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Machine vision growth in view

Photonics Spectra
Sep 2010
Caren B. Les, caren.les@photonics.com

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – In North America, overall machine vision sales increased by 34.4 percent in the first quarter of 2010 over weak sales that occurred in the first quarter of 2009, according to a new report from the Automated Imaging Association (AIA). Titled Quarterly Machine Vision Sales Tracking Report – First Quarter 2010, the study showed that, as a whole, major vision component sales increased 57.2 percent, while machine vision system sales rose by 31.3 percent. It indicated that improvement occurred across all major supplier markets, including cameras, lighting, optics, imaging boards, software, application-specific machine vision systems and smart cameras.

Paul Kellett, director of market analysis at AIA, noted that the robust rates of growth for machine vision product markets reflect an expanding manufacturing sector but also severely depressed sales in 2009. Machine vision sales in 2009 had declined by 29.2 percent on average over 2008 sales, according to the organization, which is a global machine vision trade group.


Analysts predict growth in machine vision sales. Shown is a machine vision test setup with two high-resolution FireWire cameras. The system is used to check two printed circuit boards (in this case, graphic cards) simultaneously at full sensor resolution. Photo courtesy of Qioptiq.


While Kellett expects growth rates to be favorable also for the second quarter of 2010, he said that the prognosis for the remainder of the year is less favorable. “In North America, industrial production is expected to level off, which could leave machine vision companies with higher inventory levels than desired. In general, planning production is difficult because economic uncertainty is very high. Balancing production (including force levels and other inputs) with demand for machine vision products is consequently very challenging,” he said.

He added that, in the longer term, an eroding manufacturing base in developed countries such as the US might indicate a decreasing addressable market as well as the need to achieve higher penetration rates to maintain sales growth, at least in more traditional factory-oriented machine vision markets.

“Despite the challenges that the machine industry faces, the long-term trend for machine vision sales remains positive.” New applications and newer geographic markets can lead to continued, offsetting growth, he added.

“Machine vision technology and products are essential to reducing production costs and ensuring the higher levels of product quality that are necessary in an increasingly competitive world market,” Kellett explained. “While that dynamic will lead to higher rates of penetration in traditional industrial markets, much of the sales growth will come from new applications in nontraditional markets such as high-end security, biometrics, advanced service robotics, drug discovery, smart transportation systems and consumer automation,” he said, adding that the machine vision industry has only begun to tap into these new areas.

Kellett predicts that the most successful machine vision companies of the future will be those that are part of consortiums that provide solutions as well as points of entry into new markets.

“One key development that is required to unleash the full potential of machine vision technology is the emergence of new standards that ensure the interoperability of machine vision components like ‘plug and play’ in the world of personal computers. The easier it is to combine unique sets of machine vision components to build new apps that address specific customer needs, the greater the number of types of apps that will emerge and the greater the customer demand for them,” Kellett said.

The AIA offers three forecast scenarios for the industry in its publication Machine Vision Market: 2009 Results and Forecasts to 2014, released in 2010. The company noted that the current high degree of economic uncertainty in areas such as consumer demand, the unemployment rate and the housing sector rendered the projection of machine vision sales inescapably difficult.

Global markets

According to a report from BCC Research based in Wellesley, Mass., the global market for machine vision system components is expected to be worth $18 billion in 2015; it also is predicted to experience a 9.9 percent compound annual growth rate from 2010 to 2015. The value of the market is expected to grow to $11.2 billion in 2010, up from $10.3 billion in 2009 and $9.9 billion in 2008, as reported in the document Machine Vision: Technologies and Global Markets (IAS010C), which was published in June 2010. The scope of the report is the market for machine vision hardware and software, including smart cameras and smart sensors, compact vision systems, personal computer-based machine vision systems, lighting, and cameras and frame grabbers.

Miscellaneous components, which represent the fastest growing market segment, will be worth $4 billion by 2015 and will have a compound annual growth rate of 11.2 percent for the period of 2010 to 2015, the company projects. The optics/lighting/frame grabber segment, which makes up the largest share of the market, will likely reach a value of $5.3 billion by 2015, with an estimated compound annual growth rate of 10.3 percent over the period from 2010.

“A particularly high market potential is seen in numerous new machine vision technology applications such as environmental protection and the conservation of resources, the need for security, and demographic change,” said Srinivasa Rajaram, market analyst and author of the report. “New machine vision applications in the areas of agriculture, transport, recycling, sports, medicine and criminology are opening up and thus increasing growth prospects.

Traffic and security applications are the two areas exhibiting particularly high demand for vision systems,” he added.

Applications for machine vision are increasing in road construction as well as in industries such as the textile, aerospace, container, pulp and paper, turbine tower, solar cell, rubber and plastic, and paper and board sectors, Rajaram said. He added that in nonindustrial applications, machine vision is making inroads in areas such as biometrics, medical imaging and laboratory automation, asset management, cargo inspection, baggage checking, human behavior analysis, nonmotion detection, crowd and border control, currency and stamp printing, exhibitions and entertainment, and postal, banking and mail order processes.

Traffic and security

In security applications, machine vision systems integrate multiple information sensors to enable remote surveillance and notification of security breaches in real time. The systems can remotely identify potentially troublesome events such as movement in alarm zones and perimeter breaches during off hours without putting security staff at undue risk. In traffic control, machine vision applications improve passenger and operator safety, ensure smooth traffic flow, help prevent road accidents, and optimize routes and schedules. It also is used to provide safety and security against threats in high-density transportation settings.

As for important emerging improvements in machine vision camera technology, Rajaram cited shading correction, and multiplier and divider features for line-scan cameras. For area-scan cameras, a CCD sensor provides superior image quality, even at high image capture rates. He mentioned other sophisticated features such as Power over Ethernet, opto-isolated digital input/outputs, a 60-MB onboard image buffer and user sets for storing parameters to area-scan cameras.

Among recent computer-based improvements for machine vision are more intelligent software, faster and higher-performance CPUs with 64-bit processors and custom vision processing hardware, and plug-in vision engines that run under a real-time multitasking operating system, Rajaram said, adding that 3-D vision systems, improvements in robotic guidance, and better lighting equipment with improved LEDs are yet other emerging technological advancements in the field.

Rajaram noted some challenge areas for the machine vision industry. Among them are semiconductor packaging and component assembly; seamless inline inspection in the packaging industry; and optical quality control in photovoltaic production. In the pharmaceutical industry, identification and verification of variable data, quality inspection in the micrometer range, and absolute scanning reliability present challenges; and in the automotive sector, qualitative surface and 3-D weld seam inspections, and 3-D robot vision for optimizing production processes.

Rajaram expects that particularly strong growth in the use of machine vision equipment will take place in China, India, Brazil and Eastern Europe.

There is an industry need to contain the costs of new machine vision systems and to reduce maintenance problems within the systems, Rajaram commented.


GLOSSARY
biometrics
The technology devoted to the analysis of unique biological characteristics such as voice patterns and fingerprint, retina, iris, and hand and face geometry to determine or authenticate the identity of an individual.
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