Imaging technology is playing an increasingly important role, for traditional industry sectors like manufacturing as well as emerging segments outside of the factory. Companies are looking to automate their operations. Lower costs have enabled customers to use camera-based technologies for the very first time. Vision systems have become more capable than single-purpose devices.

Alex Shikany, director of market analysis at the Association for Advancing Automation (A3).
As part of this month’s Imaging Technology Camera Directory & Guide, we asked experts from the Association for Advancing Automation, technology supplier analyst firm VDC Research, and technology market intelligence analyst company Tractica to talk about emerging camera capabilities and what machine vision customers can expect in 2015. The questions were posed separately to each of the analysts.

Imaging Technology: What is driving machine vision today?

Alex Shikany, director of market analysis at the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), Ann Arbor, MI: [Robotics and automation] are going hand in hand more often now. Companies are looking to give eyes to their system because it’s more cost-feasible for them to do so, and the capabilities of doing that really open up a lot of possibilities for them.

Richa Gupta, senior AutoID analyst at VDC Research, Natick, MA: There’s a lot of continued interest from manufacturing units in installing and deploying machine vision to automate their everyday processes. Robotics is certainly generating a lot of interest, as well as taking imaging technology beyond the manufacturing shop floor to the logistics environment. There’s just a whole host of applications that we never knew possible.

Richa Gupta, senior AutoID analyst at VDC Research.
Alex Shikany: Some of the main factors driving machine vision are really expanding outside the factory. You look at the mature industry inside the factory: process automation, inspection, measurement. Those are still very important to this industry, but what’s driving growth are when the companies are exploring areas like unmanned aerial vehicles or robotics or life sciences. Those vertical markets are really driving the increase in the market in recent years.

Imaging Technology: How has cost feasibility impacted the use of imaging technology?

Richa Gupta: The sharp decline in sensor prices has really opened up the market for their use and its application across the board. These machine vision cameras and systems are now being deployed for anything from damaged goods documentation to intelligent traffic systems to traditional inspection types of applications. You name it; cameras are being used.

Alex Shikany: The cost feasibility is opening up doors for new customers. Companies that couldn’t afford [machine vision] or were hesitant to implement the system are now starting to open their eyes. There’s more capability in each system now, and companies can offer it for less. You see that happening with robotics. Robots, in general, are costing less, which is opening up a lot of doors. That’s putting pressure, on an application-specific basis, on machine vision companies to offer their functionality at a reasonable price.

Imaging Technology: Where have you seen the impact of machine vision beyond the manufacturing floor?

Anand Joshi, senior analyst at Tractica
Richa Gupta: The volume of goods that are moving through logistics warehouses and distribution centers today is massive. It is something that manual labor alone is not really equipped to handle. A lot of these parcel and courier companies – like FedEx, UPS, and DHL – are relying on camera technology to help them automate their solutions, drive operational efficiencies, generate additional enhancements, and generate additional revenues, while keeping their costs low.

Anand Joshi, senior analyst at Tractica, Boulder, CO: On the industrial side: robotic technology will become self-guiding. Amazon, for example, acquired Kiva Systems. Kiva Systems has robots that can go from one end of the factory to the other and locate the package, bring it down, and deliver it to the appropriate shipping container.

Richa Gupta: I think it’s very interesting to really keep track of the amount of dollars that companies like FedEx, UPS, Alibaba, and Amazon are investing in robotics and image-based technology. Within the warehouses and distribution centers, I think that is probably the industry that is going to grow the fastest when it comes to machine vision adoption.