The shifting build or buy decision
Today`s systems integrators face challenging tasks. Producing the right product at the right price in a timely fashion is becoming more difficult. As integrated-circuit introductions proliferate, board vendors are forced to adopt these latest devices to remain competitive. For the systems integrator who is ultimately responsible for designing and maintaining a finished product, the pressure is on.
Some systems manufacturers do not particularly like the rapid product introductions of the semiconductor and board vendors. They must support products for several years and depend on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to supply them with subsystems. While some OEM suppliers support their products for several years, most introduce faster, less expensive products with added functionality in the same time period.
For the systems integrator to remain competitive, new technology must be adopted, while systems with the same look-and-feel as those already deployed in the field continue to be produced. Often, re-engineering a deployed product can involve major decisions such as choice of computer architecture, operating systems, and processing boards.
Rapid technological changes can also impact the success of established companies. Often end-user systems have a life cycle of ten years or more. Such systems suppliers leave themselves open to competition from start-ups who, with no need for prior product support, can rapidly enter markets with cheaper products.
Faced with faster product development cycles and the reduced cost of OEM components, the build-or-buy decision is becoming increasingly critical for the systems integrator. For the developer of vision systems, the swing is moving toward buying rather than building subsystems in-house. Several factors are influencing this decision. Sensors and cameras with a variety of interfaces are now available from a number of reliable vendors. And with many image-processing systems only requiring the power of a Pentium, systems can be configured rapidly and easily.
In addition, the availability of sophisticated programming languages and menu-driven image-processing packages is allowing developers to rapidly program embedded systems for imaging tasks. And, the reduced cost of disk drives, monitors, networks, and subsystems is driving down the cost of vision systems. For the end user, reduced system cost means that image-processing systems will find wider use in various applications.
The trend toward buying OEM products as opposed to building products in-house is not only affecting the systems integrator but is also having a major impact on OEMs who can no longer afford to address a broad image-processing market with generic products. Customers are demanding more from their OEMs than faster and faster processors. They want integrated solutions that include sensors, processors, networks, and displays.
Because of this, OEMs are aligning themselves with specific customers to solve their application problems. General-purpose image-processing products with little or no systems support are giving way to OEM products targeted at specific vertical markets. In the end, the move toward more vertically integrated OEM products will reduce development costs for systems integrators and will result in faster time to market for vision systems.
Andy Wison Editor