China meets machine vision

Globalization is a trend affecting every industry and, depending on where you stand, is a force to be feared or embraced. To its advantage, the machine-vision industry has embraced this trend.

Jun 1st, 2006

An emerging industry supports demand for automation and inspection.

Globalization is a trend affecting every industry and, depending on where you stand, is a force to be feared or embraced. To its advantage, the machine-vision industry has embraced this trend. Its network of company offices, distribution partners, and system integrators could be the envy of any relatively small industry that seeks a global reach.

Several fast-growing regions of the world, however, are only tentatively tied into this network. China especially, with an industrial growth rate of 20% to 30% per year, presents the largest and most complex opportunity for expanding the machine-vision market. Many machine-vision companies from North America, Europe, and Japan have or plan to set up business in China. The Chinese, in turn, are embracing machine vision as an important tool to increase manufacturing productivity and quality-critical issues even in a nation known for its pool of low-cost skilled labor.

Although it was held in a Soviet-era hall, the China International Machine Vision Exhibition in Shanghai (March 22-24) displayed the potential of a 21st century industry that is beginning rapid growth in support of the booming economy. For the numerous international machine-vision vendors at the show, the message was that the still-small Chinese machine-vision market was accessible, modern, and open to business.

The show attracted 64 exhibitors and more than 3500 attendees-mostly from inside China. A concurrent forum on machine-vision technology and products featured several speakers. Zhang Qiang, deputy general secretary of the Chinese Mechanical Engineering Society (Beijing, China), the show organizer, welcomed forum participants and stressed the importance of machine vision to China’s growth. Keith Rueben, who heads the newly created DALSA Asia-Pacific unit, traced the development of DALSA (Waterloo, ON, Canada), described some of the steps needed to grow a machine-vision company, and said that DALSA plans significant strategic growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

Jeff Burnstein, executive director of the Automated Imaging Association (Ann Arbor, MI, USA) led a delegation of AIA member companies and noted that the AIA was “very serious about working with the Chinese machine-vision industry.” The German VDMA (Engineering Federation) and the European Machine Vision Association (both in Frankfurt, Germany), and Messe Stuttgart (organizers of the major VISION show in Stuttgart, Germany) had booths and a significant presence at the show.

Product delight

Chinese exhibitors and attendees ranged from distributors of products from international vendors, to developers of original components and systems, to dedicated system integrators-and some were a combination of all three. Shanghai Kingtek (Shanghai, China), for example, displayed a fastener-sorting machine that used four Impact cameras from PPT Vision (Eden Prairie, MN, USA) and had sold 10 to Chinese end-users. Beijing JoinHope Image (Beijing, China) exhibited a range of CCD and CMOS cameras, along with image processing boards that included a new PCI Express-based model; a GigE camera will be released soon.

Super Image (Hangzhou, China) showed a 2k x 2k camera for research and medical applications, and said a Camera Link version would soon be available. The company also had small, low-cost CMOS cameras aimed at food and tobacco, printed-circuit-board, and label inspection. A CMOS sensor with frame-grabber package is intended for use in laser cutting or textile inspection. And Shanghai Ruishi Machine Vision Technology (Shanghai, China), a small company targeting high-end applications, showed its EagleEye series of smart cameras and industrial digital cameras equipped with CCDs and a 32-bit Texas Instruments DSP-based board. David Shi, general manager, said his company has had success selling its cameras for traffic surveillance and bridge structural-monitoring applications.

Ironically, the international vendors seemed the most confident in the success of this show as a first step for China’s machine-vision industry. With little experience in the tradeshow model, the Chinese participants were more cautious but remained hopeful of future success. Given the pressure to automate and speed the production and inspection of sophisticated products, the Chinese machine-vision industry has little cause for concern about the future.

CONARD HOLTON is editor in chief of Vision Systems Design; e-mail: cholton@pennwell.com.

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