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In DALSA’s case, the informal customer focus group information yields a specification sheet that defines the product goals and ensures that the technical group and the marketing group, which now represents the customer base, are in agreement before the product development work ever begins. This is the time to make tradeoffs, to determine what is really possible – and what isn’t. If the result is too far from the desired performance, it may be better to halt development then to spend money developing a product that doesn’t meet customer requirements.
The biggest mistake in defining specs through customer feedback, Butler said, is failing to question and look deeper. “You will get certain customers who say that they need various things, and even if you go back and present some of the tradeoffs of it, they say, ‘I don’t care, I still need this.’ You need to have the ability to look at the application yourself and try to assess what you think would add value.”
Among other things, this assessment needs to consider the other elements of the vision chain, or else your product may include unnecessary cost and unrealizable performance. “We can make a product that is blazing fast, but the camera cannot exist in isolation,” said Bassam Estaitieh, DALSA’s product manager for line-scan cameras and TDI. “Other products, like lighting, lenses, and framegrabbers need to operate at similarly high performance levels to achieve full system benefits.”
Where You Are
No discussion of specifications would be complete without a discussion of product data sheets. Here, philosophies differ, but sources agree that it’s important to understand customer need. “[Ours are] based on feedback from the customer saying, ‘We never even look at that specification,’ or, ‘Why don’t you have this spec in there?’” Calling said. “I would say that there’s an overage of information provided in the generic spec sheet just so we’re sure we cover more bases than not.”
Butler adheres to the ‘less is more’ school of thought. “To some degree, you don’t want to put all the answers there because you may not ever hear from the customer,” he said. “You want them to say, ‘This is an interesting product. I want to find out more,’ so we can start a dialog with them.”