By Mike Bacidore, Managing Editor
Machine-vision (MV) markets, like the rest of the world economy, have seen better times, but the future appears bright, thanks to global opportunities and increased machine-vision implementation, according to the Automated Imaging Association (AIA) Machine Vision Markets report. Most of the world will remain mired in recession throughout 2009 and part of 2010. North America, Europe and Japan are largely in recession since 2008 and 2009 but are expected to experience a mild recovery in 2010. China, by contrast, is not expected to enter into recession but instead undergo a slowdown. The AIA (www.machinevisiononline.org) expects the recovery in machine vision sales to lag behind the economic recovery.
In last year's market study, the AIA concluded the "typical portrait of an MV camera sold in North America today is that of a digital, area scan, monochrome camera with an IEEE-1394 interface and resolution higher than one megapixel." This year's study, which reports 2008 results and provides forecasts through 2013, shows that is still largely true for 2008 sales, except for a noticeable increase in analog cameras. In fact, for the first time in quite a few years, analog camera sales actually outpaced digital sales.
According to the data, not only has the recession decreased total camera sales, but it also has affected the mix of cameras sold. Cameras purchased in 2008 have been, on average, less advanced in technology and correspondingly of lower capability. This has meant at least a temporary interruption in some key trends. In previous studies, MV cameras sold in North America were becoming increasingly digital and higher in resolution, more frequently used a Camera Link interface each year and were more apt to use color instead of monochrome light than in prior years. But 2008, for the most part, didn't show a continuation of those trends.
ROLLER-COASTER CAMERAS Camera revenues should climb steadily to almost $125 million in 2013 once the 2009 dip is over.
With the announced development of GigE Vision cameras, dire predictions about the fate of MV imaging boards were widely announced, and revenue from imaging board sales has markedly declined over time and is expected to decrease still further. However, only a portion of this downward trend can be ascribed to the introduction of GigE Vision cameras because they haven't yet achieved sufficient penetration to account for the large decline in imaging board revenue, according to the report. Today, the average price of a GigE Vision camera and NIC is significantly higher than the average price of an analog camera with an included imaging board. Still, going forward, GigE Vision camera sales are forecasted to increase, as will also IEEE-1394 camera sales and the sales of smart cameras, all of which don't use an imaging board. At the same time, the report predicts some offset to the resultant loss in imaging boards as a consequence of growing Camera Link sales.
The big surprise about smart cameras in 2008 was their rate of growth in total sales. In 2007, the rate of growth was anemic. But the 2008 rate of growth was stronger than forecast. AIA still expect a lower rate of growth in 2009 than in 2008, but according to the forecast, that growth rate should be relatively healthy, in comparison to rates of growth of other MV product markets.
If any MV product market is to do relatively well in 2009, it's smart cameras, says the AIA study. Beyond its functional role as an essential component of any MV system, third-party software that has a wide array of image processing and analysis capabilities, while providing a choice between a graphical interface for user-friendliness and code-based programming for versatility, is particularly valuable, concludes the report. At the same time, it will evolve in response to the needs of MV system builders and to the evolution of operating systems and computer hardware. The developmental direction of processors will be of particular importance in this regard, according to the study.