Wednesday, November 17, 2010

VISION 2010 – Parting views

After three demanding days on the show floor and travel home from Stuttgart (in many cases delayed by a fierce storm over northern Europe), it’s clear that VISION 2010 was a major success, a relief to the organizers and exhibitors, and a good omen for 2011.

(Figure: The Mid-Size Robocup Team: Tech United Eindhoven put on a show)

In no particular order, here are some observations:

- This tradeshows is alive and well. It drew a record 6800 visitors, 1600 exhibitors, and 323 exhibiting companies. Forty four percent of the exhibitors came from outside Germany, primarily from the US and South Korea. Thirty five percent of the visitors came from outside Germany

- Most companies reported strong to torrid growth in the past months. Basler, for example, grew very fast but expects sales will soften in the first and second quarters of 2011, before strengthening again in the second half of next year.

- A price war is being waged in some lower-ends of the camera world. Several of the competing vendors are German and continue making their cameras in Germany despite higher labor costs. Their plan is to win on the basis of innovation and quality. Part of their strategy is to use consumer interfaces, move from CCD to CMOS sensors, add capabilities in software not hardware, and continue developing smaller camera footprints.

- Several of the larger camera vendors told me that over 60 percent of their business is non-industrial--that was surprising but shouldn’t have been. It’s been predicted for several years and now it’s true. Growth is very fast in transportation/traffic management, security, and point of sale/entertainment applications. Each sector (especially security) has its own barriers to entry, with large, established system vendors and low-cost competition from “legacy” CCTV cameras.

- According to system integrator Luster LightVision in Beijing, the Chinese machine vision market is roughly $76 million industrial and $50 million non-industrial, with transportation and logistics the fastest growing segments. 2010 will be the year that machine vision really takes off although it is hampered by the fact that the markets are so cost-sensitive, there is little interdisciplinary system design knowledge or machine vision expertise, and the industry organization is weak.

- GigE is seeing steady global growth, with the GigE Vision standard being used in some non-machine vision applications, including embedded military and medical applications.

- Tradeshows are inspiring because they give engineers a chance to get out of the office, lab, or factory and talk to suppliers, developers, or speakers at technical session. Google may be a great tool for search or for comparing components, but human interaction is a better source of innovation, or maybe for learning that someone else has already solved your problem. Engineering management should encourage their staff to get out, ask questions, and see what the world is doing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

VISION 2010 – Day One, VISION Award, market news

Stuttgart, November 9—The anticipation seems to have been rewarded for the now-official 323 exhibitors (a record number), as most exhibitors were delighted with the quantity and quality of leads. More coverage of the show is available at this link.

At a press conference the winner of the VISION Award was announced: SICK, for its ColorRanger E. Of the 23 entries, it was probably inevitable that some sort of 3-D product would win since 3-D is one of the fastest growing technology segments in machine vision.

The ColorRanger E combines high-speed 3-D and color linescan capabilities at more than 11 kHz. Applications include wood inspection, quality control in baking or food processing, and solar wafer shape and color quality assurance.

The list of contestants contains many other innovative products—you will find the list at the end of this blog.

During a press conference, Dr. Olaf Munkelt, chairman of the VDMA Machine Vision Group, talked about the unprecedented collapse of the global market and its impact on machine vision sales—“basic trust is still lacking”, he said. Nonetheless the industry has come bounding back, with German sales expected to rise 18% in 2010 over 2009, giving the German industry a value of 1.1 billion euros. Inspection, Munkelt said, remains the most important driver of sales, especially in the automotive market, and 3-D metrology is rapidly increasing.

In a video interview with me that we’ll post soon, Munkelt said that the global sales of machine vision break out roughly into one third each for Europe, Asia, and North America. He noted that the US share is dropping in relative terms and that part of the reason for this may be that investment in R&D is declining. This observation is not new and it’s one that concerns many of us in the US.

