Inventing the wheel

Last month's Assembly Tech Expo in Rosemont, IL, attracted more than 14,000 attendees to view products from more than 700 exhibitors. As in previous years, most of the show was designed for manufacturers to showcase feeder storage carts, motors, pneumatic tools, portable tensile testers, conveyors, and laser marking systems.

Oct 1st, 2000
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While technology and product information may be readily available, finding someone who has invented the wheel, as opposed to re-inventing it, remains the systems integrator's problem.

Last month's Assembly Tech Expo in Rosemont, IL, attracted more than 14,000 attendees to view products from more than 700 exhibitors. As in previous years, most of the show was designed for manufacturers to showcase feeder storage carts, motors, pneumatic tools, portable tensile testers, conveyors, and laser marking systems.

Noticeably, OEM image-processing vendors that were present at Assembly Tech were those manufacturers offering more of a systems solution to developers of automated manufacturing systems. These included Adept Technology, Cincinnati Industrial Automation, Cognex, Dolan-Jenner, DVT, Imaging Technology, Integral Vision, Keyence, Omron, PPT Vision, Roper Scientific, and RVSI.

Absent from the show were most OEM frame-grabber, lighting, software, and display vendors. To see those companies, attendees had to wait until this month's Vision Show West, in San Jose, CA. There, many new vision-related products were announced to the imaging community (see Vision Systems Design, Sept. 2000, p. 70).

Interestingly, while the exhibitors at Assembly Tech are more familiar to mechanical engineers, those at The Vision Show are better known by electrical engineers developing machine-vision subsystems. While no pneumatic tools could be found in any of the booths of The Vision Show West, the crossover between OEM components and assembly automation was more apparent at Assembly Tech.

Many of those attending The Vision Show and our readers are involved in specifying and building systems to automate manufacturing. They want to be aware of the latest developments in both electronic and mechanical engineering. And, to obtain a complete picture of how such systems will be built in the future, systems developers must also be aware of new developments in PC technology, standards, and networking.

Unfortunately, such specific information is mainly released at technology-specific trade shows and technical seminars such as PCExpo and Intel's Developer Forum. At this year's PCExpo, for example, Hitachi Data Systems (Santa Clara, CA), Toshiba Storage Device Division (Irvine, CA), and Matsushita Electric (Secaucus, NJ) introduced single-sided 4.7-Gbyte DVD-RAM drives and media with transfer rates of up to 2.77 Mbytes/s (see Vision Systems Design, Aug. 2000, p. 8). Developers of scientific and medical image-processing systems will, no doubt, incorporate such drives into their next-generation systems.

At Intel's Developer Forum, Intel Corp. (Santa Clara, CA) showed its Advanced Graphics Port (AGP) roadmap. Designed to double the graphics-processing speed of today's most-popular PC desktop and workstation platforms, the AGP8x parallel AGP interface implements a 32-bit-wide bus and doubles the speed of the AGP4x to 533 MHz. Frame-grabber vendors and display-controller vendors who now use the AGP4x will use the new specification to increase the data rate of their controllers to 2 Gbytes/s.

As a result, developers of automated manufacturing systems require a number of detailed information sources. Thanks to the power of the Internet, much of this information is available on-line immediately after it is announced. This provides today's engineering managers fast access to available technologies, products, and systems-integration issues.

However, to rapidly develop vision systems, systems integrators must determine the fastest way to market. Unfortunately, many companies are still reluctant to publish detailed specifications showing how their components solve specific inspection problems. So, while technology and product information may be readily available, finding someone who has already invented the wheel, as opposed to re-inventing it, remains the systems integrator's most difficult problem.

by Andy Wilson
EDITOR
andyw@pennwell.com

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