Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A booming business?

If you watch the daily news on television, you might be forgiven for thinking that Europe is in a complete financial and economic mess. But you wouldn't think so if you attended last week's VISION Show 2011. For there, a record number of companies and attendees filled the halls of the Messe Stuttgart, proving that despite the problems that might face the folks in the Eurozone, the vision industry still appears to be booming.

That's right. There's no doubt about it. This year's VISION 2011 show in Stuttgart, Germany was an unparalleled success. More than 350 exhibitors attended the show, an increase of 8.4% on the number that were there last year. And from the number of interested parties that were walking the aisles of the show, I'd say that interest in the industry is as high as it has ever been.

But what is really going on in the market? Is it booming or stagnant? To find out, I attended the annual networking reception held in the halls of the show, where Gregory Hollows from the Automated Imaging Association (AIA, United States) was joined by Sung-ho Huh from the Korean Machine Vision Association (KMVA) and Isabel Yang from the China Machine Vision Union (CMVU) to present the state of the market in their various countries.

Out from the crisis of 2009 which saw the vision systems market down 20%, Gregory Hollows -- the vice-chair of the AIA board of directors -- said that the vision systems market in the US had rallied, experiencing 4% growth this year. Not bad news on the US front, then.

Korea's Sung-ho Huh had pretty much the same to say. According to him, the Korean market is in pretty good shape, too, and had experienced growth of 5% this year. Of course, as one might expect, the picture from China was even rosier, with Isabel Yang telling us that the vision system market in China had experienced a growth rate of around 10%.

After the reception, of course, came the analysis. A few folks that I spoke to were somewhat worried about prospects for the market next year. While they had a reasonable 2011, they weren't expecting things to stay as positive in 2012. Others were interested to know how they might enter the more lucrative Asian marketplace, which they saw as a prime opportunity worth exploiting. And there were a few, I must admit, that didn't believe that the Chinese economy was quite as rosy as it was painted, citing a number of enormous factory openings there that had been put on hold due to weak demand in the West.

Interpreting market figures from any of the above organizations, no matter how carefully they are researched, might never provide a true indication of how vibrant the vision systems marketplace is. Perhaps the only true market indicator could be found by counting the number of companies and attendees at VISION 2011 itself. If that's anything to go by, I'd say that the vision business is still in pretty good shape!

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