Good prospects on the machine vision market

Field robots rely on machine vision

After a drop in revenue owing to the pandemic, the image processing sector is back on track for achieving dynamic growth. Only the shortage of chips is dampening the mood.

The trend toward automation continues around the world. In an increasing number of cases, 100 percent checks during ongoing processes ensure consistent product quality. The information required is provided by high-performance camera systems which can check things tirelessly and much more quickly and precisely than the human eye. Because they now collect three-dimensional information and allow hyperspectral checks on products and foodstuffs with various wavelengths, they make what used to be invisible visible: whether it be hollow nuts or almonds, unevenly distributed active ingredients in pills or faulty tracks in microchips on a nanometer level. In many cases, artificial intelligence helps with the evaluation.

Because more and more sectors throughout the world are relying on machine vision, the sector has been recording strong growth for years now. According to the VDMA’s specialist Machine Vision department, turnover doubled in the ten years between 2008 and 2017. Providers in Europe and Germany achieved average annual growth rates of 13 percent. However, the outbreak of the pandemic put paid to this growth: in 2020, turnover fell by four percent according to VDMA statistics. However, the association expects growth of seven percent in both 2021 and 2022. The order books are already full and even higher growth would be possible were it not for a shortage of computer chips which is hampering production. The fact that demand for machine vision beyond typical industrial applications is growing at an above-average rate (+9 %) is another reason why the VDMA’s specialist department is so optimistic. Indeed, medical technology, security, agriculture, transport and retail already account for 35 percent of turnover. However, applications in the electronics industry (+20 %) and the semiconductor industry (+10 %) continue to drive growth.

Growth trend in the USA too

Europe’s machine vision industry is doing very well in China (+10 %) and the USA (+5 %) too. According to the US Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the business climate is very good in spite of the continuing pandemic. Demand for robotics solutions has increased by two thirds. On the back of this, the North American machine vision market grew by 18 percent in the first half of 2021 and is now worth $1.5 billion. The US association believes that the pandemic has actually increased demand for automation systems. Because so many workers were absent from work owing to illness or quarantine, the industry increasingly relies on automation in conjunction with machine vision as a way of keeping processes—from production to logistics—running. In addition, more and more companies would bring outsourced production steps back to the States from abroad in order to make themselves less vulnerable to the effects of supply chain problems. Thanks to automated processes with careful quality monitoring, it is now possible to manufacture products domestically for comparable costs. Current technological trends such as 3D, embedded and hyperspectral imaging are becoming increasingly popular with US users too. According to A3, the increasing bandwidths in image transmission, cameras with ever higher resolutions and the use of deep learning in image evaluation will all help to make machine vision an established part of modern production worlds.

Positive outlook for the years ahead

Backed up by the findings of associations and provider surveys, the market researchers from Allied Market Research or the French organization YOLE Développement are making highly positive predictions too. Allied Market Research expects average annual growth rates of 11 percent until 2027, resulting in a global market volume of almost $80 billion. By way of comparison, Allied Market Research quoted a volume of $30 billion for 2019. YOLE focuses on the market for industrial cameras, more than 90 percent of which is now based on the CMOS technology. This figure will continue to increase as a result of the three-dimensional and hyperspectral imaging trends. Overall, the French analysts expect annual increases in turnover of 7.4 percent, as a result of which the value of the global camera market will increase from $1.9 billion to $5.5 billion between 2020 and 2026. According to YOLE, growth will be distributed evenly between nine user sectors including industry, agriculture, medicine, transport, logistics and retail. The French firm expects strong growth in cameras for autonomous vehicles. Thanks to annual growth of 43 percent, a turnover of $211 million is possible by 2026. This would once again confirm the trend towards the use of machine vision solutions in more and more applications.