Anyone in attendance at Automate 2017 in Chicago would agree that there is a lot going on, with exciting new technologies and demonstrations lining the aisles of the exhibition hall at McCormick Place. One thing that many people seem to have in common thus far is optimism toward the health of the visionand automation markets.
One person who certainly does is Alex Shikany, Director of Market Analysis for the AIA. On Monday morning I had the opportunity to talk to Shikany, who indicated that in 2016, we ended on a high note, which led to the setting of a new all-time high for the machine vision market in North America for the year.
"The market in Q4 didn’t go down, which is obviously a great thing for everyone. When we asked people about this, we heard more about business optimism and confidence,"he said.
Looking toward this year, the data isn’t available just yet, but the AIA still expects 2017 to be very strong. If this holds true, the market will grow by 3% over last year.
"We expect the purchases of imaging and vision products to increase as the need for companies to utilize this technology does as well,"he said.
Last year at the VISION show in Stuttgart, Shikany said that he was optimistic toward the market health in both 2018 and 2019, so I decided to follow up on this to see if he still felt this way. In terms of 2018, he told me that was a "hard yes,"and that as of now, the preliminary prediction from the AIA is that we will see 5% year-over-year growth. Looking toward 2019, though, he indicated that he’s currently taking more of a wait-and-see approach, and will continue to see what leading economists such as Alan Beaulieu, President of ITR Economics, have to say about that.
"It’s a little far out to start worrying,"he said. "Companies will still need to use vision. We are seeing grand-scale investments in these technologies, as trends such as the Internet of Things and smart factories grow."
One thing that is noticeable at Automate and other recent shows is some of the new technologies that are now making their way onto the show floor. This includes products and components utilizing technologies such as 3D, embedded vision, multispectral and hyperspectral imaging, deep learning, and so on. So in addition to many of the vision technologies we’ve known and seen grow and improve in recent years, we have a number of new products and technologies that have entered the conversation as well. In order for the companies that have been in the industry a while to keep up, they must adapt, Shikany noted.
One of the major themes I saw on the first day of the show was the impact on jobs in the US that robots will or will not have. Shikany told me that the AIA just published a white paper that takes a look at robots and jobs, and that essentially, people shouldn’t be worried.
"This white paper really takes a look at where the jobs are going to be, where our path is, and so on,"he said. "But more robots equal more jobs. With any industrial revolution, there are growing pains, but more net jobs are going to be created. There is going to be a shift, but we will come out in a better spot."
Lastly, I asked Shikany to comment on whether or not the current US presidential administration has had, or will have, any impact on the vision and automation industry.
"There is a lot of talk happening regarding this, and we are going to wait and see what the policies are, and go from there," he told me. "Whichever policy supports automation and robotics, we will likely support."
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