The only thing we have to fear . . .

If you think it's difficult to change your product line or business practice, consider the fate of rats that show an aversion to risk.

Dec 1st, 2004

If you think it’s difficult to change your product line or business practice, consider the fate of rats that show an aversion to risk. In a study published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of Chicago showed that rats with a fear of novelty-or neophobia-have higher levels of stress hormones after a new experience and die significantly younger than their braver kin. Granted, neophobes may survive better in some situations where caution is warranted, but the toll of fear-induced stress on health makes rats, and humans, more vulnerable to disease and even less willing to face change.

In contrast, manufacturers and integrators who show flexibility and a willingness to innovate not only survive, but can find new opportunities to live long and prosper. Exhibit number one is our Technology Trends cover story on a vision-based automation system that can perform multiple automated fastening, material-dispensing, barcode-reading, parts pick-and-place, and quality-control tasks. The assembly workcell, developed by Universal Instruments (Binghamton, NY, USA; www.uic.com), isn’t the final word in automated assembly equipment, but it’s an example of how to think about the integration of vision and automation in a way that can benefit a customer by automating manual, back-end assembly processes.

Feeder bowls may not seem to be a top candidate for innovation, but as another of our Technology Trends articles shows, new thinking can result in significant improvements. M&S Automated Feeding Systems (Burnsville, MN, USA; www.msautomated.com) has incorporated a high-speed CMOS sensor to create a “smart bowl feeder” that inspects and sorts parts while reducing costs and increasing throughput. David Wyatt, the subject of our Business Views interview, also shows how systems integrators need to innovate. When customer expectations change from a willingness to pay $60,000 for a vision project to a figure that’s one-tenth of that, then systems integrators better change their models. Wyatt makes these changes with smart cameras and a willingness to service any market that machine-vision systems address.

Relatively small innovations can also make a difference if companies are willing to pursue them. For example, our Technology Trends article on Camera Link connectors shows how CIS (Tokyo, Japan; www.ciscorp.co.jp) has developed a prototype VGA camera that incorporates a miniature Camera Link connector and power-delivery capability. Likewise, our Product Focus feature on high-speed cameras shows how many vendors are increasing storage capability and the range of applications that can be addressed with their products. JPEG-based compression algorithms also can be used to store image data and transfer captured data over standard interfaces, lowering system costs.

Unlike rats that fear risk, today’s OEMs and systems integrators must encompass change to build products that are increasingly faster, smarter, and cheaper than before. Those who overcome their fears and change their behavior are the only ones that will survive in the machine-vision “rat race.”

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

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