How do you think the new GigE standards will influence the machine vision industry?
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What is the state of imaging technology in the region?
François Bertrand: I think the Japanese customers seem to adopt new technology slower than Korea, for example. A lot of repeat technology—analog, camera link, Power over Camera Link and enhancements. That's old hat in North America because everyone's moved on to GigE. Japan is rather conservative in its approach. What is proven is what they will stay with. They're not early adopters. Koreans like new stuff.
Marc Damhaut, Euresys: The machine vision market is vibrant and exciting in Asia, with a lot of applications and actors emerging every day. China is the new manufacturing center of the world, driving applications in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. A lot of food inspection applications are developed in Australia and New Zealand. We see a lot of manufacturing inspection applications in India, too.
Jeremy Chang, Edmund Optics: I think that in China, especially after the Open Door Policy began 30 years ago, technology has improved dramatically. In hardware, [electronics and optics] for lens components and assembly there has been a quantum jump in the last 10 years. Manufacturing is pretty close to what you see in Japan, the U.S. and Europe, especially Germany. In Shenzhen, which is one of the biggest hubs in China, there is a lot of semiconductor [industry]. Hardware is very advanced. The designs are from the U.S. and Europe, but OEMs produce it in China for low cost. As far as software, it's dominated by the West. Optics allows you to convert the signal, but the actual processing to analyze is not as advanced [in Asia].
Ganesh Devaraj, Soliton Technologies: All the major machine vision manufacturers are represented in India. The ones who have been in India longer and are better established in terms of partners and sales channels are the multi-product line companies with machine vision products in their portfolio, like National Instruments, Omron, Keyence, and Banner. The pure machine vision companies are represented through their distributors in India but some companies like Cognex have setup their own offices in India recently.
There are systems integrators coming up all across the country but their numbers are still below what is needed to meet the demand in the industry. There is a steep learning curve involved and companies have to invest management time and effort, engineering resources, and money to get up to speed in this area. The numbers and the capability of the systems integrators in India is steadily growing and the ones getting in now, the early entrants, are going to be better established to take advantage of the growth in this business.
Keith Reuben: In Asia, you have the developed countries, like Japan. Then there's the second tier, like Korea and Taiwan; and the emerging countries like China, India and Vietnam. Our focus is in China and India in particular because of the higher growth-rate potential.
Japan has a far more developed MV market and it is also the largest market. It's a hardware-oriented country. Korea is a young market and very dynamic. A lot is driven by conglomerates and their technology is world class. Taiwan is similar to Korea. It is very strong in semiconductors and flat panels. China is just developing. There is a need for machine vision by end-users. Semiconductor people import all of their equipment since there are few local Chinese machine builders. However, it is changing and there are a number of government programs to encourage this activity. There's a great deal of government-driven public policy for technology.
In India, the knowledge base is very high but it lacks the infrastructure to support a machine vision intensive manufacturing industry such as semiconductor or flat-panel display. The infrastructure is not there. India however is an ideal design center for companies willing to outsource their development work.
That's the difference. Japan, Korea and Taiwan are as good as any country in the West. China has the highest growth potential with India not far behind.
Henry Chia, Ultravision: I only can comment on Southeast Asia—Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand etc. The Imaging industries here are mostly for semiconductor (slicing, dicing and wafer inspection), electronics manufacturing, hard disk and flash media manufacturing, and automotive manufacturing.
Tjalling van Asbeck: The technological level in Asia is moving upwards. The Asian industries started competing on lower costs resulting from cheap labor, but the increasing requirements of the industries, partially caused by the move of Western manufacturers to Asia, indicate that the market is moving to higher quality imaging.
Frank Grube: Analog interfaces are still widespread in Asian machine vision systems and digitization is proceeding slower than you might expect. This may, of course, be due to cost issues in some countries like India, but it is not the only reason if you consider that analog cameras still have a relatively high market share in a country like Japan.
Do you see any trends?
Marc Damhaut: With a dynamic and fast-paced market, it is clear that emphasis is put on time to market, low cost and robustness. As a result, we see that proven technologies like, for example, analog cameras take more time to be superseded by new technologies such as GigE.
François Bertrand: We're seeing broader interest in our software products. As wafers get bigger, [and] printed circuit boards get finer, they need to rely on specialists. These are not markets where the first idea of building a business is selling software. There's a lot of interest in our new software [Matrox Imaging Library 9.0]. We did our first training of that in Asia. I believe that's because of the complexity of what people want. There's no overwhelming trend. Korea is 98 percent semiconductor. Everything revolves around wafers, chips and printed circuit boards.
Jeremy Chang: In my opinion, trends depend upon market needs. China started as a low-cost OEM country. If you look at the past, a lot of consumer trends [are moving] to biomedical and healthcare. After 30 years of Open Door, people have more money and, with wealth, you care more about your health. Solar energy is another one. China is a big country and as they grow the infrastructure, they need more energy. The government is putting a lot of money into research. There's also continued growth in the semiconductor industry. The central government has promised 8 percent growth this year.
Ganesh Devaraj: Many sophisticated vision solutions are getting developed and implemented in India today and the awareness in the industry about what this technology can do also is growing. A couple of years ago many visitors to our stall [at trade shows] were unaware of machine vision, but this year, there was a high level of awareness and many manufacturing companies have already started to incorporate machine vision into their production lines and inspection processes.
While most people still think about machine vision as replacing their person or persons doing the end of line inspection with an expensive PC based system, more and more people are recognizing that they can accomplish most of this task by installing low-cost smart cameras along their production line. This is resulting in a faster and more widespread adoption of machine vision due to the lower investment and shorter time involved in deploying a smart camera-based system.
The OEM market for machine vision also is growing in India with companies manufacturing various kinds of machines starting to incorporate vision for better quality.
Keith Reuben: Most countries obviously want to develop key technologies that will give them a leadership position in machine vision. Some countries like China have government programs to encourage self-sufficiency in technology. Technology standards are an area that the Japan Industrial Imaging Association is promoting (see related story on page 23). Lower cost products are essential as in most cases machine vision is competing with low labor costs. This is also a key factor whether established foreign companies can compete with their current business models or they will not be successful in Asia.
Henry Chia: In the high-end tier, customers are demanding faster and higher resolution cameras. You would see 4MP cameras going faster—60-100fps. And this is where CMOS technology comes into the picture, where the traditional speed restriction is broken.
Frank Grube: One trend is the migration from analog to digital interfaces, which in some countries is behind regions like Europe or North America. Another trend, which is consistent with the rest of the world, is the rise of Gigabit Ethernet as a digital interface for machine vision cameras.
Bob Grietens: The trends are pointing towards new applications that don't need the high-end, such as industrial, commercial night-vision systems for security purposes and defense. They all are becoming important fields in Asia.