High-end inertial sensors are the backbone of systems that will enable autonomous transportation and the new space industry.
- Updated forecasts of volumes, market values and average selling prices (ASPs) of gyroscopes, accelerometers, inertial measurement units (IMUs) and inertial navigation systems (INSs)
- Update of the supply chain
- Adjustments of volume, value, ASP
ROBOTICS AND INDUSTRIAL APPLICATIONS REKINDLE THE BURNING INTEREST IN HIGH-END INERTIAL SYSTEMS
It was full speed ahead in 2019 for the aerospace and defense industries. 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 $1,800B according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), with the US accounting for a record $760 billion 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.
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 Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receivers as well.
In 2019, Yole Développement estimated that the global high-end inertial systems market was worth $3.24B, which remains a highly fragmented market with many applications. Defense & military accounted for 40%, while commercial aerospace comprises 26% of this market. Other markets that are highly dependent on inertial systems are commercial naval and industrial markets that claim 18% and 16% market share respectively. Defense & military, commercial aerospace and maritime should have 3-4% Compound Annual Growth Rates (CAGRs) moving forwards in the next five years, while industrial applications look the most promising with more than 10% CAGR. There is strong potential that the high-end inertial market will surpass the $4B milestone by 2025.
In the long term, the market should be driven by long-awaited industrial applications that we predicted before and have already made their first baby steps: robotic cars, autonomous robots, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and microsatellites. New players in these domains come from various backgrounds and are ready to adopt inertial technologies. In these high-volume applications, integrators will be probably technology-agnostic and a good cost, size, weight and power (C-SWAP) could prove beneficial for MEMS, fiber-optic gyroscope (FOG) and hemispherical resonator gyroscope (HRG)- based inertial systems.
Nonetheless, with almost a 4.7% CAGR2019-2025 for the forecast period, the historically stable high-end inertial systems market looks promising.
SHOULD THE TRADITIONAL LEADERS THAT DOMINATE THE MARKET WORRY ABOUT INERTIAL TECHNOLOGY LIFE-CYCLES?
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 ring laser gyroscopes (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 and KVH are trying to evolve by expanding 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, which is 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.
THE GEOGRAPHICAL WINNER AND WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
The inertial system landscape has been traditionally pretty stable. Both in US and globally, Honeywell is still the leader with NG following. Other notable but smaller players include KVH, Kearfott and Emcore/SDI. US companies rule over the high-end inertial systems market, with Europe and Asia as runner-ups.
On one hand, the European inertial market is dominated by Safran, which is by far the biggest player, with revenues that are an order of magnitude higher than other players such as Raytheon Anschutz, iXblue, Sensonor, Meggitt, GEM elettronica, iMAR, Kongsberg, and IAI. On the other hand, a very fragmented market exists in Asia and the rest of the world. The biggest identified players include CASC, JAE and Silicon Sensing. Chinese developments in inertial technologies originate in either military or academic environments, which are difficult to access. And more here.