Opportunities, Challenges and Trends in the Domestic Thriving 3D Machine Vision Industry

Technology Author: Qinqie He Oct 19, 2022 06:04 PM (GMT+8)

Industrial production and manufacturing activities are continuously evolving and facing more complex conditions, exposing the human eye's inherent limitations to detect, observe, and examine production activities, which boosts the adoption of 3D machine vision technology.

3d machine vision

3D machine vision refers to a mixture of software, hardware products, and integrated systems to provide a three-dimensional digitized model of the scanned object to enhance application performance. Multiple cameras or laser displacement sensors are usually used in a 3D machine vision system, enabling it to detect objects or weak impulses in dim light or at invisible wavelengths to the naked eye and provide efficient and reliable inspection and measurements.

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The 3D machine vision market size was valued at USD 1.55 Billion in 2021 and is projected to reach USD 3.46 billion by 2027, rising at a market growth of 14.7% CAGR during the next 5 years. 3D machine vision technology is witnessing widespread implementation in multiple industrial, commercial, and government verticals. End users in the commercial industry include healthcare, intelligent transportation systems and logistics. Among industrial end-users, 3D machine vision finds its applications in semiconductor, automotive, consumer electronics, food, and beverage. 3D machine vision technology often serves security, surveillance, and defense purpose in the government sector.

2D VS 3D machine vision technology

The processing of 2D image data was the standard before 3D machine vision technology was introduced. 3D machine vision systems are gaining popularity due to the limitations of 2D cameras. 2D machine vision technology could provide a two-dimensional map of the scanned objects, and relevant applications include feature verification, barcode reading, label orientation, and surveillance. However, 3D image data often could reflect more precise measurements of complex product structures and unlock more application possibilities. 2D image data could track moving objects and determine location only in 2D space to obtain a flat and two-dimensional image, including the X and Y axis data. In contrast, a 3D machine vision system could detect and move objects regardless of their location and irregular shapes. 3D vision technology guarantees reliable 3D vision inspection, even when product color, width, length and depth vary. Undoubtedly, moving from 2D vision to 3D machine vision has supplemented the 3D machine vision market growth and has no signal of slowing down. 

The impact of COVID-19 on the 3D machine vision industry

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in large-scale business shutdowns and severely impacted market supply chains due to the absence of labor. This pandemic's effects triggered companies' rising awareness to implement automation technologies. However, the incentive to substitute capital for labor is further promoted due to increased demand for product quality. Adopting 3D machine vision technology can decrease production errors and increase accuracy and safety. For instance, robots with 3D machine vision cameras successfully dealt with various complex healthcare problems such as disease surveillance, contact tracing, and diagnosing COVID-19, all without direct contact with patients. The multiple functionalities of 3D machine technologies are making contributions every day in various industries, specifically in the manufacturing industry, and boosting the recovery of the global economy from severe disruptions. The rising implementation of automation in almost all industries is expected to further drive the growth of the 3D machine vision market.  

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Challenges to domestic 3D machine vision companies 

While the opportunities of AI are great, there are challenges involved. The key players in the 3D machine vision industry face the problem of high business costs due to product customization. Various end-user requirements pose significant challenges to companies, especially the manufacturing industry, which focuses on product customization. It is almost impossible to create standard 3D machine vision products that could satisfy the needs of all companies since the technical specifications tend to vary depending on customer needs. In such way, longer product development cycles, higher business costs and lower profits are expected.

Nevertheless, Miao Qingwei, the CEO of Alsontech, believes that customization needs are prevalent in the 3D machine vision industry and insiders are used to it. Furthermore, customization needs might be a comparative advantage for many Chinese firms. For instance, he mentioned that the whole production process, technical support and after-sales service of Alsontech are developed with the principle of better serving the customization needs of customers. Such customer-orientated business model could help Alsontech to integrate scenarios with high repetition and contribute to repurchase behaviors. Additionally, Chinese firms tend to be advantageous regarding local communication and service, as cost control would be easier to achieve through lower labor and communication costs.

