Canon   A Smarter Vision

In 2007, Canon celebrated its 70th birthday in an elegant way by posting record net income of €4.3 billion on all-time high sales of €39.3 billion.

Then came the crisis of 2008, followed by several difficult years for all industries worldwide.

For Canon, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of cameras and office equipment, this meant the company needed to hunker down. It did not, however, involve the kind of losses or restructuring that many other companies experienced.

Canon posted average annual net income in excess of roughly €2 billion during all five years of recession, a performance attributed to its abundant cash flow, sturdy financial base and an outstanding line of products.

Now even bigger and better things are on the horizon. The era of playing defence is over. The global economy is growing and Canon will grow with it

Canon’s recent results support this view. For the year ended December 2013, the company reported operating profit of €3.2 billion on sales of €35.5 billion, marking the first time in three years that sales and profits have climbed in tandem.

All of which sounds good, but what about the huge shift in consumer behaviour? Do smartphones pose a threat to Canon’s camera business at least as powerful as the financial crisis? Not really. Demand for compact cameras may be declining, but it is a different story for digital single-lens(DSLR) cameras with interchangeable lenses, which offer spectacular levels of resolution, magnification and image quality that smartphone cameras cannot begin to approach – the kind of performance that growing numbers of serious photographers in all parts of the world are seeking.

Canon is leveraging its DSLR technology into a range of business – to – business categories, with moviemaking equipment taking the starring role. Canon’s Cinema EOS System of professional cinematography products was introduced in November 2011 and cameras and displays with 4K resolution (4,096 x 2,160 pixels) have since been added, meaning that Canon’s current line-up covers the input and output needs of the latest ultra-high-definition standard.

Another segment growing at 20% per year is network cameras for security surveillance and other purposes. Thanks to proprietary optical and image processing technologies, Canon’s network cameras offer the detection /analysis capabilities needed for serious surveillance activities.

A third new area with tremendous promise – one that is growing along with worldwide decline in low –cost human labour – are the “eyes” that go into industrial robots found in automated manufacturing and inspection premises. Using it’s years of know-how and experience, Canon is leveraging its recognition  and image-processing software, originally developed for cameras, to make intelligent robots with the ability to distinguish individual objects, learn “on the job” , and boost production-line efficiency.

Canon has always had an interest in productivity-boosting technologies. An early adopter of 3D CAD (computer-aided design) to reduce the need for physical prototyping, Canon recently came up with a new technology that can help other companies achieve similar time and money savings. It’s Mixed Reality System, MREAL, fuses computer-generated images with real-world environments to assist in the design of cars, ships and buildings. Some 25 companies and institutions are already using the system,

Diversification is nothing new to Canon. The company’s first foray out of cameras was into office equipment in the 1960s, under the slogan, “Cameras in the Right Hand, Business Machines in the Left”. By 1979, Canon’s office equipment sales outstripped cameras. The two business units have since vied for first place, with cameras gaining ground when consumers upgraded from film to digital, and when businesses cut back on office equipment purchase when the economy slowed.

In 2013, office equipment generated €20 billion in sales for the first time since 2008, accounting for 53.6% of Canon’s total sales versus 38.8% for cameras.

Key to the improved performance of office equipment was the bolstering of Canon’s colour copier and colour laser printer portfolio.

In addition, the 2010 acquisition of OCE NV has enabled Canon to build a printer product portfolio covering the whole spectrum, from Oce’s near-offset-quality high-end commercial printers to business and consumer printers featuring Canon’s proprietary printing technologies.

Canon’s future is bright.



Barry Daly