Whether they be the latest high-resolution CMOS imagers, high-speed frame grabbers, lighting products or software packages, novel products are not difficult to find in the machine vision industry: specialty sensors for low-light, IR imaging, high-speed frame grabbers and machine vision software packages.
All of these provide the functionality required to develop specific applications, but what makes such products unique and differentiates them from other products? Every such product is offered with a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that differentiates one from another. However, just as the shelves of grocery stores are filled with items that closely resemble each other, so too are manufacturers' specifications for some OEM products.
As such, it has become increasingly difficult for systems integrators to discriminate between them. Even though certain standards such as the EMVA 1288 allow camera manufacturers to test the performance of their products, few camera vendors have yet to endorse the standard. Of those that do, some still question the value of such standard tests.
Because of this, many vendors have based their USPs on factors other than technical specifications that include price, availability or their company's reputation.
While important, such factors do not make a company's products unique. Camera vendors that adopt the latest sensors or camera interfaces will be followed by others that adopt the same CCD or CMOS imagers and camera interfaces creating an array of similar products.
So, what can developers of the latest generation of OEM machine vision peripherals offer to distinguish their products in terms of a technical USP? The answer, of course, depends on the amount of money a company is willing to invest in collaborating with others developing specific technologies.
Camera companies that have tied together with CMOS imager vendors to develop specific products for niche markets, for example, may gain a twelve month advantage over their competitors. However, most frame grabber companies leverage off-the-shelf FPGAs to perform image processing tasks. While useful, the functionality of these devices is common to many such products. In the past, board-level companies offered image processing boards to perform specific image processing tasks. Today, most companies use off-the-shelf components to perform such tasks, blurring the USPs of their products.
What differentiates a product be it a camera, frame grabber, lighting or software may in the past have may have been price, availability or the company's reputation. As machine vision systems become more specialized, however, companies will more frequently need to differentiate their OEM components by their technical advantages and ease of use.