Cognex (CGNX) Q3 2017 Earnings Conference Call Transcript

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Cognex (NASDAQ: CGNX)
Q3 2017 Earnings Conference Call
Oct. 30, 2017, 5:00 p.m. EDT

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Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Greetings and welcome to the Cognex Corporation Third Quarter 2017 Earnings Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. A question-answer-session will follow the formal presentation. If anyone should require operator assistance during the conference, please press star zero on your telephone keypad.

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As a reminder, this conference is being recorded. I would now like to turn the conference over to your host, John Curran, Cognex's CFO.

John Curran -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, and good evening, everyone. I'm John Curran, Cognex's CFO, and I'd like to welcome you to our third-quarter earnings conference call. With me on today's call are Dr. Bob Shillman, Cognex's Chairman; and Rob Willett, Cognex's President and CEO.

I'd like to point out that our earnings release and Form 10-Q are available on the Cognex website at www.cognex.com. Both contain highly detailed information about our financial results.

During the call, we may use a non-GAAP financial measure if we believe it is useful to investors or if we believe it will help investors better understand our results or business trends. You can see a reconciliation of certain items from GAAP to non-GAAP in Exhibit two of the earnings release. Any forward-looking statements we made in the earnings release, or any that we may make during this call, are based upon information that we believe to be true as of today. Things often change, and actual results may differ materially from those projected or anticipated.

You should refer to the company's SEC filings, including our most recent Form 10-K for a detailed list of these risk factors. Now I'd like to turn the call over to Dr. Bob.

Bob Shillman -- Chairman, Founder, Chief Culture Officer

Thanks, John, and hello, everyone, and thank you for joining us today. As shown in today's news release, we reported spectacular results for Q3 of 2017. We set new records for quarterly revenue, net income and earnings per share that far exceeded any previous quarter for Cognex's 36-year history. And we were ridiculously profitable reporting an operating margin of 42%, also a new record.

Right now, I'm in San Diego and everyone else on the call is at our Natick headquarters. So for further details, I'm going to hand the microphone over to my partner, Cognex's CEO, Rob Willett. I will be available at the end of the call to answer any questions that you may have for me at that time. Rob, the microphone is yours.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Dr. Bob. Good evening, everyone. I am very pleased to report our best quarter ever, driven by revenue growth of 76% over the prior year's third quarter.

Growth came from widespread strength in our three largest industries: consumer electronics, automotive and logistics. Cognex products are increasingly being applied to a broadening range of difficult tasks in the industrial markets where we focus. As a result of the strong revenue growth, operating margin expanded to 42% in Q3, even with increased investments. This is the highest level ever reported by Cognex in our 36-year history.

While exceptional, it's indicative of the substantial leverage that we have in our business model as we grow. Underpinning the success that we enjoy today are many years of leading-edge engineering and the cumulative hard work of our special team of Cognoids. Our investments in engineering, our sales force, operational improvements, and culture have served us well. They represent a large barrier to entry for any prospective competitors.

We plan to continue to invest in Cognoids and the processes and systems necessary to support growth for years to come. We recruited, trained and provided equipment for over 250 new Cognoids since January, more than at any time in our history. We expect that our year-end workforce will surpass 1,700 employees worldwide. That's one reason we're so pleased to announce the promotion of Sheila DiPalma to Senior Vice President to head Cognex's Corporate Employee Services group.

In addition, the board has appointed Sheila as a corporate officer. Sheila will lead what most companies call human resources, but at Cognex, we variously refer to as Cog health and wealth, Cog career and Cog communications. With more than 20 years of experience at Cognex, Sheila understands the important role that culture has played and will continue to play in the success of our company. Let's turn now to John with details of the third quarter

John Curran -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Rob. Here are the highlights from the third quarter, all from continuing operations. Revenue was $260 million, which represents a new all-time record. It was also the first quarter in our company's history to exceed $200 million.

Growth came primarily from the consumer electronics industry, which increased substantially both year-on-year and sequentially. We also saw strong growth in the broad factory automation market, excluding consumer electronics where revenue grew well above our long-term target of 20%. Gross margin was 76%, down two percentage points both year-on-year and sequentially. This was due primarily to the revenue mix from a material customer in the consumer electronics industry.

Operating expenses for Q3 were $87 million, representing an increase of 15% on a sequential basis. Most of this increase is related to growth initiatives around new product development, sales resources and the implementation of our new ERP system. Commissions and bonuses were also higher as a result of our revenue growth. As previously noted, operating margin expanded to 42% from 37% in Q3 of last year.

The fall-through on our revenue growth was excellent. Net margin was outstanding at 39%, helped by a significant tax savings related to stock option exercises in Q3. Excluding all discrete tax items, earnings for Q3 were $1.03 per share, which is in line with the Thomson Reuters First Call Consensus estimate. Revenue from our largest market, factory automation, represented 97% of our total business in Q3.

