Intel-Tower deal shines light on machine vision

An article written by Greg Blackman for Imaging & Machine Vision Europe, in collaboration with Pierre Cambou, Principal Analyst, Imaging and Display at Yole Développement (Yole) – The news that Intel had bought Tower Semiconductor for $5.4 billion sparked plenty of discussion about the reasons behind the deal and the strategy Intel might employ. Intel stated that the acquisition is to help meet growing semiconductor demand, and to accelerate Intel’s path to becoming a major provider of foundry services. Industrial image sensors might not have been high on Intel’s priority list, but, for the machine vision sector, the deal is significant.

According to Yole Développement, one quarter of industrial CMOS image sensors (CIS) are manufactured in Tower fabs. Sony is a key supplier of image sensors for industrial vision, but outside of Sony many fabless sensor firms serving industrial vision rely on Tower.

Gpixel, Teledyne e2v and Teledyne Dalsa all have sensors made by Tower; Guy Meynants, one of the founders of Fillfactory and Cmosis, now at Photolitics, told Imaging and Machine Vision Europe that Fillfactory and Cmosis used Tower foundries ‘nearly all the time’. Cmosis is now owned by Ams, while Fillfactory was bought by On Semiconductor.

Speaking to Imaging and Machine Vision Europe, Pierre Cambou, principal analyst for imaging and displays at Yole Développement, noted that Tower also serves the design houses of Forza Silicon, Pyxalis and Caeleste. He added that Panasonic imaging products, and more recently some Nikon products, are made by Tower’s TPSCo foundries in Japan.

Cambou estimated that sensors make up 16 per cent of Tower’s business, or around $200 million – Tower’s revenue was $1.3 billion in 2020. As well as accounting for a quarter of the industrial CMOS sensor market, Cambou said that Tower had around one third of the medical CIS market along with a significant share of the aerospace and defence CIS market.

Headline image: courtesy of Intel 2022