30 Years of MATRIX VISION – We Change Your Vision

Whether on land, in water or in air, industrial image processing has managed to reach virtually every sector imaginable. Nevertheless, the manufacturers in this industry segment are largely unknown to the public, staying behind the scenes as the provider of the technology in the final products. One such "hidden champion" is MATRIX VISION GmbH. Head-quartered in the Swabian district of Oppenweiler near Stuttgart, MATRIX VISION is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year - the perfect occasion to take a look back to the future.

When Gerhard Thullner and Werner Armingeon set up the company on June 24 1986, little did they know that 30 years later they would have close to 100 employees and a depth and breadth of technological expertise that is unusual in the industry. The young company did not begin with image processing directly. Rather, at the start it developed software for atomic absorption spectrometers. In contrast to the business direction, the division of roles was clear right from the get-go: while Armingeon was responsible for the technical part, Thullner was in charge of the business side of things. With this approach, the team developed an instinct for correctly interpreting technological trends and constantly evolving and adapting the business.

Global leader with the Atari graphic controller and transition to industrial image processing

In the early years of the PC, Atari products were very popular with early adopters like universities, and among users with graphics-related tasks. Thullner and Armingeon had their first business ventures in this field and developed a graphic controller for large-screen Atari computers. After just six weeks of development, the two presented this innovative new product with their highly motivated team at the CeBIT trade fair in Hanover in 1989. MATRIX VISION became the global market leader with the Atari graphic controller but Thullner and Armingeon were not content to rest on their laurels. By the time PCs caught up with Atari, the two engineers had already moved in a new direction. They briefly debated whether to apply their graphic controller expertise to the booming PC market. "There were already established companies in the PC market, so it would have been too risky for us," Thullner explains the company's decision, which would soon prove to be the right choice. The company started developing frame grabbers for industrial applications. With these electronic components that are used to digitize analog video signals, the company had entered the still-young image processing sector.

From smart cameras to reverse vending machines

This move opened up a new area for Armingeon who felt that the standard image processing solution, comprising a frame grabber, camera and PC, was too complex and unreliable. By integrating all the components into a single product, the smart camera was born. MATRIX VISION can rightly claim to have launched one of the first smart cameras on the market. "Unfortunately this project had to take a back seat to other commitments for a while; otherwise we would have brought it to market much sooner," says the development manager with hindsight. The idea which took seed in 1999 became the foundation for many solutions based on smart cameras, such as traffic flow surveillance in Great Britain; smart sewing machines, glass lens grinding machines and letter sorting systems in France; and reverse vending machines in Germany to name but a few. Uwe Furtner is responsible for product conceptual design at MATRIX VISION and has been a partner at the company since 1996. With his keen insight into the needs of the reverse vending machine market and his predictive planning approach, he was instrumental to the success of the large-scale reverse vending machine project. As the date of introduction of the bottle return system was stipulated by law, there were only a few months between the start of the machine development process and the delivery of several thousand systems.

Portfolio extended to include standard cameras

Once interfaces such as USB and Ethernet had become established on the market, standard cameras joined frame grabbers in the company's standard product line in 2004. Today, MATRIX VISION has a portfolio of over 210 camera versions, which have secured a firm position on the market thanks to the special features they offer. For example, the FPGA used in all the cameras performs a whole range of processing jobs, thereby reducing the load on the host system. The internal image memories ensure reliable image transmission without any data loss. All of these features are requirements that have become increasingly important in recent years with regard to green automation and continuous process monitoring.

Transfer of management and new innovations

With the appointment of Erhard Meier to General Manager of Business in 2011, the company began handing over the managerial reins to the next generation early on. At the same time, the company founders assumed an advisory role, so their experience remained within the company. Together with Uwe Furtner as the Technical Managing Director, this line-up was soon to prove successful: in 2015 MATRIX VISION received an innovation award for the innovative mvBlueSIRIUS 6D industrial camera which, in addition to capturing static 3D data, also perceives the movement and color of objects in a room. Marking its 30th anniversary, the company achieved its next masterstroke in early 2016 with the mvBlueGEMINI smart camera. Featuring mvIMPACT Configuration Studio software (or simply "mvIMPACT-CS"), the smart camera has become an easy-to-use but powerful component for automation. mvIMPACT-CS opens up the world of image processing both to users without programming knowledge and developers without image processing knowledge. In the context of Industrie 4.0, in which industrial image processing plays a key role, smart cameras can now be easily integrated into an automation solution as complex programming tasks are now a thing of the past. This is very much in keeping with the company's slogan celebrating 30 years of MATRIX VISION – We Change Your Vision.

In the film industry

News of the outstanding image quality provided by MATRIX VISION cameras has also reached the film and broadcasting sector. MATRIX VISION developed a camera for high-quality HD footage for a film-making company. The blue cameras have made it to Hollywood where they have been used by world-famous director and Oscar prize-winner Ron Howard in "Rush" and "In the Heart of the Sea".

In water

In the world of sport, optimized movements lead to a better technique. A better technique saves energy and makes an athlete faster. MATRIX VISION cameras are used by Finnish Winter Olympic athletes in the battle for those final milliseconds. Routines are analyzed, assessed and improved using video and software - this even applies for the analysis of movements in water.

On land

Everyone's going organic. The demand for organic produce has increased enormously in recent years. Many conventional methods, such as the use of pesticides and herbicides, are not permitted in the cultivation and production of organic products. For cost reasons, however, manual labor - such as in the case of weeding - is not an option. A French startup company uses MATRIX VISION cameras for autonomous weeding robots. The cameras give the robots three-dimensional vision so they can make their way through the rows of plants on their own.

In the air

MATRIX VISION cameras are used as a visual aid during in-flight refueling. The cameras' extended temperature range enables such applications. There have been suggestions to also use in-flight refueling in civil aviation, making non-stop flights possible to any destination in the world.

Company history: change as a constant

30 Years of MATRIX VISION – We Change Your Vision
30 Years of MATRIX VISION – We Change Your Vision

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