Let's take a look at factory automation revenue year-on-year from a geographic perspective. Asia was our fastest-growing region. Revenue from Greater China and the rest of Asia more than doubled as a result of strong performance in consumer electronics and automotive. Europe delivered the largest contribution to growth in absolute dollars.

The region was helped by large consumer electronics orders that were placed in Europe for Cognex products used on assembly lines in China. Outside of those orders, our European revenue grew by more than 25% year-on-year in Q3 led by automotive, logistics and food and beverage. And in the Americas, revenue grew in excess of 35% from higher sales to customers in the logistics industry and in the broader factory automation market. Now I'll hand the microphone back to Rob.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, John. In summary, Cognex reported a spectacular quarter in Q3 that was helped by volume orders from consumer electronics. Our outlook for Q4 is shaping up nicely. Revenues for Q4 is expected to be between $170 million and $180 million.

While that represents a decline from Q3, it still represents growth exceeding 30% year-on-year. Gross margin is expected to be in the mid- to high 70% range, broadly in line with our year-to-date average. Operating expenses are expected to decline by low single digits from Q3, but they will be substantially higher than in Q4 2016 as we continue to add Cognoids and provide our growing team with the resources they need to excel. The effective tax rate is expected to be 18%, excluding discrete tax items.

Now let's open the call up for your questions. Operator, we are ready to take questions.

Question and Answer

Operator

At this time, we'll be conducting a question and answer session. If you would like to ask a question, please press star one on your telephone keypad. A confirmation tone will indicate your line in the question queue. You may press star two if you would like to remove your question from the queue.

For participants using a speaker equipment, it may be necessary to pick up your handset before pressing the star key. One moment please while we poll for questions. Our first question is from Joe Ritchie, Goldman Sachs. Please proceed with your question.

Joe Ritchie -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Rob, maybe just touching on the quarter a little bit. Clearly, electronics was really strong this quarter on a year-over-year basis. Could you give us any more details on either electronics, auto, logistics, how much all of those different end markets were up on a year-over-year basis?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Sure. I can give you some color on that. Factory automation, in general, demonstrated a phenomenal growth in Q3, increasing 78% year-on-year. Our investments in prior years are delivering growth in a range of areas like consumer electronics, logistics, and 3D all delivered substantial growth.

Outside of consumer electronics, Q3 revenue grew more than 30% year-on-year, and growth came from many industries but was led by automotive and logistics. We're seeing continued strength in logistics, which is growing more than 50% this year. And consumer electronics demonstrated, as you noted, remarkable strength. So looking at automotive, specifically China automotive increased at the fastest rate of our major geographic regions.

In the Americas and Europe, automotive grew quicker than we'd expect it to do over the long term.

Joe Ritchie -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

That's helpful color. I guess I know that your business is pretty short cycle, hence, the one-quarter out in revenue growth expectations. But I guess if I'm thinking about your longer-term framework where the expectation is kind of like 15% to 20% top line and bottom line growth. How should we be thinking about that framework for next year, particularly in light of how strong things were or have been in 2017?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Joe, it's Rob again. I mean, I think we like to think about the long-term growth plan for Cognex, which is to grow the factory automation business at 20% a year. Obviously, we've been successful in doing that over the last 3- and 5-year periods variously. And obviously, we're doing much better than that this year, but we're investing against a plan that has long-term growth in mind, hence, the investments we're making in engineering, the 10 LNG plants that you've seen us execute on this year with acquisitions and some new products and also the investments that we continue to make in processes that we're making.

But in terms of growth over the long term, we're confident about the plans we're implementing. In terms of growth next year, it's really too early to say. We're getting into the budgeting process right now. I mean, we continue to be confident about our growth prospects.

It would be fair to say, I think, that we would expect Q1 to be as normal, our lowest quarter. And then our big quarters tend to be Q2 and 3, and we're optimistic about the potential to grow next year, but it's really too early to nail us down or to really understand any specific growth numbers at this point.

Joe Ritchie -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Thanks, Rob. Nice Quarter.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question is from Joseph Giordano of Cowen and Company. Please, proceed with your question.

Joe Giordano -- Cowen & Co. -- Analyst

Hi, guys.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Hi, Joe. Just quick cleanup, the unbilled revenue that you'd mentioned in the release, is that the only revenue from like unusually large orders that's happening in the fourth quarter?

John Curran -- Chief Financial Officer

Joe, this is John. Yes, that's a mix of revenue from large orders in consumer electronics as well as in logistics. So there's a bit of a mix in there. We expect that to kind of, for the most part, clear up in Q4.

