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The Eye of all things | Domestic sensor Breakthrough Story



A large but not strong gauge

Sensors can accurately measure pressure, temperature, concentration, etc., in nearly 30,000 categories, covering almost every corner of all industries. However, it is a pity that domestic sensors are not strong in high-end occasions in most industrial fields. In the field of mobile phone RF sensors, there are Broadcom, Qorvo; In the field of industrial measurement, there are Bosch, Honeywell. As a combination of mechanical, optical and electrical sensors, it may be the most vulnerable industry in the field of basic components in China.

Sensors are a special industry. Although the domestic market has an output value of 180 billion yuan, there are many subdivisions, and its principle is transparent, but the process is very complex, is rare in the manufacturing industry with a "craft" atmosphere of industrial products, technical know-how is hidden in the process.

Domestic sensors still need to occupy the high-end market, so how do foreign sensors develop?

Sensor powers are mainly the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, but also scattered in some countries in Europe. Seriously summed up, they mainly use four ways to make an inconspicuous, unobtrusive and quiet industry thrive.


The octopus has multiple tentacles to burrow down

Many sensor manufacturers choose to combine with larger instrumentation or electronics companies. The group development strategy of some industrial giants is to adopt a clear brand matrix layout for sensors, which is cross-combined through multi-brands and multi-products in different fields.

Take Fluke, an American electronic test tool company. It is a spin-off from the Danaher Group, a merger maniac with more than 40 brands in areas such as automation and measurement. It has two trump cards, one is Danaher lean production is very disciplined, can be said to be the best student of Toyota; The other is that in 2019, it contributed to the first CEO candidate in GE's 100-year history who was not promoted from within GE (Extended reading: GE | the 100-year history of Edison's legacy...). There are mergers and acquisitions, and Fluke is its "free-range" little giant, the company's 2020 revenue of $1.4 billion, under the ten brands. It closely combines sensors with test tools, spawning a variety of handheld measuring instruments that are almost inseparable from today's industrial sites.

Fluke octopus technique

One layer controls the other, and multiple tentacles extend to different industries. Also the military and the people, also the whole machine and parts, showing a special form of American manufacturing. Through the advantages of group and diversified tentacles, like an octopus, to ensure that even sub-brands with only tens of millions of revenue in the market segment can still survive. The relationship between American instrument manufacturers and sensor manufacturers is often a combination of the palm and the back of the hand, and sensor products are supplied for other brands, but also to ensure their core competitiveness in the instrumentation industry.

American Ametek, which ranks Top10 in global instrument revenue, has a revenue of $5.2 billion in fiscal year 2021 and has more than 10 instrument and sensor brands. The temperature, pressure, fuel, liquid level and other sensors are widely used in commercial aviation, military, industrial fields. Its sensors are used in almost all aircraft engines.

The company's business logic is complicated to analyze, and it completed four acquisitions in 2020 related to level control, software human-machine interfaces and robot automation, while the late 2021 acquisition of Alphasense in the United Kingdom is for air quality sensors. Alphasense is actually very small, with annual sales of only 200 million yuan, however, the company's products are the world's second largest electrochemical sensors, the specificity of the sensor industry is such that the overall market size is not small, but there are many subdivisions. Rather than "hidden champions", in fact, many sensor companies can be described as "micro champions", with an annual income of 500 million yuan, but the products are top in the industry. For small businesses in many areas of the sensor industry, the global layout is the most recommended business logic.

At the same time, such companies are often heavy suppliers of national defense and military industry, and the frequent customers of our country's "blacklist", Loma and Raytheon, are inseparable from Ametek's products, and domestic sensors are really a long way to go


String the sugar gourd from end to end

Before the sensor reaches the user, the front needs to rely on the breakthrough of chips, materials, and electronic signal boards, and the back needs to rely on instruments and engineering integrators. In this case, end-user-oriented equipment integrators, or engineers, play a series role. Doing both meters and sensors is another path.

The relationship between the instrument and the sensor is the most obvious, because the "sugar gourd string" is the easiest to string. Chongqing Chuanyi is the domestic leader in chemical pressure instruments, and supports the development of sensors through the advantages of instruments as purchasers. Why have HP and Canon MEMS sensors always been in the Top20 position in the world? Although they don't share much of the benefits of mobile phone sensors, their inkjet printers all use their own MEMS sensors. This integrated approach also guarantees these brands a global market position in the field of MEMS sensors.

The essence of sugar gourd skewers is to find neighbors on the industrial chain. The infrared sensor of Wuhan Dare has developed rapidly in the past two years, thanks to the early accumulation of gas pools in one of the three key components of the infrared sensor. Get a part done right, and then there's a chance. This is like building a car, or first put together a car, through the whole car to occupy the market, and then to build the engine. Or you could build your own engine and then move on to a full vehicle. In the industrial chain, string to string, the sensor tree is alive. Only by mastering the upstream source can the cost and technology be controllable.

