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Baumer Optronic has been making market-leading camera solutions since 1997, as Warren Clark discovers

Baumer Optronic, founded in 1997, is part of the international Baumer Group, which has been in existence for more than 60 years. The group’s expertise is in sensor solutions, process instrumentation and motion control.

Oliver Vietze, son of the founder of the Baumer Group, and Joachim Ihlefeld founded Baumer Optronic in 1997. It is now part of the Baumer Group. The proposed direction of the new company – that of industrial camera technology – sat well within the group as an extension of its sensor business, and also had the potential to address many of the same markets.

The company is based in Radeberg, close to Dresden, Germany, which has a strong history in electronics, and is also a university town. Albert Schmidt, managing director of Baumer Optronic since last year (having joined the Baumer Group in 2007), says the location helped the company develop quickly in its early days. ‘We had 20 engineers working on our technology, which was in the field of digital cameras,’ he says. ‘At the time, the market was dominated by analogue cameras from Asia, so the work our engineers were doing was truly pioneering.’

Whereas the proliferation of standards has enhanced the landscape of digital cameras today, back in 1997 the only option was to develop a proprietary interface, BaumerLink, which achieved a transfer rate of 40Mb/s. ‘It was one of the first products that didn’t require a frame grabber for the transfer of images to a computer,’ says Schmidt. ‘The founders saw that the technology to create a digital camera existed, and they seized the opportunity to make it into a reality.’

Baumer Optronic’s early customers were OEMs – primarily in the microscopy sector and electronics production. ‘The technology was particularly suited to this sector as it had a need for huge numbers of digital images to be transferred at a very high rate,’ says Schmidt.

In the 15 or so years since the company began, growth has been driven largely by moving into new interface technologies. In 2003, Baumer introduced the TX series of FireWire cameras, with a GigE interface following in 2006 – relatively early in the development of that particular technology, compared to competitors. The HX series of Camera Link products became available in 2009, using CMOS sensors for the first time, alongside the SX line, which uses TrueSense Imaging sensors.

Schmidt is proud of the fact that many of Baumer Optronic’s very first customers are still with the company today. ‘They have moved to different products as we’ve introduced them,’ he says. ‘First to FireWire, and more recently to GigE and USB3, which is particularly useful for microscopy.’

Aside from microscopy, other fruitful market sectors include metrology, electronic assembly, and 3D inspection. ‘The need for higher resolution and higher frame rates increase every year,’ says Schmidt. ‘We continue to introduce cameras and interfaces that meet these needs.’

Albert Schmidt, managing director of Baumer Optronic 

Baumer Optronic is growing particularly strongly in Asia and the US, to complement its strong base in Germany and the rest of Europe. Being part of a larger group means the company can take advantage of worldwide locations. ‘We have around 120 employees here in Radeberg, where we look after our marketing, product development, manufacturing and administration,’ says Schmidt. ‘International sales are handled through the network of sales units that the Baumer Group has throughout the world. In addition, we have distributors that work either directly with us here, or with our sales units.’

The Baumer Group is based on three values – pioneering, partnership and precision – and all three of these are applied to Baumer Optronic, Schmidt says.

The ‘partnership’ element of this is particularly relevant to Baumer Optronic, according to Schmidt. ‘We work closely with our customers,’ he says. ‘We listen to their needs and develop new solutions for them and with them over the long term.

‘We achieve "precision" through our high-quality products, and also our usability. We also ensure our products are reliable and available for a long time – this feeds into our desire for long-term relationships with our customers.

‘And the "pioneering" comes from our commitment to new solutions. Customers are always coming up with new issues that they want to solve, and we are always quick to adopt new technologies, such as FireWire, GigE and USB3, so that our customers have access to new products as soon as possible.’

One significant shift from the company’s beginnings to today is that it has moved from merely providing images to now providing images and data. ‘Our VeriSens vision sensors, for example, can evaluate images as they are taken,’ says Schmidt. ‘This onboard processing asks specific questions on behalf of the customer, then generates data that will be useful for the customer to make subsequent decisions.’

Looking ahead, the challenges for Baumer Optronic are rooted in the increasing standardisation that prevails. ‘As far as the customer is concerned, differentiation is becoming an important issue,’ says Schmidt. ‘So, we have to work with customers to provide additional value for them, understand their needs as best we can, and be agile enough to respond to those needs quickly.’

‘From a technology point of view, much like the rest of the industry, we have to address increasing frame rates, and from a sensor perspective, more and more pixel resolution.’

Aside from customer service and technology, there are challenges with internationalisation. ‘The markets we have to penetrate are becoming international,’ says Schmidt. ‘We started out as a strong German-based company, and now we have to move more and more into an international market. This is something that the Baumer Group as a whole has been addressing in the past few years, particularly since the founder of our particular company, Oliver Vietze, became CEO and chairman of the whole group. Customers can see that, as a group, we can deal with anything do with sensors on a global scale.’

BAUMER'S HISTORY
  • Founded in 1952 by Herbert Baumer, a graduate engineer from ETH University in Zürich
  • Helmut Vietze, father of the now CEO, Oliver Vietze, joins in 1962 as a toolmaker and takes over management in 1964
  • Launches μCOM instrument and control switch in 1966, the basis for the company’s future success
  • Achieves sales of more than 10 million Swiss francs in 1982
  • Founding of Baumer Optronic in 1997
  • Baumer Group sales reach 225 million Swiss francs in 2002
  • In 2012, the Baumer Group employs more than 2,500 workers worldwide in 18 countries
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