Machine vision madness

June 1, 2003
“Cognex’s philosophy is to take our work seriously but not to take ourselves seriously,” writes Robert J. Shillman, chairman and chief executive officer of Natick, Mass.-based Cognex Corp.—a machine vision vendor—in the company’s recently published 2002 annual report.

Indeed, there’s nothing pretentious about the report, which is designed as a Mad Magazine parody, complete with a cartoon image of Shillman on the cover looking much like Mad’s trademark Alfred E. Neuman character.

In his letter to shareholders, titled the “What Me Worry Department,” Shillman discusses all of the things he’s MAD about. Topping the list is “the negative effect that the worldwide economic slowdown had on Cognex’s financial results in 2002.” The company reported its first annual loss in 16 years, dropping $6 million into the red on sales of $114 million.

Much of that loss resulted from soft demand for machine vision by original equipment manufacturers in the semiconductor and electronics capital equipment industries, two traditional Cognex strongholds. But on the bright side, Shillman says that machine vision sales to end users is on the upswing. The company signed a record 960 new end user contracts in 2002, and is counting on that business to drive future growth.

Manufacturing end users rely on Cognex machine vision to control manufacturing processes and ensure quality in a variety of applications. These range from automated inspection of consumer products such as disposable razors or golf balls, to the automated identification of wheels being installed on cars, and the detection of surface defects on continuous process manufactured materials, such as paper or automotive steel.

In one section of the annual report, titled the “Blurred Vision Department,” Cognex uses Mad Magazine-style cartoon panels to point out ways to tell when a manufacturing end user “has not had the foresight to install Cognex vision on their production lines.” All begin with, “You know you really need machine vision when…” We thought you might get a chuckle from a few of these panels, shown here. You can download the entire Cognex annual report at the company’s Web site, at

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