All the world’s a stage

Compared to the semiconductor, automotive, or food-and-beverage manufacturing industries, the number of companies that supply OEM components to the machine-vision industry is small indeed.

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Compared to the semiconductor, automotive, or food-and-beverage manufacturing industries, the number of companies that supply OEM components to the machine-vision industry is small indeed. Yet these companies like to play on the global stage. By way of illustration, Dietmar Ley, CEO of Basler (Ahrensburg, Germany) and chairman of the Machine Vision Group of the VDMA (Frankfurt/Main, Germany), recently noted that over half of German machine-vision equipment manufacturing companies have fewer than 20 employees. This is true whether companies are in Europe, North America, or Asia.

Machine vision may be a small segment of the industrial automation market, but it has become so intertwined with modern economies around the world that it’s hard to imagine how, for example, the automotive parts industry could perform efficiently without it. This month, two of our feature articles illustrate this fact by showing how machine-vision systems affect the production of critical automotive parts. The first, our cover story, describes how a small system integrator has built a vision-guided robotic work-cell that uses a water jet to trim excess plastic from injection-molded plastic parts. The second describes the work of a machine-tool shop that used ten smart cameras in the design of a system to inspect the oil passages of engine blocks.

Non-industrial applications also play significant roles in the growing use of machine-vision technology and products. Several articles this issue show how machine-vision and image-processing components can automate tree-ring studies, be used to create more effective airborne imaging systems, inspect railroad tracks, and perform high-speed x-ray imaging.

In a worldwide theater, both non-industrial and industrial machine vision are playing to new audiences. To help readers understand some of the ramifications of these new markets, our article on the Chinese machine-vision industry highlights the differences between North American, European, and Chinese-based approaches to business.

Live theater

Every industry needs a venue to display its good and services. Until now in Europe, Messe Stuttgart has held the annual VISION show in the Killesberg suburb of the city. At VISION 2006, from November 7-9, 200 exhibitors, 40% of them from outside Germany, are expected to play in packed halls to 5,000 visitors.

A much bigger stage, the New Stuttgart Trade Fair Centre, is nearing completion and will be ready for VISION 2007. Located next to the Stuttgart airport, its nine exhibition halls will be more than the machine-vision industry can fill. But the new scale opens the possibility of linking the machine-vision market more closely to its co-stars in the industrial automation, robotics, and semiconductor markets to offer attendees more dramatic examples of machine vision and image processing in action.

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

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