Embedded Vision Alliance Founder Jeff Bier was at the VISION 2011 Conference in Stuttgart, Germany last week, and earlier this week I got a data download on his impressions of the show, its exhibitors and its attendees. Keep an eye out for a full conference report to come in the near future; for now, I'll pass along one particular observation. Jeff spoke with a company that adapted generic industrial vision hardware and software for use in quality control applications targeting floor, wall and counter-top tile manufacturers. Apparently, around 10,000 tile manufacturers exist worldwide; it's a sufficient-sized "niche" to support at least one value-added industrial vision integrator (and probably several).
Extrapolating from that one example, he was struck by the hundreds (or more likely, thousands) of niches just like this one that existed in other manufacturing industries and as such represented compelling business opportunities for both established industrial vision suppliers and new entrants. To wit, his tale reminded me of a short writeup that I'd recently seen in Wired Magazine, on hamburger bun manufacturing (believe it or not):
Most fast food giants have strict specifications for their suppliers to make sure that no unique or distinguishing features creep in, right down to the placement of sesame seeds on the buns. To meet those exacting standards, the bakers at Flowers Foods in Thomasville, Georgia, inspect their freshly baked buns manually using calipers and a colorimeter. But with a production line that runs at about 1,000 bpm (buns per minute), a slipup could require trashing hundreds of pounds of blemished carbs.
Engineers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute have devised a system for inspecting breadstuffs automatically, using image-processing technology. A camera trained on the production line captures an image of each bun, and software analyzes its color to determine whether it’s over- or undercooked, then adjusts the oven accordingly. The program also checks the bun’s shape and diameter and the distribution of garnishes, like sesame seeds or a cornmeal dusting.