Joe Giordano -- Cowen & Co. -- Analyst

Okay. I think one of the bigger questions people have with the growth profile you have, you've proven the ability to grow with existing the customers. But I guess right now with the explosive growth you're seeing in some of the consumer electronics relative to maybe like OLED build-out and some structural things going on in the space, without getting into detail on anyone -- any customer in particular, is there a way to frame out how much is this of what you're seeing is more of like a recurring kind of nature with customers that are going to be there? And how much is more on just a capacity built into the industry to support a new technology?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Joe, it's Rob. Let me clarify your question. You're asking about electronics ongoing customer revenue? Is that what you're asking about?

Joe Giordano -- Cowen & Co. -- Analyst

Yes, I would say over the last 4 years, we demonstrated very substantial and relatively consistent growth in consumer electronics, and that's been around a number of customers, and it's been around particularly final assembly and tests but also around really new technologies that are coming into the electronics market. So on that first part, I think there's just a continuing drive toward the need to replace literally hundreds of thousands of bodies who are involved and people who are involved in manufacturing products and whose eyes and brains are involved in that process. And as a technology evolution, that means that they're less able to be effective as products get more sophisticated, harder to assemble and as wages go up at a faster rate of productivity. So I think that's just a great underlying trend that isn't going away and has a long way to go.

So I think you're seeing that. I think another factor you're seeing is every year there is new very exciting and pretty difficult to implement technology coming into the electronics market, whether it's OLEDs, displays and technologies as you refer to or other new technologies around areas like facial recognition and 3D sensors, new cameras, new sensors, a range of new things and generally we've seen that continue. So I think those kind of underlying factors have a long way to run for the industry and the difficulty of getting them into production where Cognex is the best machine vision partner in the world to make that happen. And you point to OLED, I would say that's relatively early on in terms of technology.

It's maturation. I think we're just seeing its capacity kind of maxed out at the moment just in the smartphone market, but I think the technology itself has huge potential to scale up over multiple years and find its way into all kinds of other markets, automotive, real estate and offices might be other examples where the technology is going to come. So we think we have really sustainable and valuable competitive advantage to offer companies in that space. So I would say and that's kind of our overall picture.

What I -- the sort of -- perhaps some of these challenges as you look at and try to forecast our business in that spaces to what degree the investment cycles kind of kick in and when some of the major capital and lines are deployed. So I think that may impact short-term, quarterly kind of -- or even annual revenue cycles. But I think over the long term, it's very, very positive for Cognex.

That's really helpful. And maybe if I could just sneak one quick one in for John. When I look at your operating margin, I feel -- your 42% on a huge quarter, obviously, getting the benefit there, but how -- what kind of run rate of like your base business do you think we have to get to, to start seeing a real move from like a 30-ish percent rate to like a more sustainable rate closer to 40% as you kind of you scale the business and you can leverage SG&A and R&D, notwithstanding the investments you're making right now, but more on a longer-term basis.

I think we've got a number of years to run of growth, so we -- I wouldn't expect to see something fundamentally different until the business matures, and I don't see that in the near term. So we're calling for something in the 30% range for the foreseeable future.

Operator

Our next question is from Richard Eastman, Robert W. Baird & Co. Please go ahead with your question.

Richard Eastman -- Robert W. Baird -- Analyst

Yes. Good afternoon, Rob, John.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Hey, Rick.

Richard Eastman -- Robert W. Baird -- Analyst

A quick question. Robert, the 3D business, you kind of called that out a little bit here in terms of driving growth in the third quarter. Could you possibly just size that or give us some sense of significant scale? And then also maybe just kind of call out -- I'm sure the growth rate was high but is there end markets or two where the uptake is particularly quick?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Hi, Rick, so our 3D business is about 5% of our business overall and gone from pretty nothing a few years ago. And the growth rate is well in excess of 50%, and we think 50% growth rate for the foreseeable future is what we're shooting at and is very achievable. We really served a variety of end-user markets that actually might approximate our overall market breakdown with consumer electronics being perhaps the biggest market; automotive, second largest, but increasing applications in all kinds of areas that pretty well mirror our market overall and our sales force coverage overall.

Richard Eastman -- Robert W. Baird -- Analyst

And can I just -- when you talk about automotive, obviously, China being the biggest growth driver for you there, but are there any applications? Are these indigenous Chinese auto manufacturers where you're gaining share? Or how do you account for some pretty significant growth that seems to be a pleasant surprise kind of quarter after quarter? Is it applications-driven? Or is it new customer-driven? Maybe you could -- a little color on that.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Cognex is very well known and very well penetrated at all large automotive companies in the world, but most of our business, more than half, is with Tier one automotive suppliers, right? So not so much end users. And there, there's a lot of -- particularly in China, which you're asking about, there's been a lot of investment going in into areas like vehicle model changes, less and less kind of sedans, smart SUVs, electric and hybrid engines. There's a lot of pressure in China to reduce pollution as we all know.

And also increasingly electric -- electronic components and systems that are changing very rapidly as costs become more and more like consumer electronic devices. So certainly, we see all of that, and we see very big levels of investment in China to support, particularly their domestic growth.

