Yole: Chinese Companies are the New Leaders on the Thermal Imager Market

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 Yole Developpement report "Thermal Imagers and Detectors 2020" updates:

"The current surge of EST [elevated body or surface temperature] applications has transformed the thermal imager manufacturer landscape, at least for thermography. In 2019, US and EU players (FLIR, Lynred, SEEK) were leading this market. Enter COVID-19, and Chinese players (Guide IR, Hikvision, Iray) have turned the tables, surpassing the market leaders, at least in shipments. They rapidly addressed the great domestic demand for thermal imaging systems. Having acquired in the past few years technical competences in thermal imager manufacturing, these Chinese players ramped up their domestic production during the last 2 years, and the current situation has fueled their path to becoming stars. As the epidemic spread across geographies to the west, the rest of the companies reaped the benefits from this hype. But western countries were slower in adopting thermal cameras en masse, due to privacy concerns.

In general, thermal imager production lines are not like other integrated circuit (IC) production lines that work at more than 90% of production capacity. Therefore, for some companies there was not a particular need for investment, besides some increase in consumables and possibly workforce. But for some Chinese companies, it is highly possible that the government has supported their production ramp ups. Moreover, this situation could push Chinese companies to chase investments for future growth, which could rapidly develop the market in the future.

But what could happen next year? Chinese manufacturers have enormous production capacity which risks being left unused. We could be spectators to huge changes in strategy where they could:

  • Revert back to applications such as traditional thermography and surveillance. For  example, companies with existing strong sales channels in traditional non-thermal surveillance can push forward thermal imaging technology. This could potentially lead to big price wars.
  • Find new growth drivers, for example from big markets that are still left untapped. These include consumer applications such as smartphones and smart homes, industrial applications including smart buildings. They could enter the Internet of Things (IoT) world by leveraging megatrends such as 5G and artificial intelligence (AI) in an ultra-connected, intelligent world.

At this point, many uncertainties exist. One thing is sure: exciting times lie ahead for the thermal imaging industry."

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