Despite the differences between US and European markets, OEM vendors in Germany are more willing to share application information.
Over the past few months, Vision Systems Design staff editors have visited a number of trade shows, both in the United States and abroad. Perhaps the two most important shows were the Vision Show West in San Jose, CA, and the Vision 2000 exhibition fair held in Stuttgart, Germany. Whereas the Vision Show West exhibitors consisted mainly of OEM vendors of cameras, frame grabbers, lighting, and optics, the Vision 2000 show exhibitors included OEM vendors plus companies with systems-integration capabilities.
According to industry analysts, the smaller distances involved within one European country or language group tend to attract general-purpose machine-vision suppliers acting as their own systems integrators. This scenario differs from the North American market, which features a number of systems integrators, trade shows, and technical magazines devoted to image processing and machine vision.
In Europe, major contributions to machine-vision technology are often made from various nonprofit-distributing institutes and research-and-technology organizations. Some of them act as design houses or systems integrators that develop products for profit-making companies. With these contributions, the research and development of new image-processing products is effectively off-loaded from commercial sales and marketing organizations.
Despite the differences between US and European markets, OEM vendors in Germany are more willing to share information about successful vision and imaging applications. This sharing draws a larger attendance to trade shows, where customers can see real-world scientific, medical, and industrial vision and image-processing systems in action. Not every vendor in the United States, however, likes this approach.
One US OEM vendor admitted at this year's Vision Show West that it did not tell its customers that it would be participating in the show because the vendor did not want its customers to see its competitions' products and possibly prefer to purchase those products instead. Whereas this vendor failed to promote the show, others complained that although the show was situated in Silicon Valley, they had not seen any attendees from companies such as Intel, National Semiconductor, X-Tek, Creative Automation, or Orbotech—all of which use vision in their semiconductor systems.
One vendor did quip that there had been "some people from KLA-Tencor wandering around." But with vendors failing to promote their own show, maybe they only had themselves to blame. One other vendor said, "If the world's largest machine-vision company (Cognex) doesn't turn up at Vision Show West, then it doesn't help the industry."
Because promotion wasn't coming from some OEM vendors, it didn't help systems integrators either. In fact, one manufacturer admitted that it had developed machine-vision systems for industrial, automotive, and food-inspection applications, but its customers did not want this information publicized. Worse still, the manufacturer was also forbidden to sell the once-developed product to manufacturers who wanted to perform similar inspections, even though these other manufacturers were supplying product to the original customer. This manufacturer was clearly frustrated.
The situation appears to be different in Germany. According to the Automated Imaging Association (Ann Arbor, MI), the worldwide machine-vision market in 1999 totaled about $5 billion, with North America accounting for 34%, Japan 31%, Europe 24%, and the rest of the world 11%. Interestingly, sales of European general-purpose machine-vision systems were the highest in Germany with $31.4 million worth of systems shipped. Maybe it has something to do with business practices. As another vendor declared, "We don't like the Stuttgart [Vision] show—it's got too many systems integrators."
by Andy Wilson