Richard Eastman -- Robert W. Baird -- Analyst

I see. Okay. And then just last the question, how did the ID products business perform, excluding the logistics component? Did we still see 20% growth there or?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes, in excess in the quarter, in excess of -- well in excess of our -- actually, in excess of our 30% long-term target.

Richard Eastman -- Robert W. Baird -- Analyst

Great. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question is from Jim Ricchiuti, Needham & Company. Please proceed with your question.

Jim Ricchiuti -- Needham & Co. -- Analyst

Rob, I'm wondering or John I'm wondering if based on your year-to-date numbers if you can say whether you might be tracking to have more than one 10% customer in 2017.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

So in general, Jim, we don't talk about our material customer. But if clearly, it would mean -- so certainly not [inaudible] question, but we have another one, and I think I could go out on a limb there and say no.

Jim Ricchiuti -- Needham & Co. -- Analyst

Okay. Fair enough. Now I'm wondering and I know it's too early for you to give any kind of specific guidance for '18. I understand that, but I'm wondering if you -- how much visibility do you have into larger projects and consumer electronics and logistics into 2018? Is that something you have a pipeline to now?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Right. So we work with pretty much all the kind of large consumer electronics companies in the world. So we have pretty good view about kind of what's coming down the pike two years out, one year, but it does change. And there are different technologies that are ready for prime time and those that are not, and that can be changing right the way as we get into implementation.

And kind of referring slightly back to your last question, we do have some other pretty very substantial customers both in electronics and logistics. So [indiscernible] my answer, it means that we're a one-trick pony. We're nothing like that at all. But then what I would say also is that we tend to be discussing kind of deployments in electronics about 9 to 12 months out.

So we start to get visibility of what's on deck for next year and to be zeroing in on that, which is kind of nicely fitting with our budgeting process as we go into that. So that's kind of the visibility we get, which is a lot shorter than we see in other industries that are perhaps slower moving like automotive.

Jim Ricchiuti -- Needham & Co. -- Analyst

Got it. And last question, I'll jump back into the queue. The OLED market appears to be a good driver, and that certainly has appeared to have good legs, too, based on capacity plans in Korea and China. Wondering, is 3D sensing, how big an opportunity is that potentially for you as you look out over the next year, 1.5 years?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Is your question about 3D sensing and OLED or 3D sensing in general?

Jim Ricchiuti -- Needham & Co. -- Analyst

Yes. So in general, I don't see a lot of 3D vision being applied to OLED manufacturing currently. There are many other techniques about inspecting and assembling and aligning that material and moving that material, which is very fragile and helping OEMs scale up to produce that material. But generally, it's a 2D vision problem, not a 3D vision problem.

In terms of the 3D market overall, as I previously said, that represents about 5% of our business. It's growing very well, well in excess of our 50% growth rate that we think we can achieve going forward on an annual basis overall for the next few years.

Operator

Our next question is from Bobby Burleson, Canaccord Genuity. Please proceed with your question.

John Decurcio -- Canaccord Genuity -- Analyst

This is John Decurcio on for Bobby. Most of my questions have been asked. I was just hoping you could touch upon the mobile terminal product, just seeing kind of what traction you have there and how that product has been received.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes, thanks. Thanks for the question. So yes, mobile terminals is kind of an exciting new market where we're looking on at the moment. And I think a bit like the 3D and logistics markets in terms of major potential and where we have a technology change and an advantage to offer the market.

And like those other markets, it's not generating large or significant revenue contributions in this early stage. But what it is showing is a lot of customer interest and a big funnel of opportunities that we hope will turn into revenue and start to be more material as we move through next year. We're really learning a lot about that market. We have some innovative early adopters who are using our technology and some very substantial companies that would like to implement our technology.

So we're pleased with the progress and the overall opportunities we see in the market, the products that we have and are going to be releasing here as we move through time. But in terms of material contributions, the results, it's not making those at the moment.

Operator

Our next question is from Josh Pokrzywinski, Wolfe Research. Please proceed with your question.

Josh Pokrzywinski -- Wolfe Research -- Analyst

Hi, guys. Happy Holloween.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Hi, Josh.

Josh Pokrzywinski -- Wolfe Research -- Analyst

Just a couple of questions here. I guess first on the smaller sequential step down in operating expenses into the fourth quarter, should we take that as a sign that maybe a more robust pipeline than usual just as we gear up for 18? I guess I'm not asking for specific guidance so much, just with the big sequential step down in revenue that you would normally see, OpEx hasn't really baited as much. Is there something specific that you guys have an eye to that you're really ramping up for? Or is it carryover expense to support some of that unbilled revenue? Just trying to calibrate how we should read out those OpEx going forward and what you're trying to invest for.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. It's Rob. I'll come in, and I'll invite John also to comment here. I think we look at the long-term at Cognex, so we see lots of opportunities where we're going to need our technology roadmaps implemented better and faster and where we're going to need sales coverage and where we're going to need process improvements, particularly around IT and what we implementing SAP next year.

