Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Weisswurst, weissbier, and vision systems

Last week, I dispatched our industrious European Editor Dave Wilson off to the rather lovely Bavarian city of Munich to gain some insight into the work that is being undertaken by companies in the region.

During his brief sojourn in Germany, Dave met up with a number of outfits involved in the business of developing vision systems. One of these was Opto -- a small to medium-sized private enterprise with around 35 employees based in the town of Grafelfing on the outskirts of Munich.

Now at the outset, it might seem that a company of such a size might not have a whole lot to discuss. But first appearances can be deceptive, as Dave discovered when Markus Riedi, the President of Opto, gave him a brief presentation on what the company had been up to over the years.

During that presentation, Dave realized that, while the company might best be known for the optical components that it markets, in fact, around 55 percent of its business comes from developing rather complex custom-built products, where it combines its expertise in optics, mechanics, software and electronics to deliver complete modules that its customers can integrate into their own machines.

Herr Riedi showed Dave several examples of the sorts of engineering projects that the company had undertaken. One was an integrated imaging module developed for the inspection of semiconductor dies. Another was an optical subsystem used to inspect pixels on an LCD screen. Then, there was an opto-mechanical module for integration into a laser eye surgery system. And, last but not least, was an imaging system the company had developed to image cells in an embryo incubation machine.

After the presentation, Herr Riedi told Dave that his company was very selective about the companies that it works with to develop products, and only targets areas where the company can provide a lot of value added expertise.

And the strategy appears to be paying off. From a 0.5m Euro business in 2006, Herr Riedi has grown the company to the 7m Euro business that it is today. By 2020, he told Dave that he hopes to push that figure up to the 20m Euro mark.

One way he plans to do that is to actively promote the products that his customers are manufacturing. The idea is a simple one -- the more products they sell, the more subsystems that Opto sells. To do so, Reidi has already started to populate his company's web site with examples of the end-user products that his complex optical subsystems have been designed into.

Impressed with the caliber of companies like Opto, Dave is now looking forward to the day when he might take another trip to Bavaria to meet up with yet more folks involved in the imaging business. But although he tells me that his motives are purely altruistic, I have a suspicion that the quality of the local Bavarian weisswurst and weissbier might also have something to do with it.

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