Today, the macroeconomic outlook is dominated by dramatic increases in inflation which increase input costs for manufacturers, caused in part by restricted supply due to the global pandemic and exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. Central banks are responding through higher interest rates, increasing the cost of capital for companies, and making investment for growth more expensive, in sharp contrast to the previous decade where finance was both cheap and readily available. M&A (Merger & Acquisition) activity can reduce during periods of high inflation as the cost of financing acquisitions increases, and the longer-term effects of inflation must be factored into valuations. Earlier stage companies are also affected as financial investors become more cautious on valuations and new investment allocations, as a response to the increased cost of equity and exits for portfolio companies become more difficult to achieve at a premium to previous valuations.
Highly Attractive Machine Vision
Despite these challenges, machine vision continues to be highly attractive for both corporate acquisitions and financial investments. Demand from all sectors for efficient and high-quality production of goods creates a sustainable driver for vision tech products across many verticals, which also reduces the impact of economic cycles which can affect other industries. Although consolidation in vision tech is a natural strategic response by companies to a maturing market, and recent years have seen several large consolidation projects being developed, an overall trend toward a single market dominated a by a few large companies, may be some way off. While key components of any vision solution such as sensors, compute, and image processing are widely available and understood, the sheer variety of customer application tasks which require vision results in an almost infinite variety of technology combinations. This diverse set of customer needs ensures that the market is open to new companies with specific domain or technology expertise and acts to restrict mass consolidation.
Macro Trend Digitalization
At the same time, the vision tech market is supported by some of the most dynamic and fast-moving technical developments of any sector. The continual flow of new innovations and companies formed to bring new technology to market, can act to limit consolidation, but also provides a rich source of opportunity for entrepreneurs, investors, and acquirers. For example, one macro trend which is shaping the evolution of the vision tech market, is the drive to digitalization. Although technologies such as AI continue to dominate media channels, mass digitalization of industrial processes, from design, through manufacture, and deployment offers many opportunities for vision tech such as the definition of inspection and metrology plans at design time or using vision inspection data as a predictor of machine performance. A growth market, open to new vision tech solutions which demonstrate customer value, provides an excellent balance of risk to reward at each investment stage from founding, through venture finance, to strategic acquisition. This is one of the reasons that the vision tech sector is seen as attractive for many investors and acquirers.
Looking to the future, it remains the case that many multinationals view industrial automation as a strategic necessity, which will continue to provide competition for the acquisition of attractive companies in the vision tech sector. Companies who develop valuable new technologies or are effective at establishing themselves in the market, can expect to generate interest from acquirers and investors.