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Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

Five Traps (and a bonus) to Avoid in the Machine Vision Business

Approximately 75 percent of the companies in the vision sector employ fewer than 50 people. (Source: EMVA market study)
Twenty-nine percent of the total sales volume of European machine vision companies was exported to countries outside of Europe with the Americas accounting for the biggest share at 15 percent, followed by Asia with 13 percent. One-third of the companies have subsidiaries in other European countries and 30 percent have subsidiaries outside of Europe. (Source: EMVA market study)
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By Gabriele Jansen

After 20 years of machine vision experience in management roles for several national and international companies, I've seen a lot of mistakes, including my own. Based on all the first-hand acquired experience, I recently began my own consulting company to help vision companies grow and avoid potentially business-destroying errors. Here's a look at five traps that can be crippling, if not fatal, to a business.

Trap No. 1: Don't do every application for all industries

Machine vision is a rather easy business for start-ups: an off-the-shelf PC and 1,000 bucks for frame grabber and camera—programming skills provided—and you're in business. It is not even very difficult to find customers, if you're willing to do everything and anything, and if your price is low. And why should the price not be low, with no infrastructure to support and only your own salary to pay? Each order pays for the next phase of product development. In general there is nothing wrong with this approach. It might not be the fastest path but it can lead to success with a low risk of overspending.

But … and now comes the big but, there is one alluring and sticky trap to avoid. As soon as customer orders dictate product development, the company has no real strategy. The best result one can expect from this non-strategy is to become a vision Mom & Pop Shop, a place where one can get everything, but nothing special, with most of it slightly outdated. You see a lot of these companies offering individual solutions but not products, serving all industries, doing every application and inventing the wheel twice over with every other order. The lucky companies stay in business 10 to 20 years with a staff of less than 20, making $3 million in yearly revenue. The not so lucky businesses are dead.

I do not criticize this way of doing business if it is a conscious decision. If it just so happened that way, however, it might be time to seek professional support to help focus the business, create a growth plan and stick to it, no matter how alluring the next exotic inquiry sounds.

Advice: Focus very early on your company's strengths and USPs. Don't let yourself be driven by short-term revenue potential. Focus on markets and products for these markets.

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