Asia-Pacific sees new vision markets, robust growth

Less is known about the machine-vision market in the Asia-Pacific region than the markets in Europe or North America.

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By John Morse

Less is known about the machine-vision market in the Asia-Pacific region than the markets in Europe or North America. This was one of the reasons IMS Research felt it was important to produce a market analysis dedicated to this region. The results proved to be very interesting, since the Asia-Pacific market is quite different from the markets in Europe and North America, which share many characteristics not only in structure but also in growth rates.

The estimated market growth from 2004 to 2009 in the Asia-Pacific region is best described as positive and steady and very healthy compared with that for Europe (see Fig. 1). It will come as no surprise that most of this growth is coming from outside Japan, which is currently predicted by international economic forecasters to experience low GDP and industrial production growth over the next few years. Although Japan has high volume sales of machine-vision products, it is countries such as China, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan that are forecast to drive machine-vision hardware growth in revenue, as well as volume terms.

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The average growth of the machine-vision hardware market in the Asia-Pacific region is healthy, but some product areas are healthier than others (see Fig. 2). “Smart” products are predicted to top the growth league. Such products, along with compact vision systems, are expected to impact the numbers of traditional machine-vision cameras that are sold, causing a lower growth rate for these products than might otherwise be expected.

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This finding was echoed in the results of a user survey on machine vision. When asked what were the most important features required of a machine-vision system, one of the top requirements reported was “ease of use.” Just about all the smart cameras and sensors on the market today easily meet this requirement. The ease of programming and use of modern smart cameras has also encouraged many new users of the technology, a trend that is forecast to continue for the foreseeable future.

This growth in smart cameras is having a significant effect on the sales of frame grabbers. The IMS Research report predicts that revenues for frame grabbers used in machine-vision applications will decline over the next few years, since most smart cameras and compact vision systems do not require them. However, it is not all bad news for frame-grabber manufacturers, despite the fact that frame-grabber use in machine-vision applications is declining. The security-and-surveillance market still uses them in great numbers, often in applications with digital video recorders. In fact, in a separate report by IMS Research the revenue growth for frame grabbers in this sector is predicted to be high, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

There are few large companies that manufacture lighting products specifically for the machine-vision market. In the Asia-Pacific region, CCS (Kyoto, Japan; www.ccs-inc.co.jp) is estimated to be the largest. There are, however, many small ones, and more are emerging all the time. This trend is being encouraged by the fact that only relatively simple manufacturing facilities are required. The use of dedicated machine-vision lighting products is more common in the Asia-Pacific region than in Europe, where the “do-it-yourself” approach prevails, although this is starting to change.

As in Europe, fewer companies in the Asia-Pacific region are buying dedicated machine-vision lighting products than the number of machine-vision systems being installed. This situation is expected to change, and, as applications become more complex and the quality of cameras improves, the need for high-quality lighting becomes more important. This is a key reason why a high rate of growth is forecast for this sector of the industry.

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Throughout Europe and North America, the automotive industry tends to be highly influential over the industrial automation scene. In Asia-Pacific this is not the case (see Fig. 3). Although the automotive industry is clearly important, it is the semiconductor and electronics-machinery industries that constitute the largest industry sector in this region. This sector has always been receptive to high-technology solutions such as industrial machine vision, and the industry has steadily migrated to Asia in the last 20 years.

JOHN MORSE is a senior market-research analyst at IMS Research, Wellingborough, UK; www.imsresearch.com.

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