A link between word- and image-processing software

Business letters, manuals, and marketing information—nearly all companies use computers to create and process these and other office and technical documents.

This monthChristian Demant,general manager of DS GmbH, Remseck, Germany, and a member of the Vision Systems Design Editorial Advisory Board, writes about software trends.

Business letters, manuals, and marketing information—nearly all companies use computers to create and process these and other office and technical documents. For word-processing software, however, companies do not develop an editor, spell checker, or print previewer from software libraries using the latest programming languages. Nor do they instruct their software engineers to design a cutting-edge word-processing program specifically tailored to company requirements. The obvious reason is that highly functional and low-cost commercial word-processing programs are readily available, and most companies use them daily without customization.

There is a similar conflict in the machine-vision and image-processing software market between suppliers of ready-to-run applications and those of function libraries. Both sides declare advantages, but the discussions often appear more ideological than technical. On one side, application vendors offer various extension interfaces for their programs, enabling programmers to add customer-specific modifications. On the other side, library vendors provide interactive configuration programs built on top of their function libraries that render program coding unnecessary or instruct beginners with a user-friendly point and click environment.

From this conflict, a vision of the future of image processing is emerging, as the comparison to text-processing software indicates. Software-development costs are increasing. It is difficult for small- and medium-sized image-processing companies to compete with highly capitalized companies for computer-hardware and software developers. In addition, the complexity and responsibility of developing code required to work reliably in an industrial 24/7 production environment generally deter job applicants.

Fortunately, image processing has lost most of its "esoteric lore." Production engineers have begun to regard it as standard technology that is conveniently applicable without excessive effort and detailed knowledge of the technical and mathematical intricacies.

Future industrial users will soon select from several mature, internationally available, image-processing packages. They will solve the majority of visual inspection tasks without in-depth knowledge. Software development by end users will be the exception, however.

The suppliers of standard applications will be under pressure to provide robust software to meet the increasing support requirements of international customers. Competition will be fierce because software customers are accustomed to the high levels of usability, functionality, and availability of new technologies typical for the office-application sector.

The shift toward standard applications will be an exciting development, but the boost it will give to software quality will further the use and distribution of industrial image processing.

This page is available for machine-vision and image-processing professionals to present an industry or marketing perspective. Contact George Kotelly, editor in chief, for information: georgek@pennwell.com.

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