Business Vision

Trends in low-end machine vision; Alliances accelerate; Technology trends; Management moves; Contracts committed; Market vision.

Trends in low-end machine vision

At a recent press conference held at Omron Electronics Inc. (Schaumburg, IL; www.omron.com), vision-product marketing specialist Mark Sippel offered some views on trends in low-end machine-vision systems.

He covered high- and low-end machine-vision system definitions, where low-end machine-vision systems are being used, and present and future low-end machine-vision system trends.

According to Sippel, high-end machine-vision systems are typically open PC-based. They offer more functionality and flexibility, a filled PC chassis, a frame-grabber board, one or more cameras, expandable hardware and software, and costs exceeding $12,000. On the other hand, low-end machine-vision systems are typically proprietary microprocessor-based. They provide limited but growing functionality, generally a closed architecture, a local or remote self-contained camera and controller, easy menu-driven setup and use, and cost from $1000 to $8000.

In the 1999 North American general-purpose machine-vision market, Sippel listed the total sales percentages for high-end systems at $192 million or 95% market share and low-end systems at $11 million or 5% market share. For the same market, on an estimated 15,902 total units sold, high-end systems achieved 79% and low-end systems trailed at 21%.

High-end machine-vision systems are usually positioned at the end of the assembly line, says Sippel. They are used for the vision inspection of products after value has been added and just prior to final packaging. In contrast, low-end machine-vision systems are placed at several locations along the assembly line to inspect products as value is being added.

Sippel foresees new markets for low-end machine-vision systems for several reasons. Because they offer lower cost, these low-end systems allow wider scalability, affordable off-line applications, increasing functionality for more applications, compact size for flexible installations, and little maintenance and programming for low-skill operators.

As for low-end machine-vision system trends, Sippel anticipates continued lower cost and further optimization in ease of use, such as menu operation, no programming needed, and keypad setup. Although system size will undergo even further reduction, lighting and lenses will be integrated and input/output connections will be built in. Low-end systems are benefiting from the migration of tools from high-end systems and from expanded communications capabilities. Advanced features expected include two-camera operation, color vision, and Windows-based software adoption. System connectivity should expand with couplings to image monitors, photosensors, programmable logic controllers, personal computers, and local networks.

Alliances accelerate

Coreco Inc. (St-Laurent, QC, Canada; www.coreco.com), a developer of computer-vision products, has acquired Imaging Technology Inc. (Bedford, MA; www.imaging.com), a supplier of computer-vision hardware and software products, from Fairey Group plc for $14.5 million.

Imaging Technology will function as a wholly owned subsidiary of Coreco and will continue to be based in Bedford, MA. Coreco gains a complementary product line, doubles its market size, and expands the number of sales offices, exclusive distributors, and systems integrators in 35 countries. President and chief executive officer Keith Reuben remarks, "We look forward to reporting on the progress of our new product roadmap of how Coreco and Imaging Technology will combine complimentary products, technology, and talent to provide comprehensive machine-vision solutions to worldwide markets."

Texas Instruments Inc. (TI; Dallas,TX) has agreed to acquire Burr-Brown Corp. (Tucson, AZ) for $7.6 billion. Specializing in producing digital signal processors, TI is the marketshare leader in analog semiconductors, according to market researcher Dataquest Inc. (San Jose, CA).

The acquisition of Burr-Brown is projected to make TI a leading provider of data converters and a strong supplier of power amplifiers.

Adept Technology (San Jose, CA; www.adept.com), a manufacturer of industrial robots, has completed the acquisition of HexaVision Technologies (Sainte Foy, QC, Canada; www.hexavision.org), a developer of machine-vison software.

Stocker & Yale Inc. (Salem, MA; www.stkr.com), a manufacturer of special illumination products, has acquired CorkOpt Ltd. (Cork, Ireland), a supplier of LED and photo detector technologies and products, for $2.45 million.

Video Display Corp. (Tucker, GA), a supplier of display products, has agreed to acquire Lexel Images System Inc. (Lexington, KY), a manufacturer of CRTs and direct-view storage tubes.

Optimet-Optical Metrology Ltd. (Danvers, MA; www.optimet.com) has signed a strategic cooperation agreement to incorporate its three-dimensional, noncontact measurement and mapping devices into control, automation, and quality-assurance systems made by Elexis of Germany for the automotive, plastic, microelectronics, and other industrial markets. In addition, Elexis is also investing $4 million in Optimet.

