About the election as Manager of the Year
The experiences of Uwe Furtner on developing MATRIX VISION:
The picture formed the starting point
Pictures, photographs and paintings tell stories and are interpreted in art by the beholder. In image processing, the pictures are analyzed by the computer and provide information regarding the dimensional accuracy of a structural component. Images enable you to decide whether, for example, a component is good or bad or whether or not a ball actually entered the goal. They allow you to see whether a vehicle is on the wrong side of a slip road on the motorway or whether a blood test signalizes a risk of heart attack. Image processing is employed anywhere where an image is able to speak for itself. This is entirely in keeping with our motto "Recognize - Analyze - Decide".
But how did images get onto the computer? In the 1980s, video technology only consisted of analogue cameras. In order to ensure that the first PCs were also able to process images, the analogue signal had to undergo costly digitalization using a plug-in card (frame grabber) for capturing images.
It was at this time that Gerhard Thullner and Werner Armingeon founded a company and developed ATARI computers, which were superior in terms of speed and memory and considerably cheaper. The dynamic duo succeeded in becoming the world market leaders in ATARI graphics cards for CAD, text and DTP applications within only a few years. It was a rapid rise to success. However, the duo quickly noticed that ATARI could not keep up with the enhanced performance and the drop in the price of PCs. It quickly became apparent that only an industrial focus would be the future. Instead of graphics cards, frame grabbers were then developed for the PC. However, in order to guarantee a successful start on the new image processing market, new staff with experience in image processing had to be deployed. It is for this reason that I joined MATRIX VISION as the Product Manager in 1992.
But the question soon arose as to how newcomer MATRIX VISION could compete against the major foreign players on the market. A simple program interface and excellent customer care proved to be the solution here. It soon became apparent to me that the annual growth of 30% that was expected at that time could only be achieved if the application developer got its solution on the market quickly with our help.
The early stages were not easy as we only had a few customers. Yet this changed when it became clear that customers were able to get the help they needed from us in order to resolve their problems. As a result of this direct contact with the manufacturer, our customers were and still are in a position to meet the demands that their customers make in terms of technology and punctuality, to the highest possible level. Our strength lies in the fact that we are able to provide the customer with a competitive advantage by fulfilling their special requests. Our customers are genuine partners and together we create real innovations.
In 1996, I was part of a company that consisted of 25 employees and I was appointed Managing Director. Along with the executive founders of the company Gerhard Thullner and Werner Armingeon, I was responsible for driver development and customer relations, technical application advice, making projections and product management.
Successful business made it possible for us to achieve a steady growth and we now have 80 employees working for us. The basis for our success involved a vast range of frame grabbers. In 1999, we brought a PC-based intelligent camera onto the market. This was large as far as a camera is concerned, but very small in terms of a PC. The objective here was to create an intelligent, small DSP-based camera, but unfortunately the application developers only wanted to use Windows during the early stages. In 2002, our dream of a Linux-based intelligent camera, mvBlueLYNX became a reality. This was the first intelligent camera on the market with a standard operating system, which, due to its size, really earned the name 'camera'.
In addition to intelligent cameras, we began to produce digital cameras with standard PC interfaces such as USB and then later Gigabit Ethernet in 2000. We can say with certainty today that we have the most extensive product range on the image processing market. We offer frame grabbers, software tools, a number of standard cameras with the most varied sensors, a number of intelligent cameras and, since 2014, even an award-winning 6D camera, which can capture your surroundings. As we specialize in individuality and customer-specific products, we developed a processing unit for Deutsche Pfandsystem GmbH [German Deposit System] (DPG) in 2005 and were ready for series production within a short space of time. This consists of an intelligent camera which tests the security criteria of the DPG logo. MATRIX VISION can be found inside the majority of bottle returns machines. The thing that I am most impressed with, as well as the fact that it helps protect the environment, is that experts claimed 5 years before that a deposit system could not be achieved with image processing due to pricing and performance reasons - but we managed it all the same.
A lot of people ask us how we achieve this level of diversity with only 80 employees: the answer is that we do it by using a modular system and by employing high-caliber, longstanding employees who are organized into small teams and agile structures. All of the different competences that are often required must be present within a team wherever possible, as it is only in this way that you avoid ‘losses’ on the interfaces. Close collaboration between all members of the team makes it possible to achieve optimal results in only a short time. We therefore have a number of small engineering offices that manage themselves and create the diverse product range.
Both founders of the company have taken a step back from operating activities since 2014. Responsibility now lies with Mr. Erhard Meier as the Commercial Director and myself as the Technical Managing Director.
There have been highs and lows over the last 23 years, especially when it comes to being in a position of responsibility. Our faith in the future and love of what we do has enabled us to free ourselves from difficult situations more easily and have often been motivating factors for achieving positive further development.