Ian Alderton, Technical Sales Director at Alrad Imaging, lifts the lid on the company, its impact on the Machine Vision market, its role in the market and the latest trends to hit the sector.
What is Alrad Imaging’s background?
We started in radiation detection and moved from there into optics and Machine Vision.
Our main product areas cover Machine Vision components, Optical Detectors and Laser Products. We have been trading since 1970 and will celebrate 50 years in business in June 2020.
We have three trading divisions, Alrad Imaging, Alrad Electronics and Alrad Photonics and offer thousands of product items from the world’s leading manufacturers. We also provide consultancy, demonstration, and product support services.
How do you assess your impact on the MV market?
We were instrumental in growing it from nothing in the UK. We started off by promoting frame grabbers and later line scan cameras. We’ve helped introduce to people the idea of using vision as part of their process control. What started off as high-end devices have now become more widespread to the point where part or all of the control and measurement is done using a vision system. There are many production lines that are now 100% inspected using this method. So, this has also led to people being upskilled and it has created new jobs.
How do you determine what products and suppliers to use?
We keep our eyes on the market to look for trends, we follow what is happening in the trade press, we visit relevant shows like Vision in Stuttgart to see what new products manufacturers are bringing out, and we listen to word of mouth. We also have contact with other independent distributors like us across Europe and we regularly talk to each other to find the next new areas to be in. We also talk to our customers and listen closely to their requirements.
In terms of whom we work with, it is with companies that feel they can work with and benefit from being represented by a distributor. We started off with a lot of North American suppliers and then newer ones were primarily European. Now we also have Asian suppliers, so it is a good mixture.
We have also been selected by businesses if they are in a specialist or niche market. We have seen businesses merging or being bought out. For example, recently SenTech, whom we have represented for nearly 20 years, got taken over by Omron. However, they continue to sell these cameras via us because we have existing links into the machine vision market. We also have greater specialist knowledge e.g. of the Camera Link and GigE interfaces.
What are the advantages of working with a distributor?
Being independent means we can offer impartial advice and recommend what’s best for the application. We can, and often do, provide end users with a mix of product from two or three suppliers and bring it together in an optimum package that will solve their problems. We can also test it first ourselves, or with the customer, and work together to get the best solution for each application.
If a customer has two or three applications and they need a slightly different product mix for each of them, then we can do that with products from a variety of different suppliers.
What’s new on the market for the current trends?
SMART Cameras and Embedded Systems with the GPUs as there’s now a trend towards use of multiple GPUs in a system, each of which are doing individual dedicated tasks thus reducing the data going back to the host PC.
There’s a lot more smarter tasking. With embedded PCs the processing power has gone up and the cost has come down. Typically, starting at about £500 you can have a camera with a lens, a GPU system, and run a process on that kit that will allow significant control.
The need for a stand-alone PC in process systems is reducing and as things get smaller, faster and more powerful, which combined with the move from CCD to CMOS cameras means more applications are now in the realms of possibility.
This underlines the need for us to talk to new customers, to be aware of when new applications and opportunities open up, as traditional control and inspection methods can increasingly be replaced by automated machine vision technology.