Record 2011 sales but growth slowing is message from Vision in Stuttgart

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While economic turmoil in Europe continues to dominate the headlines, the industry message from Vision 2011, the international machine vision trade fair held from 8-10 November in Stuttgart, Germany, was one of cautious optimism. Dr Olaf Munkelt, the chairman of the VDMA Machine Vision Group, went so far as to say that there was 'no link', or at least a discrepancy, between the world economic turbulence and the automation market.

And the figures to date do paint a beguiling picture: 2011 has been a strong year, with German vision industry sales expected to top €1.5 billion, up 20 per cent on 2010 and a tripling in sales from 2000. The turnover in North America has seen sales return to record levels according to the Automated Imaging Association (AIA), with 40 per cent growth predicted for 2011.

However, both Dr Munkelt and Greg Hollows, vice chairman of the AIA board, advocated caution for 2012 and predicted a slowdown in growth, with the VDMA estimating a modest 5 per cent growth in 2012, although growth nonetheless. In both the German and North American markets sales have dropped off in the second half of 2011, a trend Hollows expects to continue for 'at least the first two quarters of 2012'.

Dr Munkelt also drew attention to the rising contribution of Asia, and especially China, to Germany's machine vision turnover – Asia accounted for 17 per cent in Germany's vision sales in 2010. He said there was growing interest in automation technology in China and that the industry has to become more international to tap into these markets. According to Isabel Yang, director of the China Machine Vision Union (CMVU), computer giant Apple alone accounts for 30-40 per cent of the entire Chinese machine vision market with yearly turnover of US $40 million. The AIA has recently signed cooperation agreements with the CMVU and the Korean Machine Vision Industrial Association (KMVIA).

In terms of technology, one of the big trends at this year's show was USB 3.0 and its development as a vision standard, although the first version of which is not expected to be released until Vision 2012. The initiative is being spearheaded by Basler and the standard, called USB3 Vision, will be hosted by the AIA. To date, 19 companies have joined the USB3 Vision committee.

Intel is introducing USB 3.0 into its chipsets and within the next two years most PCs will incorporate USB 3.0 ports, eventually replacing USB 2.0. USB3 Vision will deliver 300MB/s bandwidth, is plug-and-play and is capable of real-time processing. According to Dr Fritz Dierks, chief engineer and head of SW development at Basler, the standard will co-exist with GigE Vision and Camera Link.

One of the limitations of USB3 Vision is the short cable length of 3 metres. But technologies are being developed to extend this: US-based company Newnex launched the FireNex-5000 at the show (and was an entrant in the Vision Award), an optical repeater that allows the USB 3.0 signal to be transmitted over 100 metres, a 30-fold increase in cable length.

The Vision Award, presented each year for outstanding products or processes in applied image processing and sponsored by Imaging and Machine Vision Europe, was won by the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) for its intraoral 3D scanner. Second place went to Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits for its PolKa solution for analysing polarised light, and third place to Heliotis for its 3D sensor.

The show itself was a huge success, with 351 exhibitors registered, up 8.6 per cent on last year's event, and 7,055 visitors attending, exceeding 6,752 for 2010.