Engineering sans frontiers

In the global machine-vision market, goods and services become intertwined.

Oct 1st, 2005

In the global machine-vision market, goods and services become intertwined.

Conard Holton

The international nature of the machine-vision industry is not always evident to the field engineer who is working feverishly to design a new piece of equipment or install a vision system to upgrade a production line. But the industry is truly cosmopolitan when you observe the flow of vision-related products across borders-a fact best represented by the large number of distributors of OEM vision components in Asia, Europe, and North America. Not only must these companies be versatile and offer a range of products from multiple vendors, they must also provide system-integration services.

Machine-vision distributors and system integrators must take a broad view when offering products and services because each customer will have different requirements. These can range from the choice of a camera to networking options, and previously installed automation equipment. 1st Vision (Andover, MA), for example, sells cameras from Allied Vision Technologies (Stadtroda, Germany), IDS Image Development Systems (Obersulm, Germany), JAI Pulnix (San Jose, CA), and Hitachi (Tokyo, Japan). Whether selling the products or providing integration services, 1st Vision supports many vision systems based on FireWire, USB 2.0, Gigabit Ethernet, or Camera Link camera standards, without being locked into either one technology or supplier.

Go East, young distributor

The value of this flexible and global approach to business holds especially true in Asia. A recent study by IMS Research (Wellingborough, England) forecasts the market for machine-vision hardware in the Asia Pacific region will grow by 8% per year. The number of unit shipments in Asia Pacific is actually expected to rise more than 11% per year, but continuing price erosion lowers the unit market value.

John Morse, IMS senior market analyst, says there is a strong requirement for a “smart” solution for machine-vision applications in which more functions are integrated into the camera and which offer ease of set up and use . As a result, smart cameras and sensors will be the primary drivers of growth, and Ethernet will become more widely used in networked machine-vision systems.

Distributor Japan F.A. Systems (JFAS; Yokohama, Japan) sells vision products from companies such as Stemmer Imaging (Puchheim, Germany), Dalsa Coreco (St.-Laurent, Que., Canada), and RVSI Inspection (Hauppauge, NY). Naoyuki Kani, president of JFAS, says that, beyond selling products, his company builds custom vision systems. Each application, whether for inspecting flat-panel displays or aluminum cans, has a demanding set of requirements that cannot be met without customizing a variety of OEM components.

Second2None Machine Vision Systems (Shenzhen, China) is a system integrator that also sells its own line of machine-vision equipment, and is a distribution partner of Adept Technology (Livermore, CA) and PPT Vision (Eden Prairie, MN). The company’s managing director, Ding Shaohua, says many industries in China are incorporating machine vision and automation into assembly lines because they must guarantee quality manufacturing procedures to compete in world markets. OEM components from overseas are critical to meeting this demand.

Offering vision-integration services for export from Asia is a growing trend and will surely have an international impact. Although China is a manufacturing giant, it may not be the primary competitor for providing system-integration services. Indian-based companies are already showing the ability to market themselves beyond the borders of Southeast Asia in system design and OEM product development.

In India and China, distributors and system integrators cannot charge U.S. prices to their local customers for the value of their services and intellectual property. In many cases, 60% and more of the price of a vision system in these countries is spent in purchasing vision equipment. Compare this to the U.S., where the lion’s share of the cost of a system is tied to system-integration services and it is apparent that smart Asian and Chinese distributors and system integrators will start to offer OEM products in their home countries and offer system-integration services in North America and Europe, where the opportunity is greater. In the worldwide machine-vision industry, products such as cameras, frame grabbers, lighting, and software products will not be the only valuables flowing across borders.

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

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