Surface Science: Yen Devaluation Steals the Show

The market for surface-science techniques consists of five individual technology segments made up of instruments that provide 2-D and 3-D imaging of microscopic samples. Traditional optical microscopes are the largest individual market, but other varieties of microscopes are also considered in this segment. Growth for the surface-science market is expected to be over 4% in 2015, and total market demand will reach $6.4 billion.

Optical microscopes accounted for more than $3 billion in demand in 2014, making up nearly half of the total surface-science market. The span of products included in the optical-microscopy segment is quite broad, ranging from relatively simple educational microscopes to the most cutting-edge imaging technology. Superresolution microscopes continue to cause excitement in the market, and research laboratories, particularly in academia and government, which are still accelerating their uptake of these high-performance instruments despite budgetary concerns in the public sector. While more traditional optical microscopes are not experiencing as much sales growth, the overall average growth for optical-microscopy demand is forecast at about 4%. The primary vendors of optical microscopes are Leica Microsystems (Danaher), Carl Zeiss, Nikon and Olympus. These four firms dominate the competitive landscape, although there are numerous small optical-microscope vendors across the globe.

Representing about 35% of the total surface-science market, the electron-microscopy segment includes both traditional scanning and transmission electron-microscopes and focus–ion beam (FIB) instruments as well as the significant market for x-ray spectrometers and other subsidiary analyzers that provide compositional information to the images. The forecast for 2015 is for cooling in this market but still positive demand from the semiconductor industry (one of the primary end-user markets), along with stable and growing demand from the research market and other industrial sources. Overall, the electron-microscopy segment is slated to grow about 4.9% for the year, reaching more than $2.2 billion. The major vendors of electron microscopes are FEI, JEOL, Hitachi High-Technologies and Carl Zeiss.

The strongest growth in the surface-science segment is expected to come from the scanning-probe microscopy (SPM) market, which includes various forms of atomic-force microscopes. This technology has been an exciting area of new developments and methods for some time, and the market continues to expand rapidly. Of the three smaller segments within the surface-science market, the SPM market is the largest and is forecast to grow 8.1% in 2015. Bruker is the global leader in this technology, but many other significant players exist, including the Russian firm NT-MDT, UK-based Oxford Instruments, and Japanese companies Hitachi and Shimadzu.

Confocal microscopy, although related to optical microscopy, is sufficiently distinct to justify separate treatment. These microscopes not only provide excellent spatial resolution but also enable 3-D imaging in optical wavelengths. Confocal microscopy is commonly combined with fluorescence, which provides additional capabilities in life science research. This market is dominated by the primary optical-microscope vendors, and growth will be driven mainly by research applications rather than industrial applications.

Surface analyzers is the remaining product segment, and it groups together several different but related methods for probing surfaces at the micro- and nanoscale. Demand in this segment is strongly tied to the semiconductor industry and materials-science research. While semiconductor capital expenditures will slow in 2015 compared with last year, overall growth for surface analyzers, forecast at 4.3%, should remain fairly robust. ULVAC-PHI and Cameca (AMETEK) are the two dominant players in this technology segment.

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