So some of these expenses that you're seeing are based on our plans for that, and that broadly -- our expense growth is broadly going to be in line with our revenue growth year-on-year in the fourth quarter. Sure, there are some things that happen in a great year like this where sales guys tend to get up into their highest tier of commission earnings and bonuses maxing out and there's certainly some of that driving some of those issues, stock option expense, and other things. But overall, I would say the message I want is for you to understand is that we don't shy away from investing, and that's produced an impressive pipeline of new products and business, and that's what we have our eye on rather than any short-term expense challenges. John?

John Curran -- Chief Financial Officer

I couldn't say it better than that, Rob. That was perfect. Yes, we're really just leaning into our long-term opportunities.

Josh Pokrzywinski -- Wolfe Research -- Analyst

Got you. That's what I kind of thought you guys would say. Anything on the technology roadmap that is imperative for the fourth quarter that you can share with us? Or does that need stay kind of under wraps until we can get closer to '18?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes, we don't discuss our technology roadmap. No. Thanks.

Josh Pokrzywinski -- Wolfe Research -- Analyst

Okay. And then just shifting gears over to the logistics side, have you seen any broadening out in terms of customer adoption there? I know e-commerce has been a big push, but anybody else in the logistics space without naming names that is starting to gravitate more toward the products set?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

I mean, our logistics business is very exciting and growing very well. It represents about 10% of our business currently, and it's growing well in excess of 50% this year, and 50% is the growth rate at which we can think we can grow it over the long term. Certainly, our retail and e-commerce fulfillment is the biggest part of that. But within that, certainly, we've had mostly ID, but we're now broadening into more vision-related applications, which I think is exciting for our long-term prospects, again as those companies face somewhat similar challenges for labor productivity that we see in other parts of our customer base.

So there's certainly that. There's also the potential for longer-term growth as we broadened our business beyond America and Europe, which have been the major growth drivers to date into markets, which are newer in evolution like China and have just huge potential [Technical Difficulty] Okay. Operator, can you hear us?

Josh Pokrzywinski -- Wolfe Research -- Analyst

I can hear you, guys.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Okay. Sorry, I'll continue. Where we see, so geographic expansion certainly is particularly into Asia is exciting. So I think that's what I'd say about logistics.

I think it's a great market. I'm very glad we focused on it over the last few years. I think we have a lot of exciting technology and sales value to add going forward. One thing I didn't mention also, of course, is there are other segments where I think long-term growth can be driven in logistics, and that would be airport baggage handling, a small but interesting market where it's predominantly served with lasers today, and vision has so much to offer in that space.

And also in mobile terminals where customers increasingly want to -- particularly smaller customers actually want to implement smartphone-based architectures. So anyway, logistics is -- as you can tell, it's an area we see a lot of runway.

Josh Pokrzywinski -- Wolfe Research -- Analyst

Excellent. Just one little follow-up, then I'll let it go. On the logistics front, I would imagine that maybe upgrade cycles there aren't quite as regular as what you would see in factory automation where product lines get refreshed. Is there anything we should keep in mind there about refreshes, upgrades, richness of product mix, just anything that can -- I guess, would surprise us along the way as it continues to grow the business?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes, I don't think so. And I would say it's a very dynamic and fast-moving market where big new distribution centers are being built, new models are being implemented around shorter and shorter delivery times within 24 hours and where there's a lot of IT and architecture challenges around moving away from Windows toward other operating systems and other things. So I am -- I would say the pace of evolution of that market is very fast.

Josh Pokrzywinski -- Wolfe Research -- Analyst

Excellent. Thanks, Rob.

Operator

Our next question is from Paul Coster, JPMorgan Securities. Please proceed with your question.

Paul Coster -- JPMorgan Chase -- Analyst

If we look at the factory automation segment and consumer electronics specifically, with whom do you generally end up in dialogue around large deployments? Is it the OEM? Is it discrete component suppliers? Is it the EMS provider or contract manufacturers doing final assembly? Or is it all of the above? And if you could give us good color around that, it would be helpful.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Sure, Paul. It's Rob again. So I would say that some of the big brand owners certainly have huge influence over how the industry operates and the technology that's being implemented, and that kind of flows back through the -- or upstream through the supply chain.

And then I would say OEMs, some of the big OEMs tasked with meeting some of that demand and coming up with solutions to do it. So we see -- we work closely with both those groups. And then I would say we work less closely and maybe on a more transactional basis with component suppliers who have, in fact, supplied things like passive components or connectors or imagers or other technology that goes into electronics, where it's a shorter cycle, we can do the job, they buy our product. It's a few weeks of process to get that sold.

