Machine Vision Investment Increases

The next 12 months will see larger investments in machine vision technologies that are easier to set up and use, lower in cost, and diverse in application. These were among findings in an e-mail/Web survey of a group of Control Engineering subscribers, who had previously indicated they specify, recommend, and/or buy machine vision.




  • More machine-vision applications

  • Easier programming, setup

  • Better analysis, networking

  • Higher speeds at lower costs

This article includes online extra material.

The next 12 months will see larger investments in machine vision technologies that are easier to set up and use, lower in cost, and diverse in application.

These were among findings in an e-mail/Web survey of a group of Control Engineering subscribers, who had previously indicated they specify, recommend, and/or buy machine vision. The survey was conducted in January 2004 by Control Engineering and Reed Research Group—both part of Reed Business Information.

The analysis that follows is based on 172 responses. Among those who specify, recommend, or buy machine vision products, 74% do so for in-plant requirements, while 34% do this for OEM needs. That compares to 61% and 23% among April 2003 survey respondents. Respondents are spread across 26 industry groups.

Two-thirds of respondents use machine vision products for inspection. Code reading, robotic equipment, gauging, motion control, and packaging machines are among other common applications cited (see table).

Commenting on the diversity of applications represented, Mark Sippel, vision product manager, Omron Electronics, says Omron provides general-purpose machine-vision applications and 'specific inspection tools' for classification, sorting, finding imperfections, in label graphics, part-gauging, surface-flaw and scratch detection, and code reporting. Hardware features like real-time rotation search for label or object position compensation in an image serve many applications in the packaging, electronics, automotive, and pharmaceutical industries.

Performance is the most important factor to control engineering professionals when selecting a machine vision product. Acquiring a complete solution (including software) and ease of use round out the top three criteria.

'Certain applications require machine vision capabilities, such as direct part mark identification with 2D matrix codes that are ball-peened, laser-marked, electro-chemically etched or ink-jet printed on the part,' says Carl Gerst, an ID product manager for Cognex. Direct part marking, also referred to as 'industrial ID,' is necessary for a growing number of industries where serial numbers on parts must survive for the life of the part, he says. In response, Cognex recently formed an ID products group and acquisition of the machine vision business of Gavitec to expand Cognex expertise in direct part mark reading, he adds. First resulting product is the DataMan 6400 handheld reader.

Half of respondents said their outlook for purchases would increase in the next 12 months; another 42% said purchases would remain the same. Optimism in-creased over last year when 33% expected an increase in spending and 62% expected to spend about the same in the next 12 months.

Upward relative movement: Rearranging the April 2003 results in rank orderof percentage shows that relative popularity of applications increased from 2003 to 2004 for bar-code reading, gauging, diagnostics, testing and maintenancece; and continuous processing. The 2003 study was based on 215 respondents.

Economical pricing and a larger feature set continue to help the expansion. For instance, DVT's Legend 510, a CMOS smart camera, retails under $2,000, including software, training, and online diagnostic support. The 510 can 'handle challenging applications for a price that is less than any other smart camera system available today,' maintains Bob Steinke, DVT chief executive officer and chairman.

Machine vision products

For more manufacturers, visit . For system integrators go to . Also visit company Web sites.

Industrial vision sensors

Cognex Corp. has expanded its family of In-Sight vision sensors, adding In-Sight 5100 and the In-Sight 5400. These products deliver 'the best price/performance available today and set a new industry standard for machine vision,' with four times the processing power of comparably priced vision sensors and a rugged industrial design, the company said. Both models meet IEC specifications for shock and vibration, achieve an IP67 (NEMA 6) rating for dust and wash-down protection, and acquire up to 60 full frames per second. Higher speeds are possible using partial acquisition. They include a full library of Cognex vision image processing and analysis tools. A unique vision spreadsheet and In-Sight Explorer software are said to ease application development and network administration.

Cognex Corp.

