Smart manufacturing to drive China vision sales

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Isabel Yang from the China Machine Vision Union gave an update on the vision market in the country during the EMVA business conference

China is already a massive market for machine vision, and its growth trajectory is only set to rise. ‘It's important to pay attention to the Chinese market,’ Isabel Yang, VP of Luster Lighttech and vice chair of the China Machine Vision Union (CMVU), told those attending the 2021 EMVA business conference.

She said smart manufacturing - which is now a well-known buzzword in certain circles in China and developments in which will impact machine vision - is expected to grow by at least 30 per cent in 2021, with similar levels of growth predicted for the next three years.

Yang said that, in China, vision is thought of as one of the four pillars that smart manufacturing relies on - the other three being AI, big data, and cloud computing. ‘They [manufacturers] need new engineers that can drive this smart manufacturing business,’ she said, adding that now many universities have started to include a major in machine vision, not just computer vision, in an effort to train the next generation of machine vision engineers.

In addition, the Chinese government and Chinese companies are now putting a lot of R&D money behind machine vision technology. Yang said that, in 2020, around 18 per cent of machine vision revenue as a whole went into R&D, according to a report by the CMVU.

‘In the past no one knew the term machine vision,’ Yang said. ‘Now everyone wants to talk about machine vision. So, there will be a lot of innovation in this space and also strong competition.’

The largest market for machine vision in China is electronics, which reached more than 60m RMB in 2020 and grew 19.5 per cent between 2018 and 2020, still with strong growth in 2020, according to CMVU data. The semiconductor segment is the second largest market at just above 10m RMB; automotive is third at around 10m RMB. Both grew in 2019 compared to 2018, but stagnated in 2020; semicon grew 51 per cent between 2018 and 2020, while automotive grew 17.1 per cent.

Yang said China is investing a lot in manufacturing batteries, which is driving demand for inspection equipment. She also said that solar panel production is a fast-growing market in China, and that this is leading to a need for infrared cameras to inspect the silicon panels.

Logistics is growing quickly as a market for machine vision - up 55.8 per cent from 2018 to 2020 - but revenue is still relatively small at around 2m RMB in 2020.

The fastest growing camera technology between 2018 and 2020 was 3D cameras, which rose 53 per cent to around 5m RMB. CMVU is working with other G3 organisations - G3 is the global body of machine vision trade associations - on a 3D vision standards group to verify and standardise 3D measurement techniques. ‘In China we have had a lot of new 3D vision companies join the market, with many different kinds of 3D cameras and systems,’ Yang said. ‘We formed this 3D standard group… to give value-add to the G3 group.’

Configurable vision systems still commands the largest sales volume of more than 60m RMB in 2020, up 17.8 per cent from 2018 to 2020.

Yang explained that there’s a huge end-user market in China, that almost 60 per cent of machine vision sales are made directly to end-users, which will have their own automation experts. However, European vision providers looking to sell into China still have to work through the distribution channels, Yang advised, as these are the main routes into the markets within China for international suppliers.

Yang said that interest around smart manufacturing and machine vision is now so great that large internet players, such as Alibaba, are looking to enter the market. There are also many new deep learning and AI companies joining this field, and, because of 5G, smart manufacturing is promoted by telecom companies. ‘All these companies have a strong attention on machine vision,’ she said.

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