But the real influence, the real reputation of Cognex to solve big problems and really, I think, differentiation is occurring with brand owners and the OEMs. And then...

Paul Coster -- JPMorgan Chase -- Analyst

And then what if they decide that -- I'm sorry --

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

I was going to say and -- I'm sorry to interrupt you. And then really it's a very much engineer-to-engineer discussion with the challenges that they face that's where the decisions are getting made, and Cognex's reputation is doing well.

Paul Coster -- JPMorgan Chase -- Analyst

So would it be true to say that there are certain products or product components that would not be possible without an upfront discussion with you about the process technology required to make them? OLED, for instance, was it kind of obvious to the industry that they needed to deploy this technology in order to be able to bring OLED down in scale?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, we say -- we've said for as long as I've been here and I think much longer that in many cases products could naturally be made without Cognex vision that we really do help relatively early on in the design cycle to make a product, either be made or be made in a way that's economically viable. So that's certainly the case, but it's really different in different industries. I would say there's some amazing engineering going on in OLED manufacturing, and I think there's some pretty great engineers who are working on problems. But in the end, they realize that our knowledge of machine vision is well beyond what even their substantial teams can do, so they bring us in to solve those problems.

When they do it earlier, it works better. When they do it later, it still works to bring Cognex in, so that's kind of the state of play.

Paul Coster -- JPMorgan Chase -- Analyst

Got it. Okay. One other thing. The gross margins were down a little bit, and you attribute -- although your suggesting [indiscernible] attempts in customer this year.

And nonetheless, you had at least one big customer this quarter that weighed on the margins. And is there a function of the actual product they're buying? Or is it a volume discount they get after? Is there a price break that would have caused margin to climb this quarter?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes, so it's [indiscernible]. I'll correct you on one thing, which is I didn't mean to be misunderstood. The question was would there be other 10% customer [indiscernible]...

Paul Coster -- JPMorgan Chase -- Analyst

I see. I'm sorry.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

This year or this quarter, so I apologize if I misled people in that comment. No. So that's -- so -- but your question had to do with gross margin and the gross margin outside other big customers in consumer electronics. Can you restate that?

Paul Coster -- JPMorgan Chase -- Analyst

Yes, so you saw lower gross margins this quarter as a function of the product mix with the customer. Was it actually the product mix with the customer or [ was it the volume price break, you put price breaks on volume that, that particular customer would have enjoyed ]?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

I think we don't want to talk -- we're not able to talk specifically about pricing to individual customers. In some cases, in consumer electronics, there can be quite a lot of service revenue, which is lower margin for us than is involved in rolling out technology to where we do it in a very sophisticated way for very large customers, but it's margin dilutive. And in other cases, you would expect for large customers, in many cases, they get better pricing, and that can -- and very large deployments like we saw in consumer electronics in Q3 that can impact our gross margin.

Paul Coster -- JPMorgan Chase -- Analyst

Great. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question is from Jairam Nathan, Daiwa Securities. Please proceed with your question.

Jairam Nathan -- Daiwa -- Analyst

I just wanted to kind of get some more details on the unbilled revenue. It was -- it hasn't been this weak before. Is that -- what's driving it? Is it just -- is it timing related? Or is it characteristic of a new customer or if you could explain that? Thank you

John Curran -- Chief Financial Officer

It's John. Yes, it's predominantly driven by the timing of the underlying deployments. So we did have -- in consumer electronics and logistics, the deployments have a longer cycle, and in many cases, we're able to complete the earnings process prior to our invoicing cycle. So it's purely just timing.

And as I said, that will, for the most part, clear itself in Q4.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

It's Rob here. I would add to that, that we have had substantial unbilled revenue in previous years. So this is not unprecedented.

Jairam Nathan -- Daiwa -- Analyst

And just on the logistics side, there was a related company a couple of weeks back, which kind of indicated that they could be seeing some slowdown in the order rate. There seems to be some hesitancy by large customers. Are you seeing any of that or -- on the logistics side?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

It's Rob. I'm not aware of what you're talking about. And no, we're certainly not seeing that in any way

Jairam Nathan -- Daiwa -- Analyst

Okay. And last question with regard to talent, retaining that, we see a lot of [ equipment ads asking specifically what vision technology experts], and I just want to get an idea of how are you seeing a lot of turnover? And is -- how do you -- how confident -- how you're retaining talent at Cognex?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Well, kind of -- in the initial -- in my prepared remarks, I talked about our culture. We have a remarkably strong and committed group of Cognoids who really love working at Cognex and are really enjoying the success that we're seeing. So we're very fortunate to have low turnover.

Our current turnover would be in the mid-single digits, and that's very low for a technology company. And it's fair to say where we lose very few good engineers that we want to retain. Obviously, part of that, it's our culture kind of permeates everything we do at Cognex, and we have a very entrepreneurial view about our business. And that goes to the empowerment we give people, but it also goes to the fact that we want Cognoids to feel like owners.

