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Sony hunts for image sensor engineers in US and Europe

Talent shortage prompts company to add development hubs outside Japan

A Sony image sensor factory in Japan.

TOKYO -- Sony, which holds more than 50% of the global market for image sensors, is opening development centers in the U.S. and Europe in an effort to make up for a scarcity of engineering talent in Japan.

Sony recently opened a development center in the U.S. with dozens of designers to strengthen its ability to adapt designs to customer specifications.

The company is also considering setting up a similar facility in Europe in the next two to three years. And in China, where Sony does not have design capabilities but offers technical support to customers, it plans to add staff.

The Japanese electronics maker is in a pitched battle with Chinese and South Korean rivals to maintain its leading market share in the electronic eyes for a growing number of devices.

It plans to invest 600 billion yen ($5.47 billion) in its sensor business over three years to boost production of CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) sensors used in smartphones and other electronics.

Sony is aggressively recruiting experienced talent. Last summer, the company hired an executive from Japanese chipmaker Renesas Electronics.

But despite its dominant position in the market, Sony "cannot secure enough talent by looking in Japan alone," says an executive, pointing to the burden of developing image sensors for a growing range of industries, including autos and factory machines.

Job openings for semiconductor engineers can run as high as over four times the number of applicants, depending on the sector. Adding research bases in the U.S. and Europe can help Sony tap into a bigger pool of talent.

The market for image sensors is growing 9% a year and is set to hit $19 billion in 2022, according to U.S. research company IC Insights. Much of the growth is coming from smartphone makers who are in a race to add more cameras to their latest models. Demand is also expected to rise among makers of autonomous vehicles and industrial robots.

Sony's image sensor business is highly dependent on smartphones, with a full 80% destined for the devices. The company aims to lower the exposure to 70% by 2025 by expanding into areas such as automobiles and industrial machinery.

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