New approaches will be needed to market OEM vision/imaging components in the future.
Despite industry-analyst claims that vision/imaging markets are growing at double-digit rates each year, the number of companies exhibiting at machine-vision trade shows such as Photonics East/West and The Vision Show has not changed much over the past few years. During this period, many industry-related company revenues have grown just slightly or have remained flat when sales reach $10 million to $30 million a year.
Many of these companies supply OEM products such as cameras, frame grabbers, and image-processing hardware and software to systems integrators building machine-vision and image-processing systems. And, as both analysts and manufacturers have observed, this industry is crowded with relatively small companies making similar products. Indeed, there are now more than 150 camera, frame-grabber, and monitor vendors just in the United States.
By selling into such a crowded, highly competitive market, it's no wonder OEM vendors are reluctant to offer leading-edge news and testimonials regarding applications for their products. They fear that after such information is published, a dozen or more competitive vendors will scramble after their business. However, the smarter companies are realizing that they must chase new opportunities and new markets to expand their businesses.
Fortunately, in the machine-vision and image-processing industries, new opportunities abound for OEMs to exploit new markets. For example, Magnisight (Colorado Springs, CO), Ovac (Cathedral City, CA), and Pulse Data International (Christchurch, New Zealand) are all manufacturers of electronic magnification devices for the sight-impaired. These devices all incorporate cameras to capture and enhance text and images that are then displayed on built-in high-resolution monitors. Although the markup on such devices is small, the volume is large enough to make this system-integration approach a lucrative market for knowledgeable OEM suppliers.
The automobile industry represents another relatively untapped area of opportunity. One company is developing an occupant-type-determination software tool for a vision-based smart airbag application. The integrated system checks for the presence of a small child or an infant car seat on the front passenger seat of an automobile. If either is detected, the system is instructed to deactivate the passenger-side airbag.
Upon completion of the software development, the system will require the use of low-cost imagers, computers, and other tools embedded into the passenger side of an automobile's dashboard. Based on the worldwide sales of automobiles, such applications will consume millions of OEM vision/imaging components.
Already, OEM camera vendor Dalsa Inc. (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) has recognized the impact such markets are likely to have on its company growth. Last month, the company unveiled a corporate strategy to exploit its core technologies and allow growth into the forefront of larger and rapidly growing market spaces.
At present, the majority of Dalsa's revenues stream from the sale of electronic digital cameras, CCD and CMOS image-sensor chips, and custom development contracts. Now, the company will expand its marketing efforts to capture new business in machine-vision, vision-system, life-science, and digital-cinema applications.
Unlike machine-vision systems, which demand a different engineering approach for nearly every system, volume applications such as electronic magnification, car safety restraint, and digital cinema fit comfortably into the embedded, high-volume marketplace. For established OEM companies to succeed in these markets, however, they must realize that profits can be made by offering embedded systems at low cost and in high volume.
by Andy Wilson