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Omron buys code-reading specialist Microscan for $157m

30 August, 2017

Omron is buying the US-based industrial barcode-reader and machine vision specialist, Microscan Systems, from its UK parent, Spectris, for $157m (£123m) in cash. The Japanese automation supplier says that the aim of the purchase is “to further advance the control of manufacturing equipment and production lines, using IoT (Internet of Things) to connect virtually all objects on a manufacturing floor, including components and machines”.

Microscan Systems, founded in 1982 and headquartered in Renton, Washington, employs 192 people and, according to Spectris, has assets worth around £22m. Last year, it generated an operating profit of about £7m.

Microscan develops code-reading devices, including barcode readers and verifiers. It uses advanced algorithms to read engraved or printed codes, even on products with rough, glossy, or curved surfaces.

Microscan also offers machine vision technologies including smart cameras and software tools, sold under brands including MicroHawk, AutoVision and Visionscape.

Omron says that Microscan will help its customers to make their manufacturing operations more flexible by coding the information of all components and production equipment. It will also help them to avoid quality issues by tracing the source of problems.

Omron plans to integrate Microscan’s advanced 2D code-reading technology with its own automation systems. By using each other’s sales networks, Omron and Microscan will be able to reach a wider range of customers, it adds.

Omron points out that manufacturers have become increasingly committed to achieving precise traceability, allowing them to respond to growing demands for product safety and security, while eliminating quality issues. Products are becoming more personalised, leading to a growing need for high-mix, low-volume manufacturing. To reach the ideal of one-to-one customised production, companies are realising the importance of being able to trace individual products through serialisation.

Because of these trends, says Omron, assigning ID codes to each product or component has become increasingly common, resulting in more exacting requirements for the code-readers used in manufacturing.

For example, the automotive industry requires robust code-readers capable of reading 2D codes engraved on metal parts such as engine blocks and cylinders, while also withstanding harsh factory environments. In the digital device sector, each component is subject to ID control requiring compact, precision code-readers. And, in the pharmaceutical industry, serialisation systems with separate codes for each box of medicine are helping to prevent counterfeiting and improve product safety.

Omron says that Microscan's code-reading capabilities will help it to accelerate its deployment of IoT technologies

Omron says it “will strive to create an environment that facilitates easy collection, analysis, and application of information at the manufacturing floor level”. This will be achieved, for example, by connecting the data from code-readers to its i-Belt IoT service platform.

Examples of services and technologies that Omron expects to offer based on the combined technologies include:

•  robot-linked traceability, allowing easy, stable reading of multiple, intricately positioned ID codes;

•  predictive maintenance for efficient operation through ID coding for machines; and

•  “zero defect” manufacturing environments.

Spectris plans to use the proceeds from the sale of Microscan to reduce its debt. “This is an important step in focusing Spectris on its areas of strength,” says CEO, John O’Higgins. “Omron is well-aligned strategically with Microscan and, as such, we believe that this will be a good home for Microscan in the next phase of its corporate journey.”

The acquisition deal is expected to complete in early October, 2017.

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