Missed opportunities to spread the word
Andy Wilson Editor
In this and the past six issues of Vision Systems Design, we have reported on the design of medical, military, scientific, and industrial imaging systems. In each article, we discuss the OEM components used to build such systems and some of the trade-offs designers make. In this endeavor, I`m sorry to report that the machine-vision industry may be its own worst enemy.
Machine-vision-system developers resemble a closed society that is reluctant to promote solutions for quality-control or inspection systems. The reason is, of course, money. While information regarding OEM peripherals is freely available at trade shows and in product publications, getting systems developers to share systems-integration stories is a tough task.
Customers of such OEMs are reluctant to divulge the hardware, software, and peripherals that they chose to use in machine-vision, medical imaging, or scientific image-analysis systems. That, after all, is the reason they are in business. They have solved specific problems using off-the-shelf and custom image-processing hardware. And to give their secrets away, especially in a magazine, would be tantamount to suicide, they reason.
Attacking niche markets
Unfortunately, by harboring such a mentality, the customers of OEMs--the developers of machine-vision systems--may be missing an opportunity. While the markets for OEM components such as cameras, frame grabbers, processors, displays, and monitors is large, the markets for specific types of systems, for example, blood-cell analyzers, baggage-inspection systems, and web-inspection systems, are smaller. For any company to enter such a market would take more than borrowing the systems-integration ideas discussed in these magazine pages.
Indeed, because of the sophistication of vision systems, it would be extremely difficult to reverse-engineer such products. While Vision Systems Design discusses systems-integration issues, the real value added of systems developers lies in the proprietary code they have developed to perform specific vision tasks. Even if companies were to divulge this, it is extremely unlikely that we will ever publish lines of code. Indeed, if for no other reason than to promote their own OEM or end-user systems, manufacturers should be prepared to discuss aspects of systems design.
Promoting your product
Smart public-relations companies and marketing managers already know this. In this month`s issue, for example, contributing editor John Haystead reports on an x-ray crystallography system being used at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (Livermore, CA). In his discussion of the system design, John shows how to network cooled CCD cameras with Silicon Graphics workstations, software, and Windows-based PCs.
Not only does this help you, the developer of image-analysis systems, by describing the off-the-shelf hardware and software that was used in the development of the system, it also benefits any end-user who may be considering the purchase of such a system. To regard such information as proprietary is doing an injustice to developers of vision systems.
With this in mind, both OEMs and systems developers should realize that by sharing systems-integration information, they may have more to gain than to lose.