And I think we do that, particularly through stock options, give out a good range of stock options particularly to engineers. And as a result, they feel a great sense of ownership and pride, and they are well rewarded for the success that kind of support the success we're reporting now and go on doing. So certainly it's one of the reasons why I think we're certainly able to help to hold onto some of the best talent and attract really great talent, too. And in recent quarters, we've expanded our engineering footprint.

Something I'd point to, as we just opened an office in Cambridge, just a little bit away from here. And the interest we're seeing from highly qualified technical people in areas like deep learning, vision to go work in that location and to go work with Cognex is great. So -- we're feeling good about that and optimistic about retaining it. Of course, there are places in the world where it's ridiculously difficult to hire people like San Francisco would be one area.

Munich seems to be another area. Right. But generally, those are places where we don't have a big or any substantial engineering footprint.

Jairam Nathan -- Daiwa -- Analyst

Okay. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question is from Jeremie Capron, ROBO Global. Please proceed with your question.

Jeremie Capron -- ROBO Global -- Analyst

Great to hear that 3D vision offering has reached 5% of sales. Wondering if you could give us an idea of what applications you're seeing most traction with.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Hi, Jeremie, so it's Rob again. I think -- I think as I said to a previous caller, we really see a broad range of applications that mirror, in general, our end-user profiles, so mostly consumer electronics where applications can be very varied, but they might be looking at components that are not correctly attached to products. They might be looking for problems like loose screws or screws getting into cavities where lithium-ion batteries might be being inserted by robots. Those kinds of applications.

They can be doing connector inspection. So these kind of applications are quite widespread and increasingly valuable, I think, in terms of what we can provide for our customers. In automotive, again, it's very broad. It may be sometimes in the electronics applications of automotive, like inspecting circuit boards.

But it can also be looking at raised rubber lettering on black tires, something you really can't do with 2D vision. And then there can be all kinds of other applications even in areas like food and beverage where you can be looking at is the can correctly closed? Or is there enough solid matter in a food product, for instance? So very, very varied. And I think what's great is we have a sales force that's really very good at applying technically challenging machine vision to all those markets, and we have products that are increasingly advantaged and easy to sell. So I think that's kind of a formula that's working very well for us.

Jeremie Capron -- ROBO Global -- Analyst

Thanks. I wanted to ask about machine vision on a chip. I know Cognex experimented with it in the past, now there are several companies that are coming up with machine vision chips for applications around video surveillance, drones, and autonomous vehicles. I'm wondering if that is something that Cognex continues to pursue, and if you're seeing this as a competitor to your core business.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Jeremie, we generally only do sort of custom in-house engineering challenges like that when we really see huge advantages of where we can't find what we need on the available market. So our first choice generally is to use off-the-shelf electronic components and work with players in the industry to apply their technology to our industry. In the past, on occasion, you're right we've kind of reinvented certain applications or being ahead of what's available in the market through our own custom chip design. We don't really talk about our technology roadmap, so I'm not going to talk about whether we're doing that or not at the moment.

Jeremie Capron -- ROBO Global -- Analyst

Understood. And in terms of the competitive landscape, in general, and in the Americas, in particular, your main competitor the Japanese competitor has shown some pretty significant growth in that market as well. I know they have a broader portfolio of automation products, but are you seeing any change in terms of the level of competition or any market share shift?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, you're right to say that really Cognex and Keyence, the companies you referred to are increasingly strong in the machine vision market. I would say our -- I think we think of ourselves as leading in technology. And we think of them as having very strong sales presence. But obviously, both of us are investing in both those areas.

I would say that they look to be seeing the similar type of opportunities that we're seeing and are investing very heavily, particularly adding a lot of sales people. We certainly see that, and I think we're matching them. And I would say we're both gaining share from other competitors who I think haven't invested and aren't just competitive in terms of their sales channel or their technology. So I would say the overall dynamics are, I think, Cognex and Keyence are gaining share and other smaller players are losing share, overall.

And there aren't really the emergence of any other competitors of any strength or substance at the moment, although we're always watching that space.

Jeremie Capron -- ROBO Global -- Analyst

Thanks very much and good luck. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question is from Joseph Giordano, Cowen and Company. Please proceed with your question.

Joe Giordano -- Cowen & Co. -- Analyst

Hi, guys. Thank you for taking the follow-up here. I guess, more of the questions and discussions I get in a lot with clients is what is the ability for customers to like essentially recycle old Cognex products into new production lines? So if you're at a facility, whether it's automotive or consumer electronics that has a production line, and then they build the next generation of their product and have a new production line and as they roll -- as they kind of shut down old ones, can they take the Cognex product off of their, essentially, and put it on the new one, rather than buy new things from you? Like, how much do you see that in practice? And is that something that's realistic? Or is it generally new product every time there's an incremental production line?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Generally, the answer to that question is it's too difficult and too time-consuming and not really worthwhile to reapply machine vision from one line to another, I mean -- unless you want to spend a lot of money refurbishing it. And generally, our technology is getting so much better so quickly, but it's really very cost-effective to implement new products, right. So that's generally what we see, not a lot of kind of refurbing of old equipment.