Kent Displays (Kent, OH; www.kentdisplays.com) has licensed its cholesteric "No Power" liquid-crystal display technology to Motorola Inc. (Phoenix, AZ; www. motorola.com), a leading electronic-products supplier.

ImageWare Systems Inc. (San Diego, CA), a supplier of personal-identification, digital-imaging applications, has agreed to purchase Imaging Technology Corp. (Hudson, MA), a provider of digital imaging software for photo-identification cards and documents.

Technology trends

Point Grey Research (Vancouver, BC, Canada; www.ptgrey.com), a designer of computer-vision technologies, has unveiled its Digiclops digital stereo-vision camera for increased data accuracy in depth measurements.

This color/black-and-white camera captures images at 1024 x 768 pixels and 11 frames/s.

Tower Semiconductor Ltd. (Migdal Haemek, Israel) is producing 0.35-µm CMOS image sensors with a dark current below 200 electrons/s and a signal-to-noise ratio of more than 80 dB.

PLX Technology Inc. (Sunnyvale, CA; www.plxtech.com) has released its PCI 9656 I/O accelerator that enables 64-bit, 66-MHz operation in products that incorporate Motorola PowerQuicc processors or generic 32-bit, 66-MHz local bus designs.

Genesis Microchip (Toronto, Ontario, Canada; www.genesis-microchip.com) is spinning off its image-warp technology and business into a separate startup company. This technology digitally enlarges, reduces, centers, rotates, or shapes images primarily for helmet-mounted displays, while maintaining image quality and detail.

Kent Displays (Kent, OH; www.kentdisplays.com) has been awarded a US patent for a multiple-color, cholesteric reflective display that stacks two cholesteric displays, each with different abilities to reflect light wavelengths. This cell-stacking approach enables the eye-viewing of color images during daylight and nighttime viewing with special glasses.

Robotic Vision Systems Inc. (Canton, MA; www.rsvi.com) has developed a burr-detection module that helps its LS-7700 chip-inspection equipment find previously undetectable semiconductor shoulder burr and sliver package flaws.

Photobit Corp. (Pasadena, CA; www.photobit.com), a supplier of CMOS image sensors, has been awarded a US patent for "active-pixel sensors with substantially planarized color-filtering elements," which covers the basic light-filtering process that CMOS image sensors use to capture color.

Burr-Brown Corp. (Tucson, AZ) has introduced two video-signal processors designed for CCD cameras. These mixed signal-processing ICs provide CCD signal conditioning and 10- or 12-bit analog-to-digital conversion for interfacing between the CCD array and the digital signal processor. Other features include a 79-dB signal-to-noise ratio, a -6 dB to +42 dB gain range under digital control for varying illumination conditions, 8-bit digital-to-analog converters, and a 20-MHz conversion rate.

Indigo Systems (Santa Barbara, CA; www.indigosystems) has developed ThermoSonix, a nondestructive-testing technology that combines infrared imaging and ultrasonic energy to detect cracks and defects in materials such as ferrous and nonferrous metals, ceramics, and composites.

Management moves

DRS Technologies Inc. (Parsippany, NJ; www.drs.com), a producer of defense products in communications, data storage, digital imaging, and electro-optics, has promoted Paul G. Casner Jr. to executive vice president and chief operating officer.

ChromaVision Medical Systems Inc. (San Juan Capistrano, CA; www.chromavision.com), a manufacturer of cellular imaging systems, has elected Douglas S. Harrington, currently chief executive officer and director, as chairman of the board.

DisplaySearch (Austin, TX; www.displaysearch.com) an LCD market-research company, has hired Mark Finn as vice president. He previously served as a display strategy and procurement executive at Dell Computer.

Photobit Corp. (Pasadena, CA; www.photobit.com), a supplier of CMOS image sensors, has appointed Joe Parkinson, the former president and cofounder of Micron Technology, as its chief executive officer and president.

Displaytech Inc. (Longmont, CO; www.displaytech.com), a manufacturer of ferroelectric liquid-crystal microdisplays, has named David McDonald as senior program manager, SXGA microdisplay development. He previously served as manager of the electro-optics group at Compaq Computer.

