Tough times for 2009, but industry sees signs of recovery

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2008 was a strong year for European machine vision, but estimates for 2009 predict a substantial drop in sales turnover: this according to the recently published European Vision Technology Market Statistics annual study from the European Machine Vision Association (EMVA).

Total sales of the reporting companies increased by 4.4 per cent in 2008. However, the EMVA estimated the total turnover in the European machine vision industry to decrease by 22 per cent in 2009 on a year-to-year basis.

Speaking to Imaging and Machine Vision Europe, Andreas Breyer, director of market research at EMVA, remarked that, despite the downturn, the general need of further automation remains. 'It is true that many enterprises at the moment are not able to finance new projects, but cost saving, increase of productivity, new areas of application outside the traditional production sector and, most of all, best quality will further boost automation in the near future.' Breyer predicted that the first signs of an economic recovery would be visible by the end of the first half of 2010.

Data from IMS Research, a supplier of market research and consultancy services, indicates recovery in the industry might already have begun. The data showed a levelling out in the EMEA and American machine vision markets over the second quarter of 2009, with the EMEA experiencing only a slight decline on the previous quarter. Asian revenues also grew sequentially 10 per cent after a very large first quarter decline.

IMS Research's market tracker uses a mixture of submitted data and data in the public domain to plot the machine vision market quarter by quarter. John Morse, who manages the machine vision tracker from the company's headquarters in the UK, believed the improvements will be sustained, although he felt recovery is likely to be steady rather that meteoric. 'We predict that 2010 will see a gradual improvement in vision-related sales, but we're not expecting revenues to reach the 2007/08 levels until at least 2011,' he said.

Breyer suggested socio-cultural trends, such as environmental protection, increasing healthcare, the ageing societies, new forms of entertainment, and an increasing need for security and surveillance as all being fields where machine vision technology offers solutions and therefore potential growth areas. He also pinpointed the so-called BRIC-nations – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – as providing a number of opportunities for the machine vision enterprises in Europe: 'With a total population of some 2.8 billion people, the BRIC-countries are on the verge of further automating their industries and have just recognised the potential that machine vision technology offers.'

The EMVA report found that 72.7 per cent of sales were within Europe, while 12.9 per cent of total European turnover was to the Americas and 13.6 per cent to Asian countries. 'This underlines the trend of the growing importance of the export business,' said Breyer. 'Vice versa, in terms of sourcing, European vision companies managed to make themselves more and more independent from the world market over the past years.'

Easy-to-use and inexpensive standard systems, such as smart cameras and in particular vision sensors, sales of which increased by 26 per cent compared to 2007, were in great demand in 2008. Frame grabbers were the only product type that was less in demand and faced a decline in turnover of -9 per cent in 2008.

Inspection remained the largest application of machine vision technology in 2008, with a 62.7 per cent share on all applications carried out by machine vision systems. This was followed by the growing field of 3D metrology (9.1 per cent).

The first country-specific report on the Italian machine vision market revealed that in Italy the packaging industry is the most important customer for vision system providers. In general though, the automotive and electric/electronic industries were key drivers in 2008.

This year's European Vision Technology Market Statistics report, which can be purchased from the EMVA, covers new chapters, such as general economic remarks and a special country report on Italy. All European machine vision companies are invited to participate in the annual EMVA market survey and in turn will receive the complete results free of charge.