Michael D. Wheeler
The outlook for the North American machine vision market continues to look rosy, spurred on by the growing semiconductor, transportation and pharmaceutical industries.
That's the finding of an industry-wide survey conducted by Nello Zuech, president of Vision Systems International in Yardley, Pa., and presented at the Automated Imaging Association's Sixth Annual Business Conference in Orlando.
Overall, 1997 proved a fortuitous year for North America with revenues from machine vision components gaining 21.6
percent to eclipse $1.23 billion. By comparison, the European vision market is estimated at $803 million, while the Japanese vision market is estimated at $361 million.
In North America, unit sales increased at an even faster clip than revenues, up 27.3 percent in '97 compared with 23.2 percent in 1996. As unit sales grew, however, the average price slipped to $47,600 per machine vision system, marking a slight drop-off from the $50,000 price tag two years ago.
Among the 42 machine vision companies, a small minority continues to hold the lion's share of the general-purpose
machine vision market. Twelve companies accounted for 80.2 percent of all revenues and 84.5 percent of unit sales in North America. The same 12 companies reaped 72.6 percent of revenues in '96. The study estimates the overall North American general-purpose market at $218 million for 1997, with projected revenues of $458 million in 2002.
Segment by segment
One of the largest drivers in machine vision is the semiconductor industry, with revenues of $456.5 million, up 16.8 percent from $390.8 million in sales the previous year. Demand for general-purpose systems in this sector shot up 32.7 percent, signaling a move away from traditional suppliers. The gradual shift away from proprietary machine vision systems also led to some price erosion.
The electronics segment also enjoyed robust growth, accounting for $182.5 million in revenues, up 37.4 percent from $132.8 million in '96. Growth was attributed to new applications such as inspection of 6-GB hard drives. Pharmaceutical revenues increased 37.5 percent, trailed closely by transportation revenues, which exhibited 32.8 percent growth.
While many indicators pointed to growing strength, not all the news was good. Sales to industries other than semiconductor and electronics manufacturers grew a sluggish 3.6 percent last year, paling in comparison with the 14.2 percent gain in '96. Perhaps most disappointing to the industry was the drop-off in sales to the container sector, falling precipitously from $45.6 million in '96 to $30.8 million in '97.