Market trends—better but different

The image is not clear, but the pattern is more promising than last year for the machine-vision market.

The image is not clear, but the pattern is more promising than last year for the machine-vision market. The recent Vision Show East (Boston, MA, USA) and a market study have confirmed this trend, along with some caveats. According to Jeff Burnstein, executive director of the Automated Imaging Association (AIA; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; www.machinevisiononline.org), attendance at the Vision Show East was about 2600, with 100 exhibiting companies. An attendance survey indicated that approximately 28% of the attendees were end users, 27% systems integrators, and 21% OEMs. And the attendees had definite plans to do business: 54% plan to buy cameras and 44% plan to buy complete systems. What this actually means and when, of course, only time will tell.

Further encouraging news is to be found in the AIA-sponsored study The Machine Vision Market: 2003 Results and Forecasts to 2008, primarily researched and written by Nello Zuech, president of Vision Systems International (Yardley, PA, USA; www.imagelabs.com). The North American machine-vision market grew 4% in revenue in 2003, reversing a 15% decline in 2002. Unit sales actually increased 27% as more users embraced smart cameras, vision sensors, and embedded vision processors, but the lower cost of this equipment restricted overall revenue growth.

In 2003, the North American market was about $1.6 billion, and the European market was $1.5 billion, up 12.6% from the previous year. Meanwhile, Asia, especially Japan and China, were fueling the greatest growth. Japan alone accounted for about $2.3 billion of revenues, with the rest of the world, primarily the Pacific Rim countries, contributing about $1.2 billion. The total 2003 world market for all types of machine vision is estimated at $6.58 billion and 193,224 units, which is a 13.5% increase in revenues over 2002 and 44% more units sold.

The caveats are no secret to companies making machine-vision components and systems. The North American market has remained essentially flat and has been affected by the steady migration of semiconductor and electronics manufacturing to the Pacific Rim. Export sales from North America were the primary source of revenue improvement. Ironically, companies importing into North America had increased success, as well. In addition, price erosion for vision components continues, and industrial capital spending is increasing at only a modest pace since existing capacity is not fully utilized.

Redeeming these drags on sales is the fact that investments are being made in upgrades to improve productivity and quality. In addition, the declining cost of vision components reduces financial risk and encourages deployment of machine vision. And additional industries are increasing their use of vision, including pharmaceutical, medical devices, automotive, and wood products. The overall North American machine-vision market is expected to grow an average of 8.8% per year over the next five years—and 2004 may even beat this average. Despite the general political and economic turbulence of these times, machine vision still looks to be an increasingly essential element on the world's manufacturing stage.

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

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