The march of the tradeshows

Component makers are most successful when showing end-users the value of their products.

Component makers are most successful when showing end-users the value of their products.

Recent tradeshows have emphasized one thing above all: success is directly related to showing how components are integrated into systems. This was clear over the course of several seemingly disparate tradeshows that all included machine-vision-based components and systems: Exhibition on Sensing via Image Information (June; Yokohama, Japan), PackExpo (September; Las Vegas, NV), International Robots & Vision Show (September; Rosemont, IL), and Vision 2005 (November; Stuttgart, Germany).

At the Exhibition on Sensing via Image Information, more than 8000 attendees jammed the show floor each day, to the delight of the 200 exhibitors. Unlike Western tradeshows, each booth, no matter the size of the exhibiting company, was essentially an extended tabletop display that varied only in length. As you might expect, most applications for the machine-vision components and systems on display were in semiconductors and electronics, including the inspection of flat-panel displays. Yet a shift is under way. As several Japanese exhibitors explained, the cycles, outsourcing, and uncertainties in the semiconductor industry are causing them-often for the first time-to seek overseas markets and new application areas. Their primary interest is in North America, and deploying products in pharmaceutical, food and beverage, packaging, and automotive applications.

Attendees at the mammoth PackExpo were a different group altogether. Rather than specifying OEM components with which to build packaging systems, most of the tens of thousands of attendees at PackExpo were from Fortune 500 companies looking to purchase complete filling, labeling, packaging, and inspection systems. What was perhaps most interesting was the fact that many of the companies on the show floor at PackExpo were showing systems with integrated machine-vision components from OEM vendors at the other three shows.

Some machine-vision component companies showed they were smarter than others by displaying products that could be easily integrated or used to inspect packaging systems. For example, Photron (San Diego, CA) demonstrated its high-speed camera systems and showed how Yamato (Mequon, WI) was using the system to optimize packaging systems. Likewise, on the booth of Brenton Engineering (Alexandria, MN), Monitoring Technology (Fairfax, VA) showed how a version of its high-speed recording system was being used to monitor the orientation of oil filters.

While most of the products and systems at PackExpo targeted factory plant managers, the record 8300 attendees at Robots & Vision saw different types of exhibits. Those who were expecting to see how vision systems could be integrated into robotic systems were faced with visiting half a show that contained robots and another half that contained OEM vision components such as lenses, cameras, and lighting equipment. Those determined to discover the overlap between robots and vision systems needed to search harder because many companies that exibited at Robots & Vision also exibited at the Assembly Technology Expo, which was located in yet another area.

Step in the right direction

In Germany, vision components, systems, and integrators were on display in unprecedented numbers at Vision 2005. A record 196 companies and organizations exhibited and attendance was up 10% to 5100. Impressively, the number of visitors coming from outside Germany rose to 33% of the total compared to 25% last year. In answer to a survey, visitors to the show said they had come to look at all sorts of vision components, and, especially, at systems for measurement, quality control, surface inspection, identification of codes and characters, and robot guidance.

Component manufacturers at all four tradeshows did well, but a few component exhibitors at Vision 2005 took a more creative approach by inviting system integrators to set up working models of their systems. Vision Components (Ettlingen, Germany), for example, had independent system integrators at the front of its booth showing its own systems for inspecting automobile gas filters, cutting salmon filets, and imaging a high-speed web. The integrators could explain their system designs and services, and their choice of Vision Components cameras, and perhaps generate some business for themselves and a clever component manufacturer.

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

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