2019 reshuffled the 3D imaging & sensing ecosystem

The mobile 3D sensing supply chain is changing rapidly before our eyes.

The expansion started in 2017 with the introduction of structural light cameras inside Apple’s flagship phones. Companies like Lumentum, ams and STMicroelectronics (STM) won this first round but, due to exclusivity rights and potential capacity issues, other competitors such as Princeton Optronics and Finisar were ready to expand, so the market quickly became more competitive.
In 2019 Finisar was acquired by II-VI, which helped consolidate an existing industrial customer base. During this period there were several other big mergers, such as Philips Photonics being acquired by Trumpf and ams swallowing OSRAM. Trumpf and ams are both actively moving into the android camp’s 3D camera supply chain, providing VCSEL to Samsung and Huawei respectively.
This results are coming from the 3D Sensing & Imaging report, published today by Yole Développement.

Among the 3D sensing competitors, we should give special notice to the emergence of ams. It is probably the best representative of 3D sensing supply chain transformation, convergence and rapid growth. Since 2015 they have actively integrated internal and external resources.
It started with the acquisition of CMOSIS in 2015, then the acquisition of micro-optical device company Heptagon in 2016, followed by the acquisition of VCSEL company Princeton Optronics in 2017. They quickly became a billion-dollar giant able to compete all along the 3D sensing device value chain, even though it only really succeeded on the emitter side. ams has been very active in China, working with Chinese companies, such as Sunny Optical and Megvii, to expand into broader markets such as the consumer, industrial and automotive markets.

Speaking of China, another player is entering the 3D sensing ecosystem. The VCSEL output beam of the flood emitter for TOF schemes requires no coding and is therefore easier to produce. This helped a Chinese supplier, Vertilite, to enter the market. They have already won orders for Huawei 3D sensing in 2019. This move was also driven by the policy of China to cultivate local supply chains in the middle of the US-China trade conflict.

On the receiver chip side, STM has been the sole supplier of NIR Global Shutter (GS) sensors for the structured light scheme of Apple, with no double sourcing for the time being, but with no expansion into the android camp either. OmniVision fulfilled this role of supplying the android camp with NIR GS sensors. In 2019 the company was delisted from the US stock market and then acquired by Chinese semiconductor company, Willsemi, which is now a subsidiary of a listed Chinese company.

3D ToF is currently the most important technology for mobile rear 3D sensing. TOF camera technology was first applied to smart phones in 2016 when Google and Lenovo jointly launched the world’s first smart phone, the Phab2 Pro, equipped with TOF camera module using PMD Infineon’s TOF array.
A year before that, Sony had bought SoftKinetic, a Belgian gesture-recognition company with a well-known DepthSense TOF sensing system. Sony released the world’s smallest TOF module two years later. This move brought Sony from a zero-market share position in 3D sensing receiver chips to 45% by the time TOF took off in 2019. With its strong technology and supply capabilities, Sony is expected to continue to maintain its leadership position. But as there has always been competition in this area of CIS chip manufacturing, competition will rise.
PMD Infineon recently announced a matching chip, and we also expect CIS giant Samsung, along with STMicroelectronics, to bring to market their own indirect ToF array sensors in 2020. Generally speaking, the competition remains very high among a small group of CIS players.

In the competition of mobile 3D camera module makers, LG and Sunny Optical are the representatives of front and rear 3D cameras respectively. In addition, there are also lenses, filters and other components in the supply chain, which basically share the same ecosystem as 2D cameras, and  benefit more or less equally from the growth of the industry.

In the medium term we should expect more opportunities for M&As as automotive Lidar applications may come into play. There are a large number of emerging companies, full of competitive spirit. There are also a few Chinese startups, such as Hesai Technology, RoboSense , LeiShen Intelligence etc. The underlying semiconductor products are the same: CIS chips, VCSEL, MEMS, Wafer level optical elements, so the ecosystem is not expected to stand still in 2020.

About the authors

Pierre Cambou - Yole Développement

Pierre Cambou, MSc, MBA, is a Principal analyst in the Photonic and Display Division at Yole Développement (Yole). Pierre’s mission is dedicated to imaging related activities by providing market & technology analyses along with strategy consulting services to semiconductor companies. He is responsible for the CIS Quarterly Market Monitor while he has authored more than 15 Yole reports. He has been deeply involved from the beginning in the design of mobile camera modules and the introduction of 3D semiconductor approaches to CMOS Image Sensors (CIS). And known as an expert in the imaging industry, he is regularly interviewed and quoted by leading international media.
Pierre has an Engineering degree from Université de Technologie de Compiègne (France) and a Master of Science from Virginia Tech. (VA, USA). Pierre also graduated with an MBA from Grenoble Ecole de Management (France).

Richard Liu, is a Technology and Market Analyst in the Photonics, Sensing & Display division at Yole Développement, part of Yole Group of Companies. Based in Shenzhen (China), Richard is dedicated on imaging activity (Monitors) as well as the development of technology & market reports.
Prior to Yole, Richard was engaged in camera module design on image sensor, AF/OIS at Onsemi, before this, he worked as a customer-application-technologist in Micron/Aptina Imaging. Richard has over 12 years post graduate experience in both of imaging semiconductor and camera module industry, he has the successful track record in developing projects for the tier one smart phone and module makers, which brought him wide industry connection in the CMOS image sensor supply chain and ecosystem.
Richard graduated from Wuhan University (China) and holds an Electronics Engineering Degree.

Related reports and monitor:

3D Imaging & Sensing 2020
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Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 3D Time of Flight Depth Sensing Camera Module 2020
Deep analysis of the rear 3D sensing module with Sony’s 2nd Generation CIS.

CIS Quarterly Market Monitor
As camera quantity and die size increase per end-device, a 10.1% year-on-year growth rate is expected for 2019.