How do you think the new GigE standards will influence the machine vision industry?
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The automotive industry is a visible but surprisingly small percentage of the overall machine vision market. According to the Automated Imaging Association 2006 market study, automotive represented just 6.6 percent of the $1.2 billion revenue for application specific systems and 10 percent of the installations. When you consider that automotive drove machine vision development in the early days—the early-to-mid 1980s—it is surprising to see how poorly represented the automotive sector is.
There are a number of reasons for that, but many of the obstacles to implementation can be overcome with an understanding of the issues and concerns of applying this technology in automotive plants. Despite all the advances in operator interfaces and application software, most people in automotive still consider machine vision hard. It requires multi-disciplinary knowledge, and unlike robotics, is more abstract than physical. Automotive processes and equipment lack the standardization you see in semiconductor or electronics manufacturing. Each application must be custom engineered. As a result, many times less elegant, more costly alternatives to machine vision are preferred. Application of the technology, not the technology itself, often determines success or failure. And because of some poorly integrated systems, most automotive plants have a history of failed vision systems and are reluctant to risk failing again.
The automotive industry actually has four different sectors when you consider equipment and process requirements: components, stamping and body, paint, and final assembly. The components sector consists of both internal and external suppliers. The internal suppliers provide engines and transmissions, while external suppliers provide seats, electronic modules, brakes, and all the other components that make up a vehicle. The stamping and body shop form and join sheet metal panels together to form subassemblies, and then combine the subassemblies into a full body. The bodies are then transported to the paint shop, where sealer is applied and the vehicle body is treated and painted. In final assembly, the drive train and all other components are assembled to the vehicle body. The unit is then inspected, tested, and shipped.
There are product and process attributes of any manufacturing process that determine the applicability and cost of implementing machine vision:
With these factors in mind, you can look at the four sectors of manufacturing seen in automotive, and understand the current rate of application of vision and issues with future installations.