The inside track (to new markets)
OEM manufacturers of machine-vision components are finding new customers as a result of the introduction of new products and services, combined with flexible business and marketing strategies.
By W. Conard Holton
OEM manufacturers of machine-vision components are finding new customers as a result of the introduction of new products and services, combined with flexible business and marketing strategies. As Robert Schoenberger of Agris-Schoen Vision Systems (Fairfax, VA, USA) points out in our Business Views interview, smarter, faster equipment applied in new ways can lead to new customers. He is referring, at least in part, to the increasing use of smart cameras, but the drive toward obtaining new customers-in different markets-takes many forms.
These new opportunities are being driven by vision-system integrators that are asked to solve problems in industries and applications that formerly had limited or no use for vision technology. Schoenberger mentions an application in which fish swimming up “ladders” to get past a dam are categorized and counted to help understand the impact of the dam on the ecology and productivity of the river. Although perhaps not a fast-growth market, it is an example of one of many niche areas where vision systems are being deployed.
Textile manufacturing represents another growth area for machine-vision systems. In the process of transforming raw cotton into thread and then clothing, the quality of the raw cotton can vary tremendously, so the textile industry is learning to rely on vision to balance physical characteristics such as fiber length, color, and quantity of contaminates. As described in one of our feature articles, Trützschler (Mönchengladach, Germany), a maker of machinery for textile mills, has worked with Tichawa Technology (Friedberg, Germany) to develop a machine-vision system capable of imaging individual tufts of cotton as they are separated by toothed drums to help remove contaminants.
In the medical industry, too, the fine tolerances now mandated by the US Food and Drug Administration and others have led to greater use of vision-based automated manufacturing systems. This month’s cover story describes how the precision control of medical coil windings in the production of catheters is critical to success of medical-equipment companies and the health of patients. To ensure tolerances as fine as 0.001 in., vision is the tool of choice for Engineering By Design (San Jose, CA, USA), a company that makes automated manufacturing systems for the medical-device and other industries.
To address these and other application-specific industries, machine-vision software manufacturers are continually adding extra features to their product offerings, as you will see in our Product Focus article. The result is that that fully configured, automated systems can be developed and deployed in less time and with less effort than ever. There is no quick fix in developing automated manufacturing systems that deploy machine vision, since every new application and enhanced software package holds its own challenges, but the combination of innovations in hardware and software, and the opening of new markets, bodes well for continued industry growth.
W. Conard Holton
Editor in Chief