Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How’s your network?

During my years in machine vision I’ve learned that while there are many good vision application people, integration people, and machine design people, the number of companies who can successfully and consistently put it all together to deliver complete inspection machines is very few. What seems to happen is that a company is either very good at developing vision “solutions” (by which I mean the actual inspection application,) or they can build good manufacturing equipment, but seldom do they do both.

Yes, there are some larger companies with good track records –
ATS Automation is one example – but larger tends also to mean more expensive, and price is of course part of the purchasing criteria. So, many of us tend to buy our inspection machines from small companies who, to be frank, are typically not experts in every aspect of building such bespoke equipment. But with budgets getting tighter and payback periods shorter, what alternative do we have?

Hence the rise of the “vision boutique”.

A boutique is a small specialist retailer, and by implication, one that operates in a fairly narrow market, winning business by giving customers exactly what they need. So the vision boutique concentrates on solving the vision or inspection problem, which is where its expertise resides.

But this doesn’t get a working system out on the plant floor, so the boutique forms a relationship with another small business, one that knows how to design and build robust manufacturing equipment. Interestingly, this one of those trends that writers like Thomas Friedman (The World is Flat) have been predicting: small businesses networking together in order to act big.

One example of such a vision boutique is Industrial Eye, a small group of
machine vision specialists in Illinois. Take a look at their website.

What does all this mean for you? Well if you’re buying a turnkey vision “solution,” be open to putting together a team of people from several small companies, rather than dealing with a single vendor. And if you aim to provide turnkey vision systems, might I suggest a careful review of where your expertise really lies? If you can identify the reason customers buy from you, perhaps that’s showing you where to concentrate. Focus on that and contract out everything else.

There’s one other point that stands out: managing a vision project is going to take well-honed project management skills. But that’s a subject for another posting.

1 comment:

L. Venkata Subramaniam said...

this is a very interesting post on what to do if you have limited money! Yup this is a trend we probably will see a lot more of. vision boutique is a nice term you have coined to describe this!