years.

“It was full speed ahead in 2019 for the aerospace and defense industries” affirmed Dimitrios Damianos from Yole. “In defense, increased government spending amidst rising geopolitical tensions led to the top six defense contractors reporting a 12% increase in revenue.”

The estimated global defense/military spending was approximately $1,800bn according to the SIPRI, with the US accounting for a record $760bn defense expenditure. Aerospace is also gaining momentum, with commercial aircraft recording large deliveries and backlogs with 39,000 new planes to be delivered up to 2038 according to the US Federal Aviation Administration.

For Guillaume Girardin, from Yole: “High-end inertial units are one of the key components in these systems, for navigation, stabilization and other purposes. These include a combination of accelerometers and gyroscopes, and in some cases more complicated structures such as attitude heading reference or navigation systems that can include magnetometers and GNSS receivers as well”.

The inertial system market has passed through different technological stages. Indeed, some changes seem to appear on the market in almost 20-year technology cycles from first application to maturity.

Initially, mechanical gyros appeared, and then optical RLGs and FOGs followed. Honeywell still dominates the market with its legacy RLG technology, while Northrop Grumman and Safran dominate the FOG market.

Other smaller FOG companies such as iXblue, KVH, Emcore are benefiting from the robotic vehicle market. They expand their capabilities to compete against RLG in the higher-performance segment and against silicon MEMS in the lower performance segment. KVH is chasing high-volume manufacturing with its newly-announced photonic FOG. It’s a miniaturized version of a FOG that could be used in autonomous vehicles and is already in evaluation programs.

Currently, the HRG phase is reaching maturity, thanks to interesting breakthroughs in high-volume manufacturing, especially by Safran. This may change the landscape in mid-term, and this could also potentially impact the RLG business.

Nevertheless, MEMS has made its debut in the high-end inertial systems market. While traditionally originating from consumer and other low-end commercial applications, silicon MEMS has a low C-SWAP. It is continuously improving and pushing FOG out of many industrial and some tactical applications that are considered high-end, at 1-10°/h in-run bias instability performance.

However, silicon MEMS gyros are still immature to expand in other applications that require bias instability below 1°/h. Could this become reality in the 10-20 year timeframe? Many traditional players are trying to ride the upcoming MEMS wave, such as Honeywell, NG, Safran, and UTC, who are already using silicon MEMS technologies.

Sylvain Hallereau from System Plus Consulting added: “In order to achieve a cost effective and small module, Honeywell uses five MEMS components from STMicroelectronics developed for the smartphone industry. This design allows Honeywell to exploit STMicroelectronics’ low-cost portfolio and thus to optimize manufacturing cost”.

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