ULIS, the developer of thermal imaging sensors, who originally spun out of the CEA-Leti research institute in France and part of the larger Sofradir Group, is expected to double its spending on technology development activity after a strong rise in sensor sales last year. Sales of €61.5 million in 2016 were up 30 per cent year-on-year, and are said to have grown at a compound annual average rate of 20 per cent over the past 15 years. At €15 million, the new level of research spending will equate to 20 per cent of annual revenues, double than the previous percentage.
According to ULIS, the increase in research spending was intended to “democratize” thermal imaging sensors, making the technology available and affordable for virtually any application area. Back in 2012, ULIS invested around €20 million to triple capacity at its manufacturing operation in Veurey-Voroize, partly by shifting its CMOS sensor production process to larger-diameter silicon wafers in a bid to target more cost-sensitive applications. Since then, the ULIS workforce has grown from 140 to around 200 employees. Over the past 15 years, the company reckons that it has spent a cumulative €70 million improving production tools and processes, ramping its output from only a couple of thousand units per year to several hundred thousand units today. The company expects to deliver its millionth component shortly.
In scaling up and cutting the cost of its microbolometer technology, ULIS has been able to target sectors like firefighting, automotive and outdoor leisure pursuits - building on the more traditional application areas of defense and surveillance. Recent innovations include ULIS’ first family of sensors featuring a pixel pitch of 12 µm, with the uncooled devices said to enable a 20 per cent cut in overall costs by reducing the size of associated optics required for thermal imaging. That introduction follows similar strategic moves by FLIR Systems and BAE Systems to cut the cost of thermal imaging sensors, and ULIS claims it is now the second-largest producer of microbolometers globally.
With the latest hike in research investment, the company expects to penetrate the emerging markets for thermal imaging in consumer electronics and smart buildings. For more information, click here.