Interoperability is key!

When everyone does their own thing, success is nigh on impossible to achieve. Companies should therefore design their products and solutions in a consistent and interoperable manner. When doing so, common standards and interfaces are essential. These might be arduous to develop, but the hard work is worth it: Cooperation results in knowledge transfer, invigorates the market, and prevents the sector from becoming fragmented. MVTec helps actively develop common standards and interfaces.

Thomas Hopfner, Product Manager Licensing and Interfaces at MVTec

Getting involved with the development of common standards is often a tricky topic for companies: The interactions with the relevant communities, committees, and associations can sometimes be time-consuming and laborious, plus the decision-making processes needed for new standards to finally be implemented often require patience and perseverance. So why should companies invest manpower, time, and money in this process? Are they not better to focus on the development of their own, proprietary solutions?

The answer is a clear “yes” – but only from a short-term perspective. When looking at the longer term, however, this is a fallacy as stand-alone solutions usually involve major disadvantages for companies, customers, and the sector as a whole: It may be possible to develop a solution quickly, but this is not usually future-proof, devours financial resources, and often leads to market and sector fragmentation.

Customers benefit from greater product maturity

From a long-term perspective, companies are therefore better advised to collaborate with others, i.e., to adopt a strategy based on the development of successful, common standards and consistent interfaces. This provides long-term certainty and creates lively competition. This open approach particularly benefits customers, who can not only enjoy products with a higher degree of maturity but also compare these more easily and thus choose the best option for them. A further advantage is that consistent interoperability results in different systems and solutions speaking the same language, enabling them to communicate in line with specific needs. This offers users greater flexibility and cost transparency.

Standardization also fosters knowledge sharing and paves the way for technological progress. This enables even new market players to develop and offer solutions that can be easily integrated on the basis of existing standards. For customers, this in turn means a wider range of products and more choice. One important aspect in this regard is that carefully conceived standards also always create a great deal of freedom for individual developments. They form a solid foundation for innovations and enhancements that directly benefit all users, as there is no need to reprogram or upgrade the corresponding interfaces. The standards act as an important driver for quickly launching new innovations and establishing them on the market.

Standardization optimizes machine vision processes

Standards, such as GigE Vision, are particularly important. These make it easier to connect image acquisition devices like industrial cameras to network infrastructures through the use of Gigabit Ethernet standards. One important interface for camera integration is the Generic Interface for Cameras (GenICam), which enables camera interfaces to be decoupled from the programming interfaces of special applications. GenICam also includes the Generic Transport Layer (GenTL), which allows camera data to be seamlessly transferred to the user application. Thanks to progressive standardization, the number of proprietary image acquisition solutions has fallen dramatically in recent years. System integrators also benefit from their work becoming far easier, as they can use several industrial cameras in the same way.

In the context of machine vision, standards on universal process communication are also important. These include the Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture (OPC UA), for example. This standard enables consistent data exchange between components from different manufacturers while ensuring compatibility with all conceivable platforms and operating systems. The OPC UA acts as an overarching framework that defines a common language for data communication between different system worlds. This paves the way for the seamless integration of numerous automation applications.

Associations and companies drive industry standards

There are two types of standards: technical industrial standards and standards established by law (de-jure standards). The former are developed and agreed upon by associations and companies. In the case of industrial standards, proprietary developments are often released for general use. MVTec has done this as well: The company independently developed the GenICam GenTL Producer Framework and provides the production-ready code to its own customers and to the entire GenICam community free of charge.

Although they are still being developed and currently have a low level of maturity, standards also already exist for deep learning AI technology, an important aspect in the field of machine vision. One such standard is the Open Neural Network Exchange (ONNX), which is supported by various frameworks. However, a high level of fragmentation still generally exists here and not all requirements for productive, industrial use are currently fulfilled.

Who, if not us?

As in the industrial environment as a whole, the process of standardization in the machine vision segment is constantly evolving. Even though many standards have already achieved a certain level of maturity, they are still being continually developed.

Simpler implementation, greater comparability, and thus more competition ultimately lead to better results. It is through this approach that we can jointly drive the machine vision sector!