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Machine vision market bounces back from slump

10 Nov 2010

After a depressed 2009, machine vision is benefiting from a buoyant German economy, a growing applications base and demand in Asia.

Suppliers of optical and electronic components and systems used in machine vision applications are benefiting from a major upturn in demand following the 2009 recession.

That’s according to Olaf Munkelt, chairman of VDMA Machine Vision. Speaking at the VISION exhibition being held in Stuttgart this week, Munkelt said, “For 2010, we are expecting turnover for the German machine vision industry to increase by 18 per cent and reach €1.1 billion.

However, the industry experienced such a severe slump in 2009 – the European Machine Vision Association (EMVA) estimates that turnover dropped by 21.4 per cent - that it is not yet back to pre-recession levels. But Munkelt believes that after more moderate growth of approximately 5 per cent next year, the industry will be back to the kind of levels seen during its peak year of 2008.

The slump impacted all parts of the machine vision systems supply chain, with the European market for optics used in those systems shrinking from just under €50 million in 2008 to around €40 million in 2009, estimates EMVA's market analyst Andreas Breyer.

The suggestion of a recovery is backed up by the number of companies exhibiting at the Stuttgart show, which is now in its 23rd year. Some 323 companies purchased exhibition space, up from 293 in 2009, and the organizers expect around 6500 visitors to a show featuring a careers center for the first time.

A number of factors have underpinned the recovery, with the most significant application areas remaining in the industrial manufacturing sector - the leading application market is the automotive industry, followed by glass, metal and wood/paper production.

Non-industrial applications
However, machine vision is now expanding significantly into non-industrial applications, prompting VISION organizers Messe Stuttgart to drop the “industrial” element from the sub-title of the exhibition. “Medical technology, life science, security, intelligent transportation systems, map-making, entertainment, sport and advertising are part of the growing market of non-industrial applications,” it said.

As well as a diversifying applications base, there is an increasingly global demand for machine vision systems, says Munkelt. He predicts that the so-called BRIC (Brazil/Russia/India/China) group of emerging economies will present “superb” prospects for growth, as those nations urgently require technology to improve the quality and productivity of their manufacturing base. A disproportionately high growth figure can be expected for machine vision suppliers, especially in Asia, he adds.

On top of the increased market ‘pull’, there is a significant technological ‘push’, in the form of 3D camera technology and increased standardization. One of the key topics at VISION this year is the arrival of high-speed connectivity and real-time systems, for example, and requires the adoption of connectivity standards.

One company to have embraced the 3D trend is Sweden-based SICK, and its ColoRanger product scooped the VISION Award for Applied Machine Vision this year. The camera uses a single laser to produce 3D images by laser triangulation, combined with a white-light source to deliver color images. It also includes an infrared block filter to stop the influence of infrared light on color reproduction.

Applications include some of the traditional uses such as construction materials, as well as newer areas like grading food quality, cosmetics and solar wafers. But the key advantage of the approach is that it enables users to replace multiple cameras with a single optical system.

“With SICK’s proprietary MultiScan technology, the camera can be configured to provide several measurements at the same time, such as 3D shape, laser scatter, color, and monochrome, according to the exact need of each specific application,” says the company.

VISION 2010 is also hosting the runners-up from the "Robo Cup", a version of football played by robots that are guided around a pitch using machine vision. The "Tech United" team from Eindhoven (see video below) used cameras supplied by VISION exhibitor Vision Components GmbH.

AltechnaESPROS Photonics AGSpectrum Scientific Inc. -  SSI OpticsDiffraction InternationalScitec Instruments LtdFISBASchaefter und Kirchhoff GmbH
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