This year I am celebrating 30 YEARS in the Auto ID industry and 15 years running Acrovision.
So I thought I would take this opportunity to review these 3 decades and assess major changes in our landscape. Obvious changes include grey hair, high blood pressure and wrinkles laughter lines!
After an Electronics Apprenticeship with GEC and a realisation that I was never going to set the engineering world alight, my first job within the barcode world was as a Junior Sales Engineer with Datalogic in 1990. At the time, Datalogic was a relatively small but up and coming manufacturer, with the industry being mainly direct sales as opposed to Distribution.
This has been one of the key changes over the years with the majority of broadline Auto ID sales now being carried out through Distribution. Along with this we have seen the acquisitions and mergers of past businesses such as Intermec, Metrologic, Telxon, Psion, Microscan, Symbol, all having played major roles in the development of the products. As the key players have become less but larger, the role of Distribution has become more important.
In addition, the growth of e-commerce and Sub-Distribution has driven the markets margins down as the standard products have become more commoditised. For Auto ID resellers to survive, they either had to have a unique speciality or add value with software services.
After Datalogic, I moved on to become a Sales Engineer and then Product Marketing Manager at Sick Optics. This was during the time when fixed position scanners were increasing in demand and due to the change from laser-tube to laser-diode technology making them smaller and cheaper.
After many happy years at Sick, I became European Sales Manager at RVSI Europe. They do not exist anymore but were significant in the history of Auto ID as pioneers in the development of the DataMatrix 2D code and Direct Part Marking (DPM) technology.
After RVSI disbanded and sold its Barcode Reading division to Sick, I found myself back at Sick working directly for the German HQ as their European Logistics Market Lead. This was another interesting time where e-commerce was beginning to take off, airports were automating their baggage handling activities and parcel handling companies were implementing Dimension / Weighing / Scanning technology.
It was around this period that another technology swing was taking place with Imager based scan engines starting to get traction over traditional laser scanners. Imagers were known to have read-rate advantages over lasers but had previously been prohibitively expensive. Now, due to economies of scale, the price v performance gap was closing.
In 2003 I was approached by what was Symbol Technologies at the time, now Zebra Technologies, to become European Product Manager for their Scanning Division. I was proud to be involved with the launch of the LS2208 handheld scanner, which went on to become the highest selling barcode reader ever, selling over 8 Million units Worldwide!
As I hit the big 4-Oh! I decided it was time to take the big step of starting up Acrovision in 2005. Initially being a one-stop shop for all things Auto ID, learning the lesson of having to specialise, I promoted the technologies of Fixed Position barcode readers, where there were fewer competent resellers and Direct Part Marking solutions, which was fast evolving within the Aerospace and Automotive industries.
The leading brand of DPM readers at the time was Cognex and it was partnering with Cognex that paved the way to the growth of Acrovision over the next few years.
Having been successful with the Cognex DPM barcode readers, Acrovision ventured into the world of Machine / Camera Vision systems. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the marketplace in the UK and Europe was not as saturated as the traditional Auto ID business and we used our strong commercial skills to soon become a major player in the UK.
Our business model was changing from being more of an Added Value Reseller into a Systems Integrator. This meant the sales cycle was longer, more technically involved and therefore more costly, but ultimately the resulting margins on orders were much higher!
In the subsequent years we continued to grow, particularly within the Factory Automation market, becoming “trusted advisors” to major Automotive, Food & Drink and Pharmaceutical businesses. Our product portfolio and skill set also continued to grow to be able to offer PC Vision, Deep Learning Vision and Collaborative Robots.
It has been the continuing evolution of the technology that has kept me interested in the industry after 30 years. Laser tube to Laser diode to Imagers, Vision sensors to Vision Systems to Deep Learning. The technology will always improve. It is just a case of how long my “Deep Learning” can keep up with it!