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  • Vision on the Upswing
Nov 2009
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 been hit hard by the downturn, there also quite a few that weren't. Overall, we saw no signs of a fundamental problem but an overall optimistic crowd waiting for the dip to be over.

Many exhibitors shared the view that although there appeared to be less visitors on the floor, the show as overall going very well. "Although a litter fewer people seem to be around, on the first day counted the same number of inquires as two years ago" says Dr. Lutz Kreutzer, PR & marketing manager of MVtec.

At the end the show the organisers found that the number of visitors 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 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 found 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 (EMVA), under the provocative title "The lost year 2009?"

He sees signs that in 2010 there will be positive number again (after >10 years with constant growth up to 2008). However, Paul Kellet, director of market analysis of Automated Imaging Association (AIA) 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 it's not all the same, with manufacturing technologies in some areas of the world being hit much less hard than other, and industry veteran Wilhelm Stemmer agrees "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 in terms of technology was the 17th VISION award, which had 26 submissions, such as a 50 megapixel camera from Minnetonka, Minn.-based Illunis, this year. But of course machine vision is not all about cameras and resolution, and price 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 chipset developer EqcoLogic. They subsequently formed the CoaXPress Consortium with the intention standardize the interface. Current further members are Active Silicon (frame grabbers), Component Express (Cables), AVAL DATA (frame grabbers), and NED (line-scan cameras).

"The customers wanted coax back," says Maarten Kuijk, CTO of EqcoLogic, "It's are pure and straight forward 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 Gbps per cable for video, images and data, plus a lower speed, 20 Mbps uplink for communications and control. Power is also available over the cable ("Power-over-Coax") and cable lengths of greater than 100 metres 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 on 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% of machine vision sales in Europe coming from 3D techniques, the panellists - 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 in increased efficiency, supported by Sick's Dr. Mats Gökstorp, who saw 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, e.g. 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 the management of the huge amounts of data, and achieving the required resolution 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 address in the 3-D world as speed, standardisation, and ease of use.

Jörg Schwartz
Europe correspondent, Photonics Spectra 



A light-tight box that receives light from an object or scene and focuses it to form an image on a light-sensitive material or a detector. The camera generally contains a lens of variable aperture and a shutter of variable speed to precisely control the exposure. In an electronic imaging system, the camera does not use chemical means to store the image, but takes advantage of the sensitivity of various detectors to different bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. These sensors are transducers...
1. In optics, the ability of a lens system to reproduce the points, lines and surfaces in an object as separate entities in the image. 2. The minimum adjustment increment effectively achievable by a positioning mechanism. 3. In image processing, the accuracy with which brightness, spatial parameters and frame rate are divided into discrete levels.
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