A3 Business Forum Takeaways

Feb. 3, 2022

The A3 Business Forum recently concluded. The networking event took place for the first time since 2020. Attendees, from all areas of automation, were glad to finally be meeting in person again after the one-year hiatus in 2021.

There, of course, were myriad networking opportunities throughout the event, but attendees also received some important updates.

First, Alan Beaulieu, of ITR Economics, provided an economic update. The news was good: the economy is going to grow--not recover, but grow. The growth, however, will be decelerated growth--it will grow, but at a decreased rate. This jived with news that came out of VISION 2021 that the machine vision market was still growing, albeit at a slower pace than before. The slowed growth, according to Beaulieu, means the supply chain is going to have a chance to catch up. It has reached its peak. This is excellent news for systems integrators and machine component manufacturers as recent supply chain snags have made it difficult to produce the components required for machine vision and imaging systems. So, the good news is the economy is growing. Beaulieu predicted that attendees' businesses are going to be busy, especially during the second half of 2023 through 2024. He said that we will see a decelerating rise in demand in most markets in 2022 and 2023 and reiterated that supply chain pressures will slowly ease during 2022. He also predicted that inflation errors will temporarily abate during 2022 into 2023.

It was a very upbeat presentation, and in general the mood was very upbeat across the board during the week. Industrial automation is increasing. Alex Shikany's presentation on automation stats, trends, and key market drivers bears this out. According to Shikany, Vice President of Membership & Business Intelligence for A3, 2021 was a historic year for automation. Robot orders in North America for 2021 showed 28% growth (39,708 ordered--a record). Of particular interest is the change in where the robots are going. Non-automotive orders surpassed automotive orders in 2021.

Shikany also cited historic growth in the machine vision market. For example, several machine vision component segments showed growth. Camera sales, for instance, were over $219 million--up from approximately $187 million, according to A3 data. Lighting sales were up at $79+ million, optics to $46+ million, with additional increases in sales of imaging boards and software.

All said, things look good for machine vision. As the desire for automation increases, there will almost always be a place for machine vision in the manufacturing process--especially with the numbers we're seeing for robot orders. Nonautomotive use continues to increase, so expect to see vision/imaging employed in more and more areas not previously encountered. Systems integrators, in my experience, are on top of this however. Embedded vision, 3D imaging, and deep learning, to name a few areas, are all growing in the vision/imaging market, depending on the applications.

My major takeaway from this summit is that machine vision continues to grow. Attendees at this conference spanned automation in a variety of industries whether they be manufacturers of motion control hardware, safety hardware like light curtains, or robots; they are all experiencing growth as the need for automation grows. As the need for automation grows, so will machine vision. They go hand in hand, to my way of thinking. And even if automation slows down, every month we are seeing vision/imaging technology creeping into nonindustrial areas previously unconsidered. 

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