Bob Shillman -- Chairman, Founder, Chief Culture Officer

This is Dr. Bob. I'd like to add to that, that, generally, when a company is preparing to introduce a new product line, whatever it is, a new watch, let's say, or a new calculator, bad examples, that they are still manufacturing the old -- the last generation, so it wouldn't be possible, generally speaking, to use the vision from the n minus one generation of product. It then to move it to the nth generation.

So there are two reasons that Rob gave you. One reason, which is that generally, we have a faster, better, more efficient product that they'll use on the next generation. And the prior generation is already -- is still being used to make the older product lines. So in general, we have not seen -- I don't know of any case where companies are retrofitted, took an older product that was working fine on the older line and put it on the new line.

I'm sure it must happen to some degree, but it was happening to a great degree, we wouldn't be seeing the phenomenal growth that we're experiencing.

Joe Giordano -- Cowen & Co. -- Analyst

Thank you.

Bob Shillman -- Chairman, Founder, Chief Culture Officer

Sure

Operator

Our next question is from Richard Eastman, Robert W. Baird & Co. Please proceed with your question.

Richard Eastman -- Robert W. Baird -- Analyst

I just have one question for John, and I kind of hate to ask this, but I'm going to do it anyway. On Page 26 of the Q when you talk about the revenue for the quarter, there's a disclosure that speaks to Europe's growth rate, exclusive of the timing of the large order customer just because between the quarters. But is my interpretation of that, that -- is that the correct interpretation? If I take out the large customer and I look at Europe, Europe was up 36% all else year-to-date. Is that the right interpretation of that?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. The rest of our business -- yes, the rest of our business outside of large orders was growing north of 30%. Yes.

Richard Eastman -- Robert W. Baird -- Analyst

30% in Europe. Okay. All right, I'll save the rest of my footnote question for Sue.

Operator

Our next question is from Jagadish Iyer, Summit Redstone Partners. Please proceed with your question.

Jagadish Iyer -- Summit Redstone -- Analyst

Thanks for taking my question, Rob. Two questions. First, as we look at 2017 between your consumer electronics and logistic segments, how much has been an expansion of existing customer base versus adding new customers? Which growth vector had a greater velocity? And is there something that you might be able to kind of gleam at 2018 between adding customers versus growing content with existing customers? Then I have a follow-up.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Jagadish, so I think it's important to understand that Cognex is the world's leader and the brand -- the most well-known brand in machine vision. So generally there aren't too many new customers buying from Cognex for the first time, right. Generally, we're well known, and almost any major company in consumer electronics or elsewhere that I can think of is already a Cognex customer. And -- but so what we see instead is they're focusing on Cognex vision, they're finding new applications.

They're taking their technology maybe from one plant and selling it in multiple plants or multiple locations. So it's more expansion within customers and verticals than it is sort of new customers and verticals. But where that would be different is newer markets where we've entered. So obviously, logistics, we've only been in that market 5 years or so, so we're still certainly meeting and winning share at new customers in that space.

And we're seeing a lot of great growth outside of our existing or large customers in logistics.

Jagadish Iyer -- Summit Redstone -- Analyst

Then just as a follow-up, if I look at -- based on the guidance you have provided for the fourth quarter, can you kind of give us some final view in terms of how the end market segments are likely to grow this year between your consumer electronics automotive? I think you did mention logistics is going to be up 50%, but how about the other three segments, please?

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes, Jagadish, I think you sort of talked about Q4. I would say we're seeing more revenue in Q4 from both consumer electronics and logistics than we had expected at the start of the year. Normally, Q4 is slower for those segments in terms of seasonality, and Q4 tends to be broad-based, right. And I think your question also sort of asked about the year in general, and we're seeing outstanding growth in consumer electronics.

On a percentage basis, even more, outstanding growth in logistics. And then our automotive business is growing well north of the 20% growth rate that we target for the company overall and multiples higher than the sort of 10-ish percent that we expect automotive to grow at over the long term.

Jagadish Iyer -- Summit Redstone -- Analyst

Congrats on a great quarter.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Once again, we are now conducting a question and answer session. If you would like to ask a question please press star one from your telephone keypad. A confirmation tone will indicate your line is in the question queue. You may press star two if you would like to remove your question from the queue.

For participants using it may be necessary to pick up your handset before pressing the star key. One moment please while we poll for questions. Our next question is from Bobby Eubank, Chevy Chase Trust. Please proceed with your question.

Bobby Eubank -- Chevy