How have market changes and customer demands changed the way that MoviMED has approached its business?
Due to the challenging economic environment, our customers have become a lot more risk averse. Many systems we develop solve very tough challenges. Customers come to us when they cannot find any off-the-shelf solution. Developing new technology inherently carries risks, especially for solutions with a higher degree of research and development content. In the absence of a commercially off-the-shelf solution (COTS), the customer has several choices.
Don’t outsource a custom solution development and wait until a COTS solution becomes available. This mitigates the risk, but also eliminates the chance for gaining a competitive edge while becoming a market leader. Innovation is risky but the upside can be significant.
Bring the development in house. Many customers underestimate this effort, especially when their engineering team does not have a solid background in optics, machine vision, electronics, and software engineering. This often distracts from the company’s core focus and competencies and frequently leads to a failed mission and substantial direct and indirect financial losses.
Even if the initial system is yielding acceptable performance, maintaining the system during its lifecycle is an aspect the customer usually does not start thinking about until it is too late. Inspection needs change due to product changes – imaging components become obsolete, employees with intimate knowledge of the system leave the company, the IT department needs the inspection software to be updated, and the list goes on.
Partner with a solutions provider, innovate and take the lead. Does this carry risk? You bet. However, with the proper project management and risk mitigation strategy, all of this becomes a controllable expense. A typical response or demand we get in this scenario is that we ‘guarantee the outcome – financially.’ The customer wants to transfer all the risk to the solutions provider. This sounds like great solution – if you are the customer. We here at MoviMED understand the motivation for this demand and we very well appreciate the need for cost control and risk mitigation. However, we are met with the same challenges as our customers. We also run a business for profit and we also need to mitigate risk at all times. That is exactly where our expertise and capabilities come into play. Since we are the domain experts, we are very well suited to provide the right risk mitigation strategy for tackling very complex design problems.
Our development plans include measurable and verifiable milestones to provide our customers with the best cost control mechanisms available. This model has worked very well for both our customers and MoviMED while allowing us to create valuable solutions.
What type of new technologies or advancements has led to the enhancement of MoviMED systems?
Enhancements and new technologies are all around us. From an infrastructure point of view, we have implemented cloud-based project management software to allow our engineering team to communicate seamlessly with our customers regardless of where they are performing their work. Remote support software allows us to provide immediate technical support for mission critical systems as if we would sit right in front of our customers system.
From an imaging technology perspective, we always stay on top of the latest technologies in order to be able to provide our customers with the most cutting edge solutions for their demanding inspection challenges. We constantly push the envelope of our solutions portfolio. We ensure this by partnering up with major industry leaders in various fields, such as FLIR Systems, Inc. for thermal imaging cameras, National Instruments for data acquisition, motion control, machine vision, and software development tools amongst others.
Can you provide one example of a relatively new technology that you are utilizing?
MoviMED has been developing high-speed, high-resolution 3D imaging systems for several years. The latest 3D cameras we provide utilize laser triangulation to scan 3D shapes at insane speeds. The fastest camera is capable of scanning objects at 104 million 3D points per second. The latest feature enhancements on these cameras allow us to scan objects most other 3D cameras are not capable of.
What other technologies and components do you use in your applications?
MoviMED is really not your typical machine vision integrator. We are a hybrid company – a mix between an integrator, distributor, and OEM product design house. We are capable of custom designing a camera if the job requires it. We use high-speed, field programmable logic array (FPGA) chips to perform some of the more demanding image processing or optical measurement tasks. We also go beyond the typical camera, lens and light setup. We utilize any photon-based detector that suits the application, for instance photon multiplier tubes, photo and laser diodes, etc., and combine these with custom opto-mechanical systems including motion control.
In what areas do you see the most growth?
There seems to be a lot of activity in the 3D industrial imaging space these days. It appears that the 2D machine vision market has matured to a point were standard 2D cameras have become somewhat of a commodity. A handful of CCD and CMOS detector manufacturers provide the same detectors to several camera manufacturers. This leaves very little differentiators besides price in the industrial machine vision market. We noticed that more and more sensor providers are now touting their new 3D sensors. Besides the industrial machine vision market, there is also an uptake in non-industrial imaging.
What are users demanding in terms of the design of your systems?
We are sometimes suffering what we call the “Best Buy” or “CSI – Crime Scene Investigation” syndrome. What I mean by that is that customers sometimes approach us with feature and price expectations set by cameras available at Best buy (e.g. an 18Mpixel model for $800) or otherwise futuristic feature requests.“Why can’t you design a black box that automatically finds any defects on 40 different product variations? We often start the engagement with our customers educating them on what it really takes and which features are attainable given their finite budget. We look at the opportunity and try to arrive at a solid business case quickly for the customer. We are in business to save our customers money and help them increase quality. If we can’t make that case we gracefully turn down that opportunity.
What do you see as the next big thing? In other words, how do you envision the future of imaging in the industries you serve?
I believe that the next big thing in imaging will not have to do so much with the imaging technology but rather the way we treat the data. Traditionally, imaging systems measure feature sizes or check for absence and presence. The "consumer" of the data is usually a machine operator or a quality manager. I believe that we will see soon a much more holistic approach to how and what we do with the data collected.
There is an ever increasing need for real-time monitoring of manufacturing processes. I predict that data will become an integral part to companies ERP (Enterprise resource planning) systems and thus enabling company management to analyze production data in real-time. There are already buzz words circulating throughout the technology world, such as "The Internet of cas," "Industry 4.0," "Big Analog Data™," "Smart Factory," and others. All of this is driven by the need to produce with the utmost efficiency and accuracy. "Just in time" is no longer good enough. Tomorrow it will be "Just in real-time."