Volume discounts do not apply

Dec. 1, 2010
System integrators face enough headaches trying to find and test components—could they get a little help from the OEMs?

System integrators face enough headaches trying to find and test components—could they get a little help from the OEMs?

by Andy Wilson, editor[email protected]

Some people—especially those on low fixed incomes such as trade journalists—find it necessary to barter on price before purchasing goods. Being one such person, I recently entered a music store to purchase a piano. What caught my eye was a rather fine Yamaha CP33 stage piano priced under $1000. So I decided to see if the owners of the store would throw in a music stand, MIDI, and USB cables with the product at no extra cost.

After haggling away for around 15 minutes, the manager informed me that this was the only product of its type in stock and as such, they could only sell me the floor model. At this point, I said that since the keyboard was a used item, I needed an even bigger discount and an $80 keyboard bag thrown in for free. The manager didn’t look pleased, and instead offered me a $40 discount on the bag. After I told him I would leave the store if he didn’t agree, the deal was complete.

While price negotiations like this are effective for consumers in today’s rather depressed economic climate, a different kind of negotiation takes place in the machine-vision business. In many situations, it is not customers or their applications that seem to be important to OEM suppliers but the volume of products that could potentially be shifted.

For vendors of semiconductor devices, this holds especially true. Try placing an order for just a handful of the latest, fastest, highest-resolution CCD or CMOS imagers from your favorite semiconductor vendor. After you are placed on hold for 10 minutes, you may be transferred to a voicemail system to leave your order.

Worse, if your order is not deemed of sufficient volume, you will be placed at the bottom of a list that may start with companies such as Apple. Those seeking to place orders with CCD or CMOS imager vendors that compete with their own camera customers may be placed on even longer waiting lists.

Worse still

Unfortunately, this also applies to vendors of imaging peripherals. After visiting one camera company, I was informed that they had turned away numerous requests from customers—especially potential PhD students—who simply needed to purchase single cameras for evaluation purposes. The reasoning behind this argument was that the company had little time to support multiple applications developed by single individuals. The cost, it seems, could not be justified.

For those manufacturing large numbers of systems, of course, it is a different story. OEM suppliers are more accommodating, offering generous OEM discounts to their customers.

Although these practices may be good for those manufacturing high-volume consumer products, this business model does not hold up in the machine-vision world where many system integrators are often tasked with building proof-of-concept systems before any orders are placed.

Developing prototypes may require system developers to evaluate numerous products from multiple vendors. To do so, they may have to purchase (or borrow) single items at a time. Even after orders by end users are placed, the specialized nature of such systems means that relatively very few systems may ever be produced.

No wonder, then, that OEM suppliers tend to be selective with whom they deal. But what would happen if the system integrators applied those same selective criteria? Although some do, many do not have the luxury of bartering. But then perhaps that is why there are so many OEM suppliers of lighting, cameras, frame grabbers, and machine-vision software and so few system integrators. Indeed, perhaps if certain OEM suppliers were more accommodating to the needs of the few, more system integrators would enter the machine-vision and image-processing business.

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