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Scott Summerville

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Microscan's CEO gives his thoughts on the vision industry

How did you come to be part of the vision industry?

The bulk of my career – nearly 20 years – was spent with Rockwell Automation. Rockwell is a broad automation supplier and part of its portfolio in the 90s was machine vision and laser scanners for reading barcodes. I was involved in the marketing and sale of those products to the US government, particularly the Post Office, which was, and still is, a large consumer of auto-ID equipment. That’s how I cut my teeth on auto-ID and machine vision technology.

Over my career with Rockwell, I grew to embrace the automation industry. Seeing processes automated – and what can be done to improve productivity, safety, and time-to-market for many different types of product – was both fascinating and rewarding. I got hooked on the automation industry. I spent 10 years in Asia with Rockwell, based in Hong Kong and Beijing, with responsibility for the entire Asia-Pacific region.

When I repatriated, I had the opportunity to run Microscan, joining the company early in 2011. It was always a goal of mine to run a company; I had responsibility for all functions and facets of the business, and for it to be in auto-ID and machine vision was a great fit for me.

What role does Europe play in the development of machine vision?

The European vision market is more fragmented than in the US, which is not necessarily a bad thing. There are a plethora of camera suppliers and software suppliers in Europe, along with mass market integrators that do an excellent job of customising solutions. In the US, there’s more of an effort to standardise on smart camera technology, but there’s still some customisation as well.

In some areas, Europe has played a leadership role. There is a focus on print inspection in Europe, which is certainly a growing market as the systems move towards inkjet as opposed to flexographic printing. There’s much more of a need to inspect the web of material as its being printed, particularly in regulatory markets. There’s also a lot of activity in Europe around the automotive, pharmaceutical, medical device, and food and beverage sectors.

What do you see as the major growth sectors?

Consumer-based markets – pharmaceuticals, medical devices, food and beverage, automotive, among others – need advanced automation, including intelligent sensing. In regulated sectors, such as medical devices and pharma, there is a lot of growth currently for machine vision and auto-ID technology.

Microscan supplies barcode verification based on vision technology to meet the FDA’s Unique Device Identification (UDI) requirements. Here, we’re inspecting a barcode, looking at different parameters, and providing analysis and feedback to the customer about how well the barcode is designed and printed. This is the case in medical device manufacture and pharma, but there is also a move towards more advanced automation and intelligent sensing in other industries – those that have traceability requirements and concerns about safety and anti-counterfeiting in the food and beverage and automotive sectors, as well as in retail. Retailers want to make sure their packaging can be identified, and that their warehouse and supply chain operations are streamlined without a lot of additional cost when packaging can’t be read.

 What technology challenges does the industry face?

One of the biggest technological challenges, now and in the future, is ease of use and customer experience. Machine vision technology is innately designed for machine vision specialists. It can be very complicated, difficult to use, and application sensitive, and the challenge for a company like Microscan is to design and pre-package products to make them simple to use, which includes the interface, the software, as well as all the hardware features. This is actually very complex for the manufacturer.

Vision equipment suppliers are also aiming to put more intelligence into their systems, make devices smaller to fit in instruments and machines, and improve connectivity, which ties in with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). It’s critical in the automation world that vision companies at least enable IIoT – if not leverage it directly – by incorporating more intelligence in devices. Microscan’s MicroHawk barcode readers have their own IP address, meaning the user can configure the cameras via the internet. The goal is to do the same thing for the MicroHawk smart cameras.

What will be the most significant commercial change in the years ahead?

As products become easier to use, it’s going to put pressure on the intermediary to continue to provide value. A lot of the value in the past was from industry and technical knowledge, the ability to apply the technology to a particular application. As manufacturers such as Microscan continue to make products easier to use and more applicable to a broader array of the market – become commodities in effect – these suppliers will have to find ways to add value.

Vision manufacturers are also probably going to deal more directly with customers, either through engagement or actual selling. We value our sales channels very much, but in some market segments we find it important to be close to the customer, understand their needs, and provide technology that really fits their requirements. It’s going to be a challenge for suppliers like Microscan to offer intelligent technology for the factories of the future, but it’s also going to be hard for third parties to continue to offer value. 

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