Code reader features DSP

DVT Intelligent Scanner XS with DSP technology is three to eight times faster than previously available readers, enhanced with the simultaneous release of version 2.7 of DVT's free FrameWork software, the company said. The combination resulted in more than 100 data-matrix reads per second in beta tests, with an enhanced Data Matrix reader and advanced grayscale processing—said to have ability to read severely degraded codes printed with laser, ink-jet, or dot-peen marking technologies. Readable codes include the seven RSS codes, USS 128 Composite, UPC/EAN Composite, Planet Code, Micro PDF, and PDF truncated. Additional reader improvements also include barcode grading for Code 39, Code 93, Codabar, and Interleaved 2 of 5.

DVT Corp.

Smallest digital camera

Keyence CV-2100 is the latest in high-speed digital machine vision technology; a unique self-contained vision system combines the industry's smallest digital camera with unmatched performance and flexibility, the company says. On-screen statistical processing and what's said to be the world's simplest user interface (no PC required) allow for fast integration without high costs due to lost production time. Speed tops out at 20,000 parts/min.; inspection repeatability of +/- 0.05 pixels.

Keyence Corp. of America

Simplify lighting for vision

Omron and CCS America partnered to provide the CCS Intelligent Lighting Adapter (ILA), lighting, power supplies, and wide range of controllable LED lighting for Omron's F-series Vision Sensors. Setup and changeover are simplified. Save time by plugging the CCS ILA into the Omron F-series camera and a CCS PD series digital power supply. Select from more than 200 CCS LED lighting options and connect the power supply. Set light intensity and angle using F-series controller's software. Settings are saved in software and are repeatable to speed changeover for inspecting different products. There are 64 light level steps per light, and up to four controllable lights per camera and power supply.

Omron Electronics

Smarter than a 'smart camera'

National Instruments high-performance compact vision system CVS-1455, optimized for any inspection task, delivers three times the functionality of a smart camera, the company says. It has nearly twice the processing power and four times the storage of the NI CVS-1454, released in July 2003, to increase throughput of visual inspection applications. With three IEEE 1394 (FireWire) ports, it delivers the performance and functionality of multiple smart cameras for applications including precise assembly guidance and high-speed packaging inspection. At 1,436 million instructions per second, it avoids the need for separate processing units, saving time and money. It includes 128 MB of nonvolatile onboard Flash memory—eight times the storage of a typical smart camera—allowing image storage for offline quality control analysis. It has 29 digital I/O lines.

National Instruments

Online Extra to Machine Vision Product Focus

Quality reasons to invest in machine vision, leading suppliers

The machine vision 2004 research, mentioned in the main “Product Focus” piece, reveals a number of additional trends in the industrial applications considering related technologies.

Payback in months
Among those who specify, recommend, or buy machine vision products, 56% do not consider vision too costly or complex to implement, about the same as last year. “That’s surprising,” says Joshua P. Jelonek, Keyence Corp. of America applications engineer, who expected even more acceptance. “Vision systems usually pay for themselves in a matter of months by increasing throughput, reducing scrap, or eliminating customer complaints. In the past, a vision system could cost upwards of $100,000 and take months to program and implement. But with today’s emerging technology, companies can purchase a vision package for around $5,000 and get it up and running in days, not months.

“Our three objectives with vision,” says Dan Holste, Banner Engineering manager of product development for vision, “are ease of use, price, and performance.” He says the Banner PresencePlus Pro captures and analyzes images using one or more vision tools to generate results, similar to larger, more complex and expensive vision systems. PC-based set-up software is free, as is training, if needed, adds Holste.

5% find difficulty
Among respondents, 46% considered capital budgets the most-significant impediments to investments in machine vision; 14% priority relative to other automation projects, 12% engineering resources, 8% acceptance by factory personnel, 7% understanding of vision technology, 5% difficult to use, and 8% other reasons—nearly identical to responses last year.

Steve Geraghty, director of ipd, observes, “With capital budget limitations cited as the most significant impediment to the increased use of machine vision, cost-effective, user-friendly and robust products, like Vision Appliances and NetSight II, will continue to appeal to manufacturers of all sizes, and will in particular give smaller manufacturers with even more limited budgets the opportunity to implement machine vision when they otherwise would not be able to afford to.”