In the high-fidelity headphone OEM brand outstandingGoer, sales revenue reached nearly 60 billion in 2020. But the number one big customer, accounting for nearly 50%, is yes, Apple headphones. With the acquisition of SONY Electronics' lens and sensor technology, Ophil Optics has entered the Apple supply chain with a mobile phone lens module. Three years, in 2019, the shipments of mobile phone lens modules of Oufei Light topped the industry, and the total revenue in 2020 was close to 50 billion, which is a volume with Goer. But in March 2021, after being kicked out of the supply chain by Apple, his value plummeted. The gap between the front and the back inevitably makes everyone in the supply chain vulnerable. Goerl was aware of this dangerous dependence. It set up a company in 2017, mainly to do MEMS sensors, 2020 revenue of 1.3 billion, can rank sixth in the world. Independently, on the one hand, it is to avoid risks, and on the other hand, it is also to develop again with the bonus period of the current MEMS sensor.

From the way Goerearphones, Chongqing Chuan Yi, split the sensor forward, this sugar gourd string model is a direct way to learn from the current Chinese sensor development. Henan Hanwei is a step forward, through engineering application projects, to feed the sensor. It makes the market bigger with engineering applications and drives the basic research of sensors in reverse. The overall revenue is more than 2 billion yuan, of which sensors account for 10%. These two incomes, one determines the volume and nutrients, the other determines the core value. Only with a large amount of nutrients can we gradually replace the world's first and second brands, City and AlphaSense, in the field of electrochemical sensors. This is the value of the sugar gourd string, with a larger volume and sensor capabilities, open technology, products to the market, the next step can go to the octopus road, horizontal expansion.


One axle of the spoke is more than one shoulder

Without the support of large groups behind them, how can independent sensor manufacturers survive? Sensor makers with deep pockets, such as Bosch, appear to be independent. However, Bosch, as the world's largest auto parts manufacturer and consumer electronic sensor manufacturer, has already had a wide layout in automobiles, mobile phones, home appliances, and the integration of chips, sensors and electronic parts. To analyze such companies, one cannot fail to see the powerful synergies behind them. Honeywell's dominance in the field of industrial process automation also brings a lot of shade to its sensors. The exception is Siemens, the automation giant that seems to have never understood the essence of sensors. Although there is a sensor and communication department, the communication capability is always stronger than the sensor. Related to this, it also feels like a snooze in the field of meters. The final blow to Siemens' ambitions in the process industry was the merging of the process automation division into the digital factory two years ago. At that time, Siemens' semiconductor business unit was also unique, and it was split out in 1999, so that the current name of Infineon chips and sensors was achieved, but Siemens itself had no chance with chips and sensors.

The latest example of Siemens giving up on sensors is its sale of Swiss Fuba HUBA to Intellectual Capital in July 2020. Zhi Lu Capital is the legend of China's manufacturing capital, its $1.4 billion acquisition of South Korean chip maker Megna (unfortunately vetoed by the United States), China's Taiwan ASE closed the mainland factory, and even took over the Unigroup Group, all reflect their big pattern. For the future of Chinese manufacturing, Wisdom Road Asset Management company is very forward-looking and determined. The acquisition of Swiss Fuba is a good poker game. It focuses on sensor chips and sensors for pressure measurement technology. Revenue in fiscal 2019 was also 700 million yuan. Of course, staying in the hands of Zhilu capital is only a transition, and finding a suitable instrument is a better development for the future of Fuba.

Germany's Sicke Optronics Sick, as a very independent sensor business company, gave a correct answer of their own. Germany is a sensor power, there are a lot of sensor manufacturers, most of them are family businesses, or township enterprises.

Germany's Hick Sensor company will have revenue of 12 billion yuan in 2020. Their products are for so many industries that they can be found in different factories, different machines, and different logistics and storage Spaces. Thicke's product line should be the most complete sensor in the field of process, factory and logistics automation, and if it is combined with Germany's Endeshaus E+H meters, you can basically make a complete set.

In other words, a sensor company must cover multiple industries in order to share basic research and development costs. This requires knowledge of all industries, which is, of course, the hardest part. The Swiss Kistler Company is also focused on only doing sensors, and its annual revenue will reach 2.8 billion yuan in 2021. In the automotive industry power test bench, powertrain, tire testing and other links are inseparable from its accurate measurement. In fact, 70% of its revenue comes from the automotive industry. Its high-end sensor products in the field of machine tools, almost no one can replace. Six-dimensional force piezoelectric sensor, used for machine tool cutting force test, a set of 600,000 yuan. Cutting force is not standard, very few machine tool products will be used, but this is a symbol of the strong strength of the sensor. By finding a variety of application scenarios in different fields, Kistler can survive only with the sensor business.

The industry form of sensors, which seeks to survive to the limit, presents a different product phenomenon of "micro-batch uneconomic". Many products can only be used in very special occasions, but there are still companies to develop it. It's not worth investing in research and development for such a small quantity. So why do companies like Kistler develop this kind of product, and can its revenue compensate for the research and development investment?

This is a phenomenon of technological centripetal force in depth to the underlying technology. For Kistler, whether it is the explosion pressure of the barrel, the combustion pressure of the engine block, or the cutting force of the machine tool, these are based on the extended application of piezoelectric technology. It is through the way of "one axis with many spokes" that the sensor breaks through the underlying technology and fan-radiates to the periphery, thereby solving the phenomenon of "micro-batch uneconomy". It can be changed from a small batch of sensors to a large volume of sensors with minor modifications. Tianjin Yike's high-precision laser displacement sensor is precisely because it can find a powerful development space in a variety of different occasions such as automobiles and logistics, and all the way up.

It's the ability to get across the track. Sensor manufacturers need to learn this if they want to survive.