Empty garden

May 2, 2010
Managing a machine-vision company can require the skills of a good gardener, notably one who nourishes new growth.

Managing a machine-vision company can require the skills of a good gardener, notably one who nourishes new growth

byAndy Wilson, editor

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As many of our readers are well aware, I was not born in the United States. In fact, I was born in a sleepy village in the county of Bedfordshire, England. To check the ties that bind, I often visit my wayward twin brother Dave. Being the potential management type, I duly inspect how my brother is keeping his house and his half-an-acre garden.

Since I only visit a few times a year, it always appears that the garden is little changed. The same trees, lawn, rose bushes, and paved passages are still as I remember them from my childhood. It is as beautiful as ever.

What I do not see, of course, is the effort involved in mowing the lawn, trimming trees and hedgerows, planting shrubs and flowers, composting, and burning dead branches. My management capacity as a resident alien of the USA has been to delegate these tasks to my brother.

My brother goes over and above his duty, seeking endlessly to maintain and possibly improve the garden. Every time I visit, he points out the latest shrubs he has purchased from the local garden center. Still, it seems from my brief management visit very little changes.

Of course, everyone has a neighbor willing to offer advice. My brother's neighbor (who will remain nameless) suggested that to make things a lot easier, the garden could be seeded with grass and the trees, bushes, and shrubs eliminated. In that way, the friendly neighbor said, the only task required would be to purchase a John Deere lawn mower and ride up and down the garden for an hour every two weeks. My brother was not amused.

I told my brother that if he could not maintain the garden there were only two management options: Either he would have to work a lot harder or he would have to reduce the level of maintenance required. Nothing beautiful would grow but the property would remain in equilibrium. Of course, Dave didn't like either idea.

Better than just being green

Unfortunately, the same decisions have recently faced those in management at many small companies that design and manufacture machine-vision and image-processing products. During this recession, for example, many companies have cut back on both personnel and engineering development. For those companies that have cut back on both, the employees that remain have been forced to take upon themselves extra tasks, often at no extra pay in an attempt to preserve the company's status quo.

Maintaining this status quo, however, has left these companies to appear as flat green gardens that, though easy to maintain, have little beauty and nothing in the soil to show at springtime. However, those companies that have made cutbacks but have maintained their investment in engineering research will be amply rewarded as this country and others emerge from the recession.

While maintaining their existing product lines, some machine-vision and image-processing companies are already investigating new technologies and their potential applications, including organic LEDs (OLEDs), high-speed CMOS image sensors, three-dimensional displays, embedding third-party IP into their products, and high-speed camera interfaces.

But investing in these technologies, much like planting shrubs or vegetables in a garden, requires time before the fruits of one's labor are realized. Unfortunately, most of the companies involved in developing OEM products for the machine-vision and image-processing market are relatively small. During a recession, then, it may be better to form strategic alliances with other companiesâcompetitors or potential customersârather than temporarily forfeit investment in the future.

For my brother, these options do not exist. He will have to both maintain and improve his garden. If I ever see a lawn instead of a garden, he will be in deep trouble. That's my style of management.

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