Forty-six percent of respondents have used smart vision sensors, up slightly from 42% in 2003. Ninety percent of this segment report the sensors met their requirements for both years. Pierantonio Boriero, product line manager, Matrox Imaging, notes a higher level of integrated vision products for industrial applications, including smart cameras. “Today, developers and systems integrators can no longer ignore the hidden costs incurred in certain industrial applications that use PC-based vision, and are turning to smart cameras and vision computers. Once the PCI bus made PC-based machine vision feasible, system integrators abandoned specialized hardware in favor of seemingly less expensive PC-based systems,” Boriero says. “These vision products make use of embedded processing technology, which offers PC-like performance inside rugged enclosures, making them suitable for many industrial applications.”

As machine vision gains a firmer foundation in the manufacturing world, DVT is among companies continuing expansion, posting 33% first-quarter 2004 increase in unit sales over 2003. “Manufacturers are increasingly seeing the wisdom of using fully integrated smart camera machine vision for inspection, guidance, and quality control,” adds Bob Steinke, DVT’s CEO and chairman.

Readily connectible
RS-232 and Ethernet TCP/IP are currently the most widely used communication protocols for machine vision products, with use among respondents at 73% and 65%, respectively. Looking ahead to next year, results suggest Ethernet TCP/IP will emerge as the most widely used network for machine vision. With the advent of distributed machine vision systems, explains Jayson Mulliner, National Instruments vision product manager, “it is not surprising that such a high number of respondents use Ethernet for machine vision. Easy-to-use software combined with common technologies, such as Ethernet, give rise to autonomous machine vision systems that can connect readily to an industrial network and communicate with TCP/IP. Many others outside the traditional machine builder or manufacturing end-user are adopting the technology.” As capital equipment spending increases and end-users recognize the benefits of machine vision or improving quality control, machine vision will steadily become an important component in all automated manufacturing environments. Even now,” Mulliner says, “growth in machine vision has been increasing for validation and design applications.”

Use of vision sensors will help fulfill the need for quality at every stage of manufacturing, even if companies need to cut capital budgets and payrolls, suggests ipd’s Geraghty. “As a result,” Geraghty says, “machine vision integrators and end-users are seeking cost-effective, easy-to-use solutions that deliver a high level of reliability. To fill this growing market need, ipd introduced Vision Appliances—prepackaged machine vision solutions that incorporate items need to perform inspection tasks in a rugged, compact enclosure with a simple user interface. ipd’s NetSight II integrated machine vision systems offer a range of advanced functionality to ensure reliability.”

Mark Sippel, vision product manager, Omron Electronics, says machine vision can help sort packages by label or size; determine imperfections in label graphics and text; part gauging; finding surface flaws like scratches on conditioned or machined surfaces, and chip detection on the edges of objects; and optical character recognition/optical character vision (OCR/OCV) for date/lot code reporting, including changes in character size, inclination, blurriness, and width. Sippel adds that Omron’s multiple cameras “provide multiple angles with high-speed image acquisition to meet high-speed or complex gauging and inspection applications.”

Among applications, direct part marking is becoming an increasingly important business initiative for aerospace, automotive, defense, and electronics industries. Aiming to meet those needs, the Cognex Dataman 6400 handheld reader provides omni-directional reading of “even hard-to-read direct part marks for accurate decoding and tracking,” Cognex says. Diffuse LED illumination and a target pointer achieve the consistent feel of a laser scanner.
(A 16-page PDF on direct-part marking can be ordered from the Cognex site.
Click here to order.

Knowing the appropriate application is only part of the effort. “Before selecting a system,” says Jelonek, with Keyence, vision purchasers should ask: “Can I learn to program this system in a day or less? Does it provide easy integration into my communication peripherals? Is there free, fast-responding technical support available in case I get into a jam?” Meeting those needs, Jelonek says, helps eliminate some capital budget restraints hindering many current projects.

