JULY 20, 2009--According to the German VDMA Machine Vision Group (www.vdma.org), 2008 turned out to be a successful year for the German machine-vision industry. Turnover in the industry rose by 5% to EUR1.2 billion, which the organization reports as the highest level ever. However, sales are predicted to drop substantially in 2009.
Speaking at a pre-show press conference for VISION 2009 in Stuttgart, Dietmar Lay, chairman of the Machine Vision Group and CEO of Basler Vision Technologies (Ahrensburg, Germany; www.baslerweb.com), said the number of orders received slumped dramatically from 4Q08 onward. The difficult situation in most important customer industries for machine vision led to a massive decrease in orders.
In the first four months of 2009, turnover in the machine-vision industry was already about 20% lower than in the corresponding period last year. If the low level of orders continues in the remainder of 2009, it can be concluded that turnover will carry on its decline. Against this background, the VDMA Machine Vision Group is currently assuming that turnover in the German machine-vision industry will fall by 30% in 2009. The industry turnover then attained will therefore probably drop to approximately EUR845 million, i.e., the level in 2003.
In spite of this development, the organizations says there is still good growth potential for machine vision: First, there are indications that the crisis will strengthen the worldwide trend in the medium term toward the use of intelligent automation technology -- and thus machine-vision technology -- since its use helps to optimize production processes, reduce costs, and attain productivity gains. Second, a large number of new markets outside industrial production can also be developed due to the universal applicability of machine vision. Opportunities are opening up in fields such as security technology, sports, agriculture, medicine, and traffic engineering.
The following results from the current market survey by the VDMA Machine Vision Group provide an insight into the developments and trends in the machine-vision industry in 2008. These structural data also reflect the current situation in the machine-vision industry.
A decrease in the number of deliveries to car manufacturers and automotive component suppliers was apparent in 2008. The share of turnover in Germany dropped from just below 30% in 2007 to less than 25% in 2008. The electrical engineering and electronics industry also accounted for a lower share of turnover in the machine-vision industry. However, there were increases in the glass, metal products, pharmaceutical, and cosmetics industries.
Overall, a 5% increase in turnover was achieved with systems. The biggest increases in system business were recorded by vision sensors, which comprise a complete machine-vision system in a compact housing and are designed for a specific application, e.g., reading code or identifying colors. After considerable increases in previous years, turnover with vision sensors rose by 33% in 2008. In terms of unit numbers, they grew by almost 40%. The trend toward inexpensive and easy-to-use standard systems is therefore continuing. However, applications systems, which are typically efficient and often designed in accordance with customer requirements, again recorded an increase in turnover of 2% in 2008 after slight decreases in previous years. With a 39% share in total turnover in the machine-vision industry, they still represent the most important product category.
With a 25% share in total turnover, cameras are the most important component. Unit numbers rose by 9% in 2008 and turnover by 3%. Sales of frame grabbers dropped again, however, in 2008. This was probably due to the increasing use of digital cameras that can be directly used in the system without a frame grabber.
In the past few years, German machine-vision suppliers were able to expand their exports with branches or distributors on every continent. In 2008, exports rose by 4% and represented 52% of total turnover. Just under 26% of deliveries went to European countries. Twelve percent of total turnover was attained in both America (including Central and South America) and Asia.
Almost two-thirds of machine-vision applications are used to inspect both components and continuous material. The number of measuring tasks has risen, which indicates an increasing change from tactile to optical measuring technologies. In particular, 3-D applications are in demand, increasing by 15% in 2008.
After the dramatic slump in demand in 2009, a gradual recovery is again expected in the next few years. The machine-vision industry must actively prepare for the future, according to the VDMA Machine Vision Group. Companies must "first carry out solid crisis management" in order to also remain flexible despite falling sales, says the organization. Current developments such as easy handling and integration of machine-vision technology, cost-efficient solutions, and greater use of configurable standard systems and standard interfaces will speed up. On the whole, the "total costs of ownership," i.e., total costs in the lifecycle of a machine-vision application, must be attractive. New markets must also be identified and developed in order for companies to emerge with strength from the economic crisis.
-- Posted by Conard Holton and Carrie Meadows, Vision Systems Design, www.vision-systems.com