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Thomas Lübkemeier, EMVA general manager

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

I was fascinated by machine vision, with its enormous power of innovation, ever since I took over a leading position in a machine vision company in 2007. The company made customised vision systems and project solutions – mainly in the automotive and the pharmaceutical industry. Even having worked already in those segments for many years, with other factory automation components, I was extremely impressed with what technical challenges could be solved using machine vision.

How do you convince companies to get involved in an industry body like the EMVA?

The European machine vision industry is a highly interlinked food chain on the one hand, and serves many different customer-segments in numerous applications and different countries on the other. Networking and the exchange of ideas play a key role for the companies’ success, as we have just experienced during our annual business conference in Barcelona. But not only this; in addition to the typical association services, we successively offer new membership benefits as part of our growth strategy. Among these are our lobbying activities in Brussels, which also involves funding opportunities for our members, the establishment of national chapters in the key markets in Europe – and, only recently, the agreement to cooperate with the North American AIA for combined European/North American market data.

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

European companies have been at the forefront of innovation in machine vision from the very beginning of the industry. This has not changed. In particular, success in the industry in Europe has been based on the high number of small and middle-sized companies very often driven forward by a founder or owner with technical enthusiasm and the motivation to always find new solutions and applications. With a unique network of applied research centres all across the continent – such as the Fraunhofer institutes, IMEC in Belgium, AIDO and Vicomtech in Spain, to name a few – research and innovation continue to go hand in hand with ready-to-market solutions from the industry.

What do you see as the major growth sectors?

While there will be a stable demand from ‘traditional’ customer segments coming from the manufacturing sector, applications in non-industrial areas are endless and are far from being fully exploited. The key challenge here will be to create awareness of the potential of vision technologies in sectors that have never come in contact with them. Fittingly, this year’s winner of the EMVA Young Professional Award is developing vision systems for the in agricultural machinery.

What do you see as the most important technological challenges facing the industry?

As machine vision is still a young industry, there is no lack of technical challenges to face. Increase of camera speed and resolution creates a need for fast data transfer and also for handling ever-increasing amounts of data. Expansion of the 2D visible light spectrum into the 3D space or into the infrared range creates new challenges for product development and application engineering. There are more challenges I could point to; however, the most important technical challenge in my view is to provide users of machine vision technology with adaptable, self-learning devices that are easy to implement, easy to use and easy to maintain. This will be the basis for even greater adoption of the technology than we see today.

What do you see as being the most significant commercial change in the industry during the years ahead?

Two important changes might be mentioned here: one is the growing level of integration of machine vision technology in machinery such as robotics, but also in other machines. Vision is becoming an integral part of the production machine instead of being a separate add-on technology. The other development is the ongoing globalisation of the business. Modern communication technologies enable SMEs – predominant in our industry – to expand into global markets, but success on a global scale also requires an adaptation of the marketing and sales models.


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