- Vision Market on the Upswing
STUTTGART, Germany, Nov. 9, 2009 – Machine vision and image processing strongly depend on the success of the applications they serve, such as automotive and other manufacturing technologies. This became evident at last week’s Vision 2009 trade show, one of the key showcases of these industries. And while some seemed to have been hit hard by the downturn, quite a few had not been. Overall, we saw no signs of a fundamental problem but instead an optimistic crowd waiting for the dip to be over.
Many exhibitors shared the view that, although there appeared to be fewer visitors on the floor, the show was going very well. “Although a little fewer people seem to be around, on the first day we counted the same number of inquiries as two years ago,” said Dr. Lutz Kreutzer, public relations and marketing manager of MVtec.
At the end of the show, the organizers found that the number of visitors had dropped by 5 percent to 5900, with significantly higher numbers from (mechanical) engineering (up from 18 to 25 percent of the visitors) and medical (from 6 to 14 percent). In terms of exhibitors, 293 presented at the show – one more than last year.
Panelists of the discussion “All you ever wanted to know about 3-D – technologies, applications, benefits,” held as part of the Industrial Vision Days, are (l-r): Dr. Christian Wöhler, Dr. Heiko Frohn, Len Metcalfe, Per Holmberg, Dr. Wolfgang Eckstein and Dr. Mats Gökstorp. (Photonics Media Photo by Jörg Schwartz)
Without a doubt, the machine vision industry has been hit relatively hard by the downturn, and a number cited by many is a decrease of 30 percent in overall turnover for the sector in Germany represented by VDMA, the country’s engineering federation. The number was presented by Patrick Schwarzkopf, managing director of the federation’s Robotics + Automation Association and general secretary of the European Machine Vision Association, under the provocative title “The lost year 2009?”
He sees signs that in 2010 there will be positive numbers again (following more than 10 years of constant growth up to 2008). However, Paul Kellett, director of market analysis for the Automated Imaging Association, saw “the recovery not around the corner,” but a good chance that the recovery for machine vision will start in June of next year. He says his analysis takes into account a time lag between clear signs of recovery in most manufacturing technologies and regions and machine vision demand.
But he also confirms that it’s not all the same, with manufacturing technologies in some areas of the world being hit much less hard than others, and industry veteran Wilhelm Stemmer agrees that “whoever has strong sales in India and China is doing okay ….” Also suppliers operating in niches or emerging markets, such as Xenics in infrared imaging, say that they have not been hit as hard – or not at all.
Is the future 3-D?The first big splash this year in terms of technology was the 17th Vision award. It had 26 submissions, such as a 50-megapixel camera from Minnetonka, Minn.-based Illunis. But of course machine vision is not all about cameras and resolution, and the prize went to Adimec and its consortium partners for the development of CoaXPress, “a link faster than Camera Link with reach as far as GigE, and carrying power, too.” The Dutch camera company originally came up with the technology together with chip set developer EqcoLogic. They subsequently formed the CoaXPress Consortium with the intention to standardize the interface. Current members are Active Silicon (frame grabbers), Component Express (cables), Aval Data (frame grabbers) and NED (line-scan cameras).
“The customers wanted coax back,” said Maarten Kuijk, chief technical officer of EqcoLogic. “It’s our pure and straightforward transmission medium,” which has now been extended to offer asymmetric, high-speed, point-to-point serial communication for transmission of video and still images, also scalable over single or multiple coaxial cables. It has a high-speed downlink of up to 6.25 Gb/s per cable for video, images and data, plus a lower-speed 20 Mb/s uplink for communications and control. Power is also available over the cable (“Power-over-Coax”), and cable lengths of greater than 100 meters are feasible. The jury is out on whether and to what degree this new approach will be adopted as a standard. The developers say it will be hosted as a standard by JIIA, the Japanese Industrial Imaging Association. On the other hand, there is at least one competing approach in the form of Dalsa’s HSLink, based on the Camera Link interface.
Looking at what’s next in industrial imaging, a panel discussion as part of the show’s “Industrial Vision Days” suggested that 3-D imaging has the potential to become a major trend. With moderator Gabriele Jansen (of Inspect magazine) stating that currently only 10 percent of machine vision sales in Europe come from 3-D techniques, the panelists – all active in the field – agreed that this is likely to grow. Per Holmberg, president of Hexagon Metrology, sees the main reason for moving to 3-D as increased efficiency. This was supported by Sick’s Dr. Mats Gökstorp, who sees benefits in using 3-D for 2-D applications, e.g., as this would often allow becoming independent of contrast issues. An area likely to move to 3-D altogether is robot vision, according to Dr. Heiko Frohn of Vitronic. For 3-D metrology, for example in car manufacturing, the big goal is an integrated solution comparing measurements with CAD data.
However, the two main challenges seen by Dr. Christian Wöhler, senior research scientist at Daimler, are managing the huge amounts of data and achieving the resolution needed to cover large objects with the required accuracy, especially in the lateral dimension. Looking forward from a software perspective, MVtec’s Dr. Wolfgang Eckstein sees the biggest items to be addressed in the 3-D world as speed, standardization and ease of use.
Europe correspondent, Photonics Spectra
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