Better borders

Hungary is a frontier place—whether of the Roman Empire, when a legion was stationed near Budapest to hold back the "barbarians," or as a European kingdom battling the Mongol and Ottoman empires.

Hungary is a frontier place—whether of the Roman Empire, when a legion was stationed near Budapest to hold back the "barbarians," or as a European kingdom battling the Mongol and Ottoman empires. Just 15 years ago Hungary was the first Communist country to open its borders to the West, helping precipitate the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. And now it's one of the newest members of the European Union, sitting between the highly automated manufacturing industries of Western Europe and the low-labor-cost manufacturing centers to its east and in Asia. In short, it was a great place for a machine-vision conference.

The European Machine Vision Association (EMVA; Frankfurt am Main, Germany; www.emva.org) held its second annual meeting in Budapest in late May, drawing about 80 attendees from 17 countries. It was a good turnout in what is an elegant, if somewhat worn, border city and reflected the 40% growth of the association since its first meeting last year in Barcelona. Forty-one machine-vision companies, five national associations, and one scientific institute are now members. Although the majority of its members are German, and the organization itself works closely with the VDMA—the German Engineering Federation (Frankfurt am Main, Germany; www.vdma.com), its goal of strengthening the machine-vision industry is pan-European.

The EMVA general secretary Patrick Schwarzkopf laid out aggressive goals set by the board of directors: expand membership, develop the Web site, define industry standards, participate in trade fairs, and foster cooperation in European Union research projects. The EMVA also wants to develop better market data by working with the Automated Imaging Association (Ann Arbor, MI, USA; www.machinevisiononline.org) and the VDMA. This will mean agreeing on terminology, data-gathering format, and how data will be compiled. He said that success should help all companies with their strategic planning and provide publicity that will attract research funds and government support. It's certainly a good goal, but one that has proved slippery in the past.

Frontiers like Hungary seem to attract entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs attract venture capitalists—specifically Gyorgy Karady, a principal in Baring Private Equity Partners (London, UK; www.bpep.com), who talked to the EMVA about investing in machine vision in Central Europe. His investment is in Falcon-Vision (Budapest; www.falcon-vision.com), which started out making cylinder-inspection systems. Baring has pushed the company to develop an export strategy and to penetrate Western manufacturing plants, along with bringing in management with more international expertise.

There are lots of advantages to investing in Central Europe, Karady said, including a well-educated work force, lower taxes, government incentives, and the general absence of family-owned companies and their heritages, which means that company leaders are more flexible and focused on growth and are more willing to sell their companies for profit. These conditions provide him with what every venture capitalist needs—an exit strategy. As the EMVA seems to have realized by holding its annual meeting here, a bit of such frontier vibrancy is just the thing to keep an industry sharp.

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

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