Sensors and the big picture

The recent down years for businesses in the semiconductor and telecommunications industries make the relative buoyancy of the imaging and machine-vision markets a welcome relief.

The recent down years for businesses in the semiconductor and telecommunications industries make the relative buoyancy of the imaging and machine-vision markets a welcome relief. True, the overall economic situation and slowdown in specific industries has clearly affected our markets. But imaging technologies and products have become such an intrinsic part of so many markets that the growing diversity has offset slumps in individual sectors.

Just how deeply image sensors have penetrated the general economy was brought home to me by a new study by PennWell's research arm, Strategies Unlimited (Mountain View, CA). Applications range from the obvious, such as digital still cameras and mobile phone cameras, to toys, wireless endoscopy, intelligent vehicles, digital radiography, and machine vision for manufacturing. Tom Hausken, the author of Image Sensor Market Review & Forecast 2003, thinks the total market for image sensors such as CCDs and CMOS devices this year is about $2.44 billion, with a compound annual growth rate over the next five years of 11%. Most of this increase comes in the first few years until price pressure begins to constrain profit margins.

The study puts sensors for machine vision, barcode readers, radiography, science, aerospace, and military in one category in which the applications are highly specialized and unit prices relatively high and stable. In this complex niche, revenue growth is about 5% per year. Hausken says it generally tracks the capital-equipment market and is worth about $210 million in 2003.

Integrating systems

Interesting as it is, the optical sensor is only a small part of what we cover at Vision Systems Design. Our primary goal is to bring you technical information on how such components and subsystems can be integrated into system designs that help solve real-world problems. For example, in our lead story this month, the novel optical components are important to the design of a flow cytometer that works with a microscope to image red tide algae. But what is more important is how the optics, frame grabber, and image-processing software are integrated. This system design may help other engineers and system integrators apply the solutions to their own designs.

The same holds true for our articles on color checking at a metal finisher, all-weather aircraft docking, and automated x-y positioning equipment. The growth in the optical-component market is a reflection of innovations found in the design and implementation of systems, and at Vision Systems Design we are committed to bringing in-depth discussions of these innovations to you.

W. Conard Holton
Editor in Chief
cholton@pennwell.com

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