Interview with Gloria Putnam from Gpixel

  • Gloria Putnam - Marketing Director Americas, Gpixel

We recently had a chance to interview Ms. Gloria Putnam, the Marketing Director Americas at Gpixel, a leading provider of high-performance CMOS image sensors. Gloria has over 20 years of experience in the image sensor business and joined Gpixel in 2019 to direct their marketing efforts in the Americas.

Q. Can you give us a brief history of Gpixel? When was the company founded? Where are you located? And what is your objective?

Gloria Putnam: Gpixel was founded in 2012 by experienced CMOS image sensor designers and semiconductor physicists. The company is headquartered in Changchun, China but has design centers in Hangzhou, Antwerp, and Tokyo. Gpixel’s mission is to provide high performance CMOS image sensors for the specialty markets.

Q. What types of CMOS image sensor products do you develop?

Gloria Putnam: Today Gpixel’s portfolio includes 6 main product families. The GSENSE line of scientific CMOS imagers includes rolling shutter backside illuminated sensors with very low noise and are popular in microscopy and astronomy. The new GLUX sensor family is similar but offers very large pixels and MIPI for easy integration, targeting the lowest light applications like surveillance under starlight conditions. The GMAX sensors offer global shutter, high frame rates, and resolutions from 5MP to over 100MP and are used in applications ranging from 3D laser scanning to aerial imaging.

Our GSPRINT family also offers global shutter pixels but with larger pixel sizes and higher speeds, for example the GSPRINT4521 offers 21MP resolution at 1000 fps. Gpixel also offers high speed linear sensors in a variety of resolutions and a backslide illuminated TDI sensor in the GL product family. Most recently, Gpixel launched a new product family with the GTOF0503 indirect time of flight sensor for depth sensing applications.

Q. What differentiates your image sensor products from other manufacturers?

Gloria Putnam: One of Gpixel’s key advantages is the ability to incorporate new technologies very quickly, so our sensor portfolio offers customers early access to new performance improvements in image sensors. Gpixel was the first to offer backside illumination in CMOS sensors for scientific use, for example. Gpixel was also the first to offer industrial sensors utilizing a 2.5 um global shutter pixel. Today, GSPRINT4521 is the fastest CMOS sensor available as a standard product. The new time of flight sensor is based on both backside illumination and pixel-level wafer stacking technology. This technology leadership position, combined with Gpixel’s competitive pricing, makes the portfolio especially compelling.

Q. What technologies are your image sensors based on? Which technology do you use most? Has there been any major new development in terms of image sensing technology over the last few years? Can you tell us about this?

Gloria Putnam: The requirements for the applications served by Gpixel products are quite varied. For each product family, Gpixel selects the optimal combination of technologies to best achieve our customer’s goals. For example, in the GSENSE family, backside illumination offers quantum efficiencies over 95% and high charge-to-voltage conversion makes read noise below 1 electron possible. For the GMAX and GSPRINT families, the performance of the global shutter is critical, so front side illumination is preferred, and the innovations have been in optimizing the pixel and developing read out architectures that enable very high frame rates.

The combination of backside illumination and pixel-level wafer stacking incorporated in the GTOF sensor family is the most exciting new development in image sensors because it enables a combination of exceptional sensitivity, parallel readout architectures for high speed without the usual tradeoffs, and on-chip storage and processing of image data. Gpixel will be launching new products using this technology and expanding the use of its unique capabilities over the next few years.

Q. What industries and applications are Gpixel products used by? Which is the largest industry for you at the moment? Which industry/application do you feel will grow the most to become significant in the next few years?

Gloria Putnam: Gpixel focuses on specialty applications, meaning non-consumer applications. This includes scientific imaging, medical imaging, automation and inspection, and professional photography and video. Due to the enthusiastic adoption of the GMAX family, the industrial market has become the fastest growing segment for Gpixel. All segments of the specialty image sensor market are growing steadily, and Gpixel continues to gain share in each targeted subsegment. But we expect the industrial portion of our business to continue to be the fastest growing over the next few years.

Q. Do you offer a standard set of products, or can you customize products based on a requirement? What is the % break up of standard products to custom products in terms of revenue?

Gloria Putnam: In addition to our broad portfolio of standard products, we also offer customization. Our customization services range from standard product modifications to fully bespoke image sensors developed based on a customer’s unique requirements. Although most of Gpixel’s revenue comes from standard product sales, customized sensors are an important part of our business and above all a driver for innovation.

Q. What product did you announce with Tower Semiconductors? Can you tell us more about this product?

Gloria Putnam: Recently we announced GTOF0305 for 3D imaging in collaboration with Tower Semiconductor. GTOF0305 incorporates a 3-tap 5 um indirect time-of-flight pixel into a cost effective ¼” sensor with VGA resolution, utilizing the latest image sensor manufacturing technologies including backside illumination and pixel-level wafer stacking. This first introduction in Gpixel’s time-of-flight sensor family provides superb performance for a broad range of fast-growing depth sensing and distance measurement applications such as vision guided robotics, bin picking, automated guided vehicles, automotive and factory automation. Today samples of GTOF0305 are available as bare die but will also offer the sensor in a 9 mm x 9 mm ceramic package in the near future.

Q. Who are your customers? Where are they located? What is the % geographical breakup?

Gloria Putnam: Our customers are camera makers and equipment manufacturers all over the world working in the most demanding specialty vision applications. Today about half of our revenue comes from our Chinese customers, while the remainder is split primarily between the Americas, Europe and the rest of Asia.

Q. How has 2020/2021 been for Gpixel from a business point of view? Did COVID impact your business in any way?

Gloria Putnam: The diversity of Gpixel’s business, both in terms of applications and geography, helped us weather the pandemic without slowing our growth in terms of revenue, hiring, or new product development. We were also lucky not to be impacted by any COVID-related supply chain disruptions, and our headquarters in China was only closed for 1 week early in the year. In terms of sales, we did see a slowdown in some scientific imaging applications during 2020, but those markets are now making up for lost time as researchers have come back to the lab and are making equipment upgrades originally planned for last year. Although there was some slowing of the industrial markets during 2020 due to COVID, especially in segments serving automotive manufacturing, market share growth masked this downturn for Gpixel. One noticeable change for us has been talking to many of our customers in video conferences instead of in-person visits. But the result of this transition is that the barrier to meeting is much lower; conversations can be more casual and tend to happen more frequently.

Q. What is your product and company roadmap for the next few years?

Gloria Putnam: Gpixel’s business is growing fast, and we are hiring in Changchun, Hangzhou, Antwerp and Tokyo to expand our already impressive capacity for new product development and commercialization. We are focused on our customer’s most urgent needs: breaking the low noise barrier in scientific imaging, providing even higher resolutions and speeds for productivity in automation, and enabling the highest precision and accuracy in depth sensing. Soon we will be launching a new product family for the professional imaging segment that will be especially exciting for the UAV and drone market. Gpixel will continue to focus on the unique needs of the specialty imaging market while expanding our portfolio to serve more of its applications. 

Click here to explore the Gpixel product portfolio.

Click here to view CMOS image sensors from Gpixel on GoPhotonics.