Welcome to 2011! With the New Year comes new beginnings and a chance to set new resolutions and, in my case, finally use that dusty gym pass that hasn’t seen the light of day for months (real original, I know).

While it’s a time to start off fresh, it also is important to look back and reflect on the things we want to change. Perhaps quality procedures in your plant need some fine-tuning or you need to take steps toward improving your manufacturing process. Maybe you’d like to invest in more technology or update your equipment.

When looking back on last year, I was glad-as I’m sure most of you are-that things were not as bleak as 2009 and that we saw some momentum in the market. Quarterly reports from the Automated Imaging Association (AIA) show that starting in the first quarter of 2010, sales increased by 34.4% compared to results from the same quarter the previous year. This was the beginning of what some would say is a recovery. While this is encouraging, experts say the industry isn’t completely back to pre-recession numbers.

“Despite the impressive growth we are experiencing now, the fact that our industry has not yet returned to the turnover levels of 2008 should not be overlooked. If we have predicted the situation correctly, it will be 2012 at the earliest before we are back on top,” says Dr. Olaf Munkelt, chairman of the board of German Engineering Federation (VDMA) Machine Vision, speaking at the Vision 2010 press lunch last year in Stuttgart, Germany.

However, a strong indicator that the market is picking up is the number of companies that exhibited at the Vision 2010 show. Some 323 companies purchased exhibition space, up from 293 in 2009, and there were 6,200 attendees, while the previous year there were only 5,700 visitors due in part to the economic climate. The final report showed that 83% of visitors came with specific investment and purchasing intentions, while 60% surveyed said that they looked to invest within the first half of 2011.

What’s partially driving this growth is the spur in new technologies across all machine vision markets as the need for it continues to grow in existing industries, as well as branching out to new ones-biometrics, advanced traffic management, laboratory automation, medical imaging, high-end surveillance and the solar market.

On top of that, there is a significant technological shift to three-dimensional (3-D) camera technology and improved standardization.

One company that has jumped on the 3-D technology wave is Sick AG (Waldkirch, Germany). They were presented with the prestigious Vision Award for Applied Machine Vision for their ColorRanger E color camera.

This multi-imaging solution combines color and 3-D capabilities in one high-speed camera, eliminating the need for multiple cameras and reducing the overall cost of hardware and integration. The calibrated 3-D data provides measurements in real-world units such as millimeters, which alleviates much of the complexity of calibrating the system in the field. The jury members selected the winner from a total of 28 submissions.

Other technologies exhibited included recent advancements in cameras, such as smart, line scan, high-speed and infrared. Also, attendees were able to check out the latest in frame grabbers, software tools, lighting and optics.

With the New Year comes new prospects. Mark your calendar for the upcoming Quality Conference in Charlotte, NC, April 11-13. The Quality Conference will provide an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the Joe Gibbs Racing facility and show attendees how cars are built from the ground up and prepared for each race track. For more information, visit www.qualitymagconference.com.