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Vision industry strong at AIA business conference

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Machine vision sales in North America have returned to their historical trend line only one year on from the recession and the sharp decline in sales figures in 2009. There was growth of 53.7 per cent over the course of 2010 compared to 2009's turnover, according to data gathered by the Automated Imaging Association (AIA) and presented at the body's annual business conference held in Orlando, US from 19-21 January.

Presenting the data at the conference, Paul Kellett, AIA's director of market analysis, declared: 'We've had a sharp rebound from recession and we can feel good about that,' adding that bouncing back from 2009 to the historical trend line was impressive.

Kellett predicted a more modest growth of 2.8 per cent in 2011, remaining close to the historical trend line, although he added that growth rates of up to 5 per cent could not be ruled out. The AIA publishes a quarterly machine vision sales tracking report for North America.

In his examination of robotics orders data in the opening keynote presentation, Lakshman Achuthan, COO of economic cycles institute ECRI, said he was optimistic for robotics sales over the next couple of quarters, although he noted there were potentially 'some clouds on the horizon' according to the long leading index of global industrial growth (LLIGIG). ECRI makes predictions on recessions and recoveries using leading indexes. While Achuthan concentrated on robotics sales, he showed data from various manufacturing leading indexes, which could have relevance to machine vision.

One of the focuses for the AIA in 2011, according to AIA president Jeff Burnstein, is machine vision standards. Camera Link HS and CoaXPress are two new standards under development – CoaXPress has recently been ratified by the Japan Industrial Imaging Association (JIIA) – and details on both were presented at the conference.

Speaking about the next step for CoaXPress, Colin Pearce, managing director of Active Silicon, one of a consortium of companies developing the standard, commented that it will now go through a three month approval period for comment from interested parties, the results of which will be announced at Automate in Chicago, US in March 2011. CoaXPress is a digital interface specification allowing the transmission of data at up to 6.25Gb/s over a single coax cable.

Steve Kinney, director of technical pre-sales at JAI and the AIA Camera Link chairman, gave an update on the Camera Link standard – version 2.0 is planned for release at Automate 2011 – and introduced Camera Link HS, which aims to provide increased bandwidth of greater than 32Gb/s.

On GigE Vision, Eric Carey, R&D director at Dalsa and AIA GigE Vision chairman, said that version 2.0 of the standard will also aim to address higher speeds, with support for 10GigE and for use with more than one cable through Link Aggregation. GigE Vision version 2.0 will also aim to have increased sensor coverage, with support for interlaced scan and multi-tap sources.

Elsewhere at the conference, Tom Bonkenburg, director of European operations at St. Onge Company, a consulting firm specialising in establishing manufacturing facilities and distribution centres, identified distribution warehouses as a potentially huge untapped market for machine vision and automation. According to Bonkenburg, converting only 2 per cent of the US workforce currently moving materials in a warehouse into robotic applications would double the number of robots sold in North America in one year.

In many cases, these robotic applications integrate machine vision, which was a further topic of discussion at the conference. Jeff Baird, director of engineering at Adept Technology commented that faster frame rates are needed to integrate vision with robots, while Dirk Lipper of Cognex highlighted the importance of 3D imaging in robotic applications.

The AIA business conference is an annual event co-located with the Robotics Industry forum and the Motion Control Association (MCA) business conference.