Basler also held a press conference in which its leaders, Dietmar Ley and Arndt Bake, described the company as moving to be a “pure play” camera company, leaving its systems business side. Bake said that Basler sees significant new growth opportunities in traffic (eg, tolls, parking, law enforcement), surveillance, and point-of-sale applications (eg, recycling, wheel alignment).

Finally, for a taste of the innovative technologies on display at the show, here’s the list of the 22 entries that did not win the VISION Award. We’ll be covering some of these products online and in future issues of the magazine:

• ABAQuS, Using the M200CT to check the quality of barcodes and 2-D codes as a prerequisite to automated data input with barcode scanners
• Allied Vision Technologies, Redefining the limits of GigE Vision bandwidth using Link Aggregation
• Aqsense, Global dimensional inspection and geometric features measurement
• BAP Image Systems, High-speed scanning basing on CIS-sensors
• Basler Vision Technologies, New CMOS camera generation
• Chronos Vision, High speed, real-time video eye tracking
• Dalsa, BOA smart camera
• Effilux, LED lighting for 3-D profilometry
• FLIR Commercial Systems, New FLIR A615
• Frankfurt Laser Company, HEML high-power temperature stabilised laser diode module
• Fraunhofer IDMT, Fraunhofer eye tracker–a calibration free solution with scalable and configurable Hough IP Core
• Imaging Diagnostics, Auto-focus camera using standard DSLR lenses
• Inviso, Brain-inspired machine vision
• Keyetech, Keyetech texture-based recogniser
• New Imaging Technologies, Native WDR: a radical, innovative breakthrough in CMOS sensors based on the Magic technology
• OPT Machine Vision Tech, Introduction of AOI light application in machine vision
• Photometrics, EMCCD camera – automatic, real-time imaging data standardization
• PMD Technologies, First robust and feasible gesture control using time-of-flight technology
• Raytrix, Single lens 3-D-camera with extended depth of field for industrial inspection
• Schott Lighting and Imaging, Telecentric zoom lens ML-Z07545HR
• Smartvision, BlobMax, A new method for a safe inspection of planar and curved surfaces with diffuse or specular reflection
• Softhard Technology, Currera-R atom based industrial smart camera
• Sony Image Sensing Solutions Europe, The smallest C-mount digital camera
• Spotrack, Method for the positioning of a multiple pan/tilt devices in single object tracking applications (multiple camera tracking)
• Technos Japan, The first visual inspection system that does not miss defects
• Vision for Vision, Interactive workshop for fast prototyping
• Xenics, The Lynx: a novel high-performance line scan camera system

Monday, November 8, 2010

VISION 2010 - As the show begins

November 8, Stuttgart--Preparations are hectically concluding for tomorrow's start of the 23rd annual VISION show. This is the third year that the show is held in the Neue Messe Stuttgart--the new, very large and sprawling complex next to the airport. The old Killesberg location was cozier for sure, but could never have accommodated the 306 exhibitors or 6000+ attendees expected for this show.

Based on the enthusiasm and energy of people I've spoken to so far, the show should be better than ever. The recovery of the industry is evident, with many companies reporting banner quarters or years. One of the biggest complaints is the shortage of components such as sensors, so vendors are struggling to build cameras fast enough to meet demand. Not such a bad problem after a very difficult recession.

We will be covering the show in several ways. We'll be posting videos about the show, the markets, and multiple technical sessions on topics such as GigE Vision, megapixel lenses, CMOS sensors, data transmission standards, and CoaXPress. We'll also be recording videos from the Global Vision Standards demonstration booth, including demonstrations of Camera Link HS and GigE Vision. GigE Vision will be especially interesting to follow because it is beginning to be used outside of the machine vision world, including in embedded military and medical applications.

Also, we will be posting a series of sponsored videos from machine vision vendors who describe their products and applications in some depth.

And of course, in the coming issues of Vision Systems Design magazine and online we'll be publishing in-depth technical articles by editor Andy Wilson about the most interesting technical developments at the show, including the winner of the VISION award.