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Market profile: leak detectors.

Leak detectors are a type of mass spectrometer that are used to do just what the name implies: detect leaks. They are used in industries in which maintaining a vacuum is critical to equipment or component performance. Nearly all of the major leak detector suppliers specialize in vacuum equipment and products. This is a somewhat cyclical market, but one that will show moderate growth in the long term.

Leak detectors are based on simple single quadrupole mass spectrometers (MS). For the most part, these leak detectors are designed to detect helium, and thus are referred to as helium leak detectors. By using helium, which is an inert gas, to detect leaks, potential product contamination and toxicity issues are reduced or eliminated. Helium is also a fairly easy molecule to detect using MS. In some cases, leak detectors are designed to pick up other gases such as halogens in refrigerant leak

detectors, but these almost always use other technologies such as infrared spectroscopy.

The semiconductor and electronics industry is by far the largest industrial market for leak detectors. Because electronic products are often processed under high vacuum conditions and are highly susceptible to contamination, processing equipment must be continually inspected for air tightness. As semiconductor architecture becomes smaller, its sensitivity to molecular contamination becomes higher. Residual gas analyzers (RGA), which are also simple MS, can often perform the job of leak detection in semiconductor processing equipment, in addition to identifying contamination during operation. The cyclical nature of the semi-conductor industry leads to a highly cyclical demand for leak detectors as well. In other markets, such as the aerospace and automotive in dustries, the vacuum worthiness of components is often a critical issue. Therefore, these components are inspected using helium leak detection systems.

Because leak detectors are closely associated with vacuum processing equipment, nearly all suppliers of leak detectors are also major suppliers of vacuum equipment and other vacuum products. INFICON AG is the clear leader in the leak detector market, with nearly a third of the vendor share. Other than INFICON, only Varian's vacuum products business and Alcatel's rebranded Adixen vacuum business have more than a 10% market share each. The only mainstream laboratory mass spectrometry supplier that is significantly involved in the leak detector market is Shimadzu.

The worldwide market for leak detectors has rebounded to over $125 million in 2005, following the dramatic downturn in capital expenditures by semiconductor manufacturers several years ago. Although demand can vary heavily, overall longer-term growth should remain in the low- to mid-single digits.

Leak Detectors at a Glance:

* INFICON AG

* Varian

* Adixen (Alcatel)

Largest Markets

* Semiconductor/Electronics

* Inorganic Chemicals

* Aerosapce

Instrument Cost

* $8,000-$35,000
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Publication:Instrument Business Outlook
Date:Oct 31, 2005
Words:443
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