The machine-vision business has been doing well of late. According to theAutomated Imaging Association(Ann Arbor, MI), in 2006 cameras and smart cameras experienced sales increases of 16.8 percent and 15.2 percent respectively. Nonetheless, a report by the market research companyFrost & Sullivan(Palo Alto, CA) finds that the business remains a tough one in which competitors need to stay at the top of their game to survive.

The good news for assemblers is that this "challenging" machine-vision market is translating into better and better technology at increasingly competitive prices.

“Despite its steady growth in recent years, the machine-vision industry is faced with various challenges that vendors must overcome in order to remain successful,” says Frost & Sullivan research analyst Juan Rosales. “From competition pressures to the integration of various system components, it is important for market participants to remain abreast of the issues that are expected to remain present in the next few years.”

According to the report, although today’s machine-vision industry includes a number of established manufacturers who have experienced high levels of success, it also includes companies that are either newly emerging or have only been manufacturing machine-vision equipment for a short time. These smaller manufacturers face a number of hurdles, including the need to price their products competitively in a market that has seen lower and lower costs for increasingly sophisticated equipment.

“Since machine-vision equipment has a long-standing reputation of being a semi-expensive technology, some vendors may not place a high level of importance on their ability to drive down the costs of their products,” the report states. “To be successful…it is beneficial for the manufacturing engineers of emerging companies to be aware of the various pricing trends associated with their respective types of machine-vision equipment.”

The report emphasizes that today’s machine-vision market has reached the stage where only companies providing superior products and performance can hope to survive.

“In conservative industries, OEMs rarely purchase machine-vision systems from more than one supplier…. If performed carelessly, an inadequate inspection process is likely to lead to a tainted relationship between the OEM and the machine-vision supplier,” Rosales says. “The abundance of market participants often drives manufacturers to develop unique and groundbreaking technology. They realize that complacency will lead to a reduction in sales and a less-than-favorable reputation among their competitors and customers. By continuing to focus on technology that will benefit the overall market, such vendors will likely remain successful.”

In terms of technology trends, the report predicts that multicamera systems will become increasingly common as manufacturers strive for better machine-vision performance. There will also be increased demand for cameras that work with PC systems and for machine-vision companies that are experienced in complete systems integration.

“The demand for cameras to integrate with PC systems will continue to increase,” the report says. “Hardware manufacturers who do not have experience in developing software are likely to face difficulty in doing so…. To remain competitive in the market, machine-vision manufacturers must possess a sufficient degree of expertise when performing a thorough systems integration…. It is important for manufacturers to stay updated on the standards of new technology for various types of products, particularly cameras.”MORE