Another major challenge for domestic 3D machine vision firms is insufficient hardware development. The global 3D machine vision market is divided into hardware and software based on components. The hardware segment led the 3D machine vision market and accounted for more than 69% of the revenue share in 2019. Hardware components include several objects such as sensors, cameras, processors, frame grabbers, LED lighting, optics, and others. Among all the components, cameras contained more than 50% share of their essential role in capturing high-quality 3D images. Unfortunately, many Chinese 3D machine vision firms rely on imported components due to the lack of development and high technical barriers. This, in turn, is anticipated to increase production costs and further limit business growth. Most 3D machine vision firms capable of producing high-quality hardware are primarily seen in technologically advanced economies like the US, Germany and Japan. Keyence Corporation(Japan ) and Cognex Corporation(US) are the forerunners in the 3D Machine Vision Market in the overseas market. Other key players operating in the 3D machine vision market include Omron Corporation(Japan), Stemmer Imaging AG(Germany), ISRA Vision AG(Germany ), Balluff GmBH (Germany), Basler AG(Germany), Sick AG(Germany), and National Instruments Corporation(US). 

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Nevertheless, an increasing number of Chinese firms put great efforts into developing domestic 3D machine vision hardware and have already gained substantial progress and Percipio.XYZ is definitely one of them. Fei zheping, the CEO of Percipio. XYZ, said that insufficient skill accumulation is no longer the problem hindering the growth of Percipio.XYZ. According to him, it takes a minimum of 5 years to develop competitive 3D machine vision products. The first 2-3 years would require successfully recruiting engineers with suitable skill sets, and they also need to accumulate more relevant technical experience to become industry experts. Many companies may not even produce a complete product during these years. Companies may see first-generation products hitting the market after another 2-3years. However, the products are not market-tested and typically are not perfect. More time is needed to refine the products with end users and equip the products with more powerful functions to overcome the limitations of machine vision. During that period, the company's business scale tends to be relatively small, and investors or company staff can be frustrated and even lose confidence. The worst scenario would be the company having insufficient funds due to the leaving of investors and being forced to slow down the development pace, which would lead to an infinite negative loop. However, these challenges did not limit the full potential of Percipio.XYZ. This high-tech enterprise has successfully developed a "standard product" business model and mass-produced several powerful 3D machine vision hardware products, which are successfully exported to Canada, America, European countries and Japan.

Future trends of the domestic 3D machine vision industry

The foreign logistics industry is a "late adopter" of 3D machine vision technology. 3D machine vision technologies can profoundly change processes in the logistics sector. For instance, 3D machine vision methods will optimize and accelerate many aspects of the supply chain: various products will be quickly and reliably detected and then displayed in a suitable position. It is even ideal for detecting small objects from labels or low-contrast situations rapidly and unambiguously, enabling large quantities of products to be inspected automatically. Additionally, 3D machine vision technology offers completeness detection and surface inspection solutions, including measuring distances, shapes and volumes under harsh conditions. Eventually, the solutions will guarantee that defective products are sorted out and optimize the logistic outcomes. It is safe to say that surging demand for more effective logistics services in many foreign countries could translate into a profitable chance for many domestic 3D machine vision players. After all, the logistics industry in China has been thriving for the last few years thanks to advanced technology.

Another 3D machine vision trend is associated with the rise of the robot industry. 3D machine vision particularly benefits robotic processes by opting for a "digital eye ."Many robots are equipped with cameras or are linked to cameras that let them have real-time vision and respond to their environments. Robots with 3D machine cameras can oversee the entire line and complete multiple tasks such as positioning objects, changing direction and picking up staff at once. Although fixed robotic processes were common, vision-guided robotic systems offer higher integration and more flexibility in operations such as pick, place, or weld.

China has recovered reasonably from the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is necessary for all domestic 3D machine vision companies to build or expand their overseas business map. The travel restrictions resulting from pandemic lockdowns made it extremely hard and costly for both domestic and foreign companies to go aboard and make business connections. Many business activities could be finished online. However, it is pretty limited when companies are new to the customer or have never entered that market. Additionally, the face-to-face product demonstration could be more direct and effective when compared to pure online communication.

This article presents a comprehensive analysis of the domestic 3D machine vision market, covering key trends, challenges and opportunities and factors that are supposed to play a substantial role in the industry, which will provide a clear, futuristic view of the domestic 3D machine vision market dynamics.