Dietmar Ley, CEO, Basler Vision Technologies
How did you come to be part of the imaging/machine vision industry?
In 1989, I became a research assistant at the University of Siegen, working on laser range finders and image processing. Four years later I joined Basler as a project manager in developing new technologies, having finished my PhD and answered a job advertisement. I have now been with the company for 15 years, having worked my way through to technology director, then managing director in 1996, and – since 2000 – as CEO. I also now represent the industry itself on major bodies, such as the VDMA and the AIA.
How do you convince customers they need machine vision?
Well, as most of our customers are OEMs, we don’t have to convince them to use machine vision; we simply have to convince them to use our products. To do this, we put emphasis on better technology, ease of use, better support and so on, focusing on our innovation rather than attempting to compete on cost. We believe that because of the quality of our products, customers receive faster ROI than if they had bought a cheaper product.
What is Europe’s role in the development of machine vision?
As a market for turnkey systems, Europe is second only to Asia. EU companies, and in particular those in Germany, are very strong in the systems business for markets such as automotive and surface inspection. From the components perspective, Germany again is becoming a major player in camera manufacture. The change from analogue to digital has been significantly driven by German manufacturers. Aside from cameras, Europe also has a strong track record in optical technology, such as image sensor heads.
What do you see as the major growth sectors?
One area where we see growth is the vision sensor, which is a highly integrated component dedicated to a single function. It is a sector that doubled in volume in 2007. We are also seeing movement in the configurable systems market – in the low end in particular. The major emerging markets are away from the traditional mass manufacturing markets, such as security and surveillance, medical and life sciences, traffic and so on.
What do you see as the most important technological challenges facing the industry?
Today, it’s all about reducing the complexity of the technology. We have to make vision easier to use and easier to integrate. Different products and components need to be able to operate on a common platform, so that users don’t need an engineering degree in order to operate them. To achieve even greater growth, we also need to reduce the footprint of the technology to make it easier to integrate into other markets.
What do you see as being the most significant commercial change in the industry during the years ahead?
It is no surprise that the answer is lower manufacturing costs, largely driven by competition coming from Asia – Korea, Taiwan and China. We will no longer be able to sit on our technical advantage alone. We also need to build up international sales. We need a global reach in order to achieve sufficient economies of scale. With this in mind, there is a challenging time ahead – particularly for the smaller companies.