Cognex: Robots and Cobots

06/14/2017 2:54 am EST

Focus: TECHNOLOGY

Tony Daltorio

Editor, Investors Alley Premium Digest

Robots of all kinds are already among us. Think Alexa, drones and driverless cars. The type of robots though, from an investment perspective, that really catch my attention are cobots, says Tony Daltorio, editor of The Growth Stock Advisor.

That is the term given to robots (collaborative machines) that work side-by-side with people every day in industry.

Quickly disappearing are the days when industrial robots were unsafe for human interaction because of their bulk and rapid movements. Those robots required highly trained programmers to set their tasks and were rarely moved.

Now, the modern factory floor is much different thanks to advances in sensor and vision technology and mobile computing power.

If a human co-worker gets in the way of one of these robots, they will stop. These robots can be easily programmed too, with a tablet or even by moving their arms in the required pattern. No coding needed.

And these robots are mobile. If they are needed elsewhere, they can be simply moved since they are not bolted to the factory floor.

My expectation is that cobots will become the norm in industry around the world. But that doesn't mean people will lose their jobs.

Researchers at MIT found that robot-human teams were about 85% more than productive than either humans or robots alone! That makes sense. Humans can adapt to a situation much more rapidly than robots can.

That's what lead me to my latest new recommendation, Cognex (CGNX). For all those cobots to work in conjunction with humans, they need to 'see' what they're doing and where they're going to avoid hurting their human co-workers.

Cognex, founded in 1981, is the world's leading supplier of machine vision products for both manufacturing and industrial identification.

Thanks to the growth of robotics and cobots, machine vision is a $2+ billion global market. Cognex offers a wide range of vision products that meet customer needs across a variety of industries.

Its vision systems combine and seamlessly integrate sensors, cameras, processors and its proprietary software. Products range from low-cost presence and measurement sensors to hardware-independent vision software.

Cognex sells its vision systems to most of the big players in the industrial robotics industry; typical applications for machine vision include detecting defects, monitoring production lines, guiding assembly robots, and tracking, sorting and identifying parts such as engine parts and semiconductor wafers.

Outside of manufacturing, customers are also increasingly turning to machine vision to improve warehousing and distribution efficiency, such as using ID products in logistics automation for package sorting and distribution.

Cognex generates a nice chunk of its revenue (nearly 30%) from the consumer electronics market, with Apple (AAPL) as a key customer. As companies re-tool for the new iPhone, Cognex should benefit.

As with most growth stocks, Cognex stock never looks cheap. Its stock is up about 46% year-to-date, 124% over the past year and about 440% the past five years.

Nevertheless, I have no problem buying the stock anywhere under $100 a share. I would love to see a pullback to the $80 range. But for that to happen, I believe we would need to see a market pullback of 5% or so.

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