Although primarily a European show, VISION 2003 in Stuttgart, Germany, had all the attributes of a premier global industry show for machine vision. The word "industry" is the key term because, unlike trade shows that are linked to technical conferences drawing academics and other researchers, VISION 2003 was focused on business and sales. Real-world imaging and machine-vision applications were on display at most booths, and business was good, with more than 200 exhibitors and 4000 attendees.
Market researchers also provided good news for the European industry. Simon Harris, an analyst with IMS Research (Wellingborough, UK; www.imsresearch.com), reported that European machine-vision sales in 2002 were 225 million euros, with growth estimated at 6.2% in 2003 and 12.8% in 2004, despite the struggling national economies on the continent. Harris noted that more European imaging companies are emerging, and more are beginning to enter the North American market.
Machine vision still faces considerable skepticism from potential end users, according to a poll conducted by IMS. When listing their primary concern about implementing a machine-vision system, 32% of the participants thought the systems were too expensive; 24% thought the systems required too much specialized knowledge or training; 17% questioned the accuracy of the systems; 15% thought the systems too susceptible to environmental changes; and many of the remainder thought the systems inflexible. These results help to explain why smart cameras and smart sensors are the fastest-growing products in the machine-vision industry and certainly point to opportunities for new products and education.
Automotive and electronics applications clearly dominated VISION 2003, but pharmaceutical and food/beverage applications were also obvious. Our Technology Trends section describes related developments at the show, including an automated wafer-inspection system, a new MIPS-based image processor, and a CMOS data-matrix reader for pill bottles. In addition, one of our features describes automotive inspection systems on display at VISION 2003 that integrate marking equipment, smart cameras, and PLCs.
These market growth areas are not limited to Europe, and to illustrate the point we also have a feature on a synchronized camera system developed for Johnson & Johnson that ensures proper bottling of pills. And we have the first of a new series of interviews with leading OEMs and end users. This month we talk to Valerie Bolhouse of Ford Motor Company, who describes how imaging is being implemented in automotive manufacturing and what that means for potential suppliers. Finally, our cover story on infrared inspection describes how end users are finding more value in wavelengths that have been little used in manufacturing—yet another example of opportunities for imaging and machine-vision suppliers.
W. Conard Holton
Editor in Chief