Grabbing market share
The story of Euresys begins in 1989, when it was founded by a small team of entrepreneurial engineers, including Eric Berg and Yves Joskin. Berg became chief executive officer until his retirement in 2005, while Joskin is the only one of that original team to remain in the business 21 years later, now as chief technical officer. Before incorporating the company, Joskin was active in image acquisition and video technologies, and had most recently been working in the medical imaging field.
Using his own experience and that of his fellow founders, Joskin set about creating a company that focused its efforts on the digitisation of images – at a time when all cameras were analogue, of course.
One of the first employees to join the company was Marc Damhaut, who began his career with Euresys as a development engineer, and was involved in the design of the very first acquisition card that the company introduced. ‘At that time, as now, Euresys was a company that was focused on image acquisition and image processing,’ he says. ‘One of the earliest challenges we had to tackle at that point was digitising images coming from the analogue cameras, so that they could be processed in a PC environment. PC technology was only just emerging at the time, and we recognised that PCs were becoming more and more powerful, and also beginning to be used in industrial areas. Now, of course, it’s easy enough to acquire images with a simple USB connection; back then, we had to use DSPs and very expensive processors to acquire and process video images.’
The earliest customers were system integrators, who were using image acquisition in quality control. ‘I remember one of the very first applications,’ says Damhaut, ‘which was to read the serial number of banknotes in France. It was a real challenge, because the banknotes are printed very quickly, and we had to acquire several images per second. Another was in document processing, where we used image compression on passport photographs at a time when JPEG compression was too slow.’
From those early advances into PC-based environments, the product range has evolved to include frame grabbers and video capture cards, and now serves a wide range of applications, from machine vision to video surveillance. There have also been products developed outside of the PC-based range, including specialist products for medical imaging and X-ray applications. According to chief executive officer Patrick Bergmans, who joined the company as general manager five years ago, Euresys has shipped close to 400k image acquisition boards since the company began.
Damhaut’s career with Euresys has developed and expanded as the company has grown. During the 1990s, he began to travel to promote the company’s technology worldwide. After setting up a distribution network in Europe, he expanded this to the US, before moving to Singapore in 2001 to become sales manager for the Asia Pacific region. In 2004, he set up a formal subsidiary company for Euresys in Singapore, and became managing director of that operation, which acts as a direct interface for all Euresys distributors in the Asia Pacific region. Since 2006, Damhaut has also been senior vice president of product management for Euresys, although he remains based in Singapore.
Marc Damhaut, managing director of the Singapore branch.
‘The most significant change during my career at Euresys has been that PCs have become more powerful,’ says Damhaut. ‘By the year 2000, it was possible to achieve directly on the PC processor what had previously only been possible using specialist DSPs. During the mid to late 90s, Euresys began developing its own software image processing libraries – a collection of image processing functions that enabled the CPU to take images from the frame grabber and analyse them. Now, we produce frame grabbers that simply acquire the image, with all the processing carried out by the host PC’s CPU.’
The emergence of the smart camera has caused some to question the long-term future of image acquisition boards, but Damhaut believes that there are markets for both types of products. ‘It is true that smart cameras and compact vision systems do not use frame grabbers, and are suitable for low-level vision tasks. However, complex, high-end applications still need the higher bandwidth that frame grabbers can provide.’
‘Image processing has penetrated industrial markets in a huge way in recent years,’ says Patrick Bergmans. ‘If we set aside the economic crisis of last year, industrial use of image processing has been on the increase for many years in succession, and it’s these industrial customers that need the high-end solutions that only frame grabbers can provide. The new standards that are emerging, including the likes of CoaXPress, are all aimed at this high end.
‘In a similar vein, the video surveillance market is booming, and that is another industry where the speed and complexity of the images being acquired means that only a dedicated image acquisition board will do the job. For example, we have recently supplied the capture and compression cards for Mexico City’s metro system that involves processing images from more than 4,500 cameras. That can only be done with specialist hardware.’
‘We are also focusing on ease of installation,’ adds Damhaut. ‘We recognise that smart cameras benefit from the simplicity with which they can be integrated, so we have been working hard to make our frame grabbers easy to install and operate. We have recently introduced a series of drivers for our Picolo product that conform to industry standards, and therefore make the integration of our cards into larger systems much easier.’
Patrick Bergmans, CEO of Euresys.
Euresys, like any other company in the machine vision marketplace, has its competitors, so why should customers choose its products over anyone else’s? ‘We are a reputable company,’ says Damhaut. ‘We have more than 20 years’ experience in image acquisition and image processing, and we have been able to react quickly to several changes in technology. We are also an international company: based in Belgium, we have a branch office in the USA and one in Singapore, plus a network of 36 distributors. This means we are able to support customers at any time, anywhere in the world.’
‘We recognise we cannot stand still,’ says Bergmans. ‘We have recently implemented a strategy of introducing road maps for product development that look three or four years ahead. We will be developing new products in both the video surveillance and machine vision markets very aggressively in the coming months and years.
‘We also intend to become closer to the end user, so that we become a semi-solutions provider to enable easier integration.’
Bergmans is very positive about the future. ‘It was a tough year last year. But we’re having a record year so far. Our revenue for the first six months of 2010 exceeds that of the whole of 2009.’
In terms of product development, Damhaut plans to develop the company’s expertise in video surveillance, and in particular on compression technology. ‘We will be extending our range of products that use the H.264 compression standard, as well as increasing the number of channels in our products. We will be moving into greater network integration of our products too.
‘For machine vision products, we are about to release three new Camera Link cards, which will bring support for all Camera Link versions, from Base to Full, at very interesting price points. We’ll also be keeping a close eye on developments in technology, as well as the associated standards, such as CoaXPress.’