Balzer Thin Films Inc. (Golden, CO), a supplier of optical components, has changed its name to Unaxis Optics, to reflect a redirection of the company's objectives. The new company is focusing on the fields of optics, data storage, displays, materials, and semiconductors, among others.

Ixthos Inc. (Leesburg, VA; www.ixthos.com), a supplier of digital-signal processing hardware and software, has named Ed Fenly as director of operations. He previously held managerial positions at AlliedSignal and Raytheon.

Dicom Imaging Systems Inc. (Las Vegas, NV; www.dicom-image.com) has appointed Reza Bazargan as chief technology officer and Donald Williams as chief operating officer. Both officials held similar positions at Milinx Business Services.

Contracts committed

Integral Vision Inc. (Farmington Hills, MI; www.iv-usa.com) has received an initial order for its SharpEye display inspection system from eMagin Corp. (Hopewell Junction, NY), a developer of virtual imaging technology.

Photonics Technology Division of Intervac Inc. (Santa Clara, CA; www.intevac.com) has received a nearly $11 million contract from the US Army Communications—Electronics Command for the development and demonstration of a low-light-level, laser-based surveillance and targeting camera system.

Image Processing Systems Inc. (Markham, Ont., Canada; www.ipsautomation.com) has received a repeat order of C$5.5 million from LG Shuguang Electronics Co. Inc., a joint Chinese and Korean venture, for turnkey automated display inspection and alignment platforms that will be used to check 15- and 17-in. color tubes.

ICOS Vision Systems Corp. NV (Heverlee, Belgium; www.ICOS.be) has received a $5.1 million order from a Southeast Asian semiconductor equipment manufacturer for several types of 3-D lead, ball, and mark vision-inspection systems.

ImageWare Systems Inc. (San Diego, CA) has been selected by the state of New Jersey to supply an integrated "mug-shot" system. This system will be used by the New Jersey State Police to create digital-image arrest records in conjunction with the company's Face ID biometric identifier.

Market vision

Texas Instruments (TI; Dallas, TX; www.ti.com) is entering the security and surveillance market with a programmable DSP-based digital recorder engine. This engine is based on TI's TMS320C6000 DSP, embedded operating system, and digital image-analysis and video compression software. Built around this engine, a digital recorder or camera can function over the Internet. According to the market researchers, the security market is growing at a compound annual rate of 25%.

Photobit Corp. (Pasadena, CA; www.photobit.com) has shipped its one-millionth CMOS image sensor. These sensors are being used in a variety of applications such as video cameras, camera-in-a-pill, dental radiography, and automotive inspection, among others.

Xirlink Inc. (San Jose, CA; www.xirlink.com) has shipped its one-millionth digital camera. The company manufactures and markets a variety of digital still cameras for high-volume OEM customers.

The annual SID (Society for Information Display; www.sid.org) 2000 conference, symposium, and exhibition, which was recently held in Long Beach, CA, attracted 340 exhibitors and 6600 attendees. Among the impressive array of displays was a 5.5-in. organic light-emitting-diode prototype display from a Kodak/Sanyo collaboration.

This display featured a bright, thin, glass substrate that was driven by thin-film transistors; row and column drivers made of low-temperature polysilicon and fabricated directly on the glass substrate; and a single 25-conductor flat cable connection to the host system.

The Semiconductor Industry Association reports that worldwide sales of semiconductors reached an all-time record high of $15.8 billion in May 2000, increasing from $11.3 billion for May 1999 or a 39.8% year-to-year growth. The Asia Pacific and Japan markets surged 45.8% and 43.6%, respectively; the Americas' market rose 32.5% and European sales grew 40%, all compared to May 1999 sales.

Market-research firm Cahners In-Stat Group (Scottsdale, AZ; www.instat.com) reports that the IEEE-1394 (FireWire) market grew more than 300% in 1999, compared to 1998 product-related sales. Total shipments for devices with IEEE-1394 ports increased to more than 12 million units in 1999, up from 3.5 million units in 1998.

According to a recent study by Dataquest Inc. (San Jose, CA; www.dataquest.com), worldwide semiconductor revenues are forecast to reach $222 billion in 2000, an increase of 31% over 1999 revenues, and are projected to reach $320 billion in 2004.

GEORGE KOTELLY EDITOR IN CHIEF
georgek@pennwell.com

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