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Machine Vision Companies Widen Their Scope
Industry goes beyond automation and manufacturing
By Don Braggins
Since the 1980s, there have been two or even three accepted usages of the term “machine vision.” The Machine Vision Association of the US-based Society of Manufacturing Engineers naturally chose to define it rather narrowly in terms of automated interpretation of images in the manufacturing industry. The Automated Imaging Association has broadly kept to this definition in compilation of its annual World Market report on the vision industry, and the UK Industrial Vision Association, while being careful not to explicitly define the Association's scope when it was founded, included the word “industrial” in order to differentiate its scope from the academic usage of the phrase in the very wide sense of any automatic interpretation of images. By contrast, when the British Pattern Recognition Association merged with the Alvey Vision Club (participants in a government-financed program on many aspects of vision research), the name British Machine Vision Association was adopted, with the academic usage for a much wider area of interest, including medical aspects and traffic monitoring.
Discussions of the Market Data Working Group of the European Machine Vision Association (founded in 2003) point to a middle way between these differing definitions, and recent interviews with several suppliers in the machine vision industry support the concept that data about the “machine vision industry” should embrace a wider range of applications than purely manufacturing. Companies supplying components such as cameras and illumination systems are getting more and more customers who are using automated image interpretation for tasks such as number plate and vehicle type recognition, various aspects of postal sorting and even human body scanning and analog meter reading. For internal purposes, it appears that these suppliers do not find it particularly useful to distinguish between sales for strictly “manufacturing” applications and the wider field of automated image interpretation, though there does seem to be recognition that there is a valid dividing line between automated imaging and presenting images for human interpretation.
Examples from Germany, Switzerland and Italy recounted to Advanced Imaging during June and July show how the widening of the application fields can greatly increase business with relatively little extra development, but often with a big change in marketing considerations.
Klaus Buecher of the German vision supplier Vitronic Dr.-Ing. Stein Bildverarbeitungssysteme GmbH explained at the newly established Automatica trade fair in Munich how the company is diversifying into several wider aspects of machine vision. One of its first such developments was the whole body scanner and this has been a moderate success with about sixty a year being sold, mainly for custom design of clothing in conjunction with software which converts the 3D data into 2D cutting patterns.