35 years VisionTools - how it all began

After 12 years as a scientific employee at the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, several of them as a group leader, Dr. Hermann Tropf founded the company VisionTools in 1986 - initially as a one-man business in his private rooms. Today, VisionTools employs about 90 people at its Waghäusel location and in its branch offices; its systems are in use worldwide.

Dr. Tropf on his decision to start his own business in 1986:

I saw the possibilities to solve three of the main problems of machine vision at that time and to found a company with good development potential on this basis, without too much investment.

1st - Every application was still specially programmed at that time. I was able to remedy this by breaking down frequently occurring tasks into a few basic functions and providing tools for compiling and parameterising the basic functions - that was my essential contribution. That's why I gave the company the name Vision Tools. Years later, the buzzword "configuring instead of programming" came into general use.

2nd - As far as computing time was concerned, the secret was in limiting the tasks to those where the regions to be evaluated were small and easy to localise. There were plenty of such tasks in industry, and they still exist today.

3rd - Until the 1980s, the systems worked with special hardware and therefore cost at least 100,000 DM, often considerably more. But these were times of change: with the advent of (industrial) PCs and inexpensive frame grabbers, as well as the transition from CRT cameras to semiconductor cameras, there was a chance, in conjunction with the above-mentioned tools, to realise complete systems for different applications at a fraction of the previous costs.

The situation today:

Today, once again industrial image processing is in a period of upheaval. With the performance of today's hardware and the current maturity of AI methods, the window to new shores is opening once again.

For example, we are working specifically on advanced virtual commissioning, based solely on CAD data of the workpieces and the acquisition and lighting geometry, so that on-site work can be reduced to a minimum. That way we are also tackling the issues of high numbers of variants and rapid product changes.

Back story

Long before VisionTools existed, our company founder Dr. Hermann Tropf had been scientifically involved in the field. As head of the machine vision group at the Fraunhofer Institute for Information and Data Processing in Karlsruhe, he was one of the pioneers of industrial image processing. Theoretical work was awarded prizes (IEEE Computer Society Pattern Recognition Award 1980, German Association for Pattern Recognition extra award 1987), pioneering practical applications successfully ran over the long term at VW, Ford and Siemens. Details (in German).

A fundamental work on multidimensional range search in mass data found its way into diverse technical applications and into today commercial big data systems. Details (in German) with history, applications. For explanation of the key function (LITMAX / BIGMIN), with  Pascal source code, see here.

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