Other survey results from the 2004 Control Engineering/Reed Research Group machine vision survey show:

  • Nineteen percent of control engineers surveyed currently use vision system integrators, about the same as the April 2003 study. In the next 12 months, 16% plan to use a vision system integrator in the next year, compared to just 12% in the last study.

  • Cognex sold machine vision products to 28% of respondents over the past year. DVT and Keyence round out the top three companies in market penetration, with sales to one quarter of respondents each. Other leading suppliers include Banner Engineering, Omron Electronics, and National Instruments.

  • Thirteen machine vision products was the average number each survey participant purchased during the past 12 months. The average spending per respondent in the past year was $131,933.

The Control Engineering /Reed Research Group 2004 Product Focus on machine vision survey consisted of 14 questions covering: demographics; existing/installed information; upgrade, migration, and replacement plans and needs; new considerations and desirable features; and desirable integration features. Respondents are spread across 26 industries. More than half are from six areas: industrial, commercial, agricultural, and other machinery; motor vehicles and components; food and beverage; plastics and rubber; pulp and paper; and “other manufacturing and processes.” Leading job functions among respondents, accounting for more than 65%, are control and/or instrument engineering; systems design engineering, including applied R&D; production engineering, process or manufacturing; and other engineering, including product, software, plant, electrical and/or electronics.

Current, planned machine vision networks:
Ethernet will expand

Currently use

Plan to use




Ethernet TCP/IP






4-20 m/A



0-10 volt









Modbus TCP/IP












Source: Control Engineering, Reed Research Group Machine Vision Product Focus Study, June 2004


Software influences top machine vision features

Percentage of respondents considering the following features “very important” when deciding which machine vision product to buy…




Complete solution (including software)


Ease of use


Ease of set up




Technical support


Customization ability








Full tool set


Integration expertise

Source: Control Engineering, Reed Research Group Machine Vision Product Focus Studies, June 2004, April 2003

What a difference software makes: When the words “including software” were added to this year’s “complete solution” choice, that feature became very important to more than 73% of respondents, up from 58% in 2003 without the software wording.

Global machine vision market grows
Global market for “General Purpose Machine Vision for Manufacturing Industries Worldwide” is growing at an 8.9% compound annual growth rate, says ARC Advisory Group. Market numbers, including hardware, software, and services, are in millions:

2001 -- $861.8;
2002 -- 892.8;
2003 -- 969.6;
2004 -- 1,083.5;
2005 -- 1,199.6; and
2006 -- 1,319.4.

Reasons for growth include desire to improve quality, consis-tency, lower production costs, increase inventory accuracy, gather more data, and increase product reliability. Also smart cameras and vision sensors with advanced networking capabil-ity will propel growth, ARC says. The firm recommends that vision suppliers form alliances for global expansion, incorpo-rate yield management with machine vision solutions, transform manufacturers into users [sell more], and provide easy enterprise integration.

Additional online products

Programmable embedded Linux camera

American Eltec miniHiPerCam is touted as the world’s first fully featured embedded Linux camera. It has color and monochrome versions, a sturdy aluminum camera case, and is no larger than a small surveillance camera. Sensors operate at 640x480-pixel resolution and a frame rate of 15 or 30 Hz. The sensor is internally wired to the embedded controller board, which features a PowerPC 823 processor with 50 MHz clock speed; 16 MB of memory is available for images and run-time data; 8 MB of flash memory hosts the OS with an embedded HTTP server, and the a-plication software. It’s available with two serial RS-232 I/O ports and one 10-Mbit Ethernet port. Pricing starts at $1,080.
American Eltec

Micro machine vision system has impact
PPT Vision’s Impact Machine Vision Micro-System, 2D machine vision micro-system offers a compact, high-speed processor, patented DSL cameras, a new point-and-click GUI, and Inspection Builder software for a broad range of inspection tasks. In related news, a recent $1.3 million contract provides 2D and 3D engineering services to Ismeca Europe Semiconductor SA, a provider of automated semiconductor back-end manufacturing processes.
PPT Vision

Links to other Control Engineering coverage
Search on machine vision at the top of any page at or click into these related Control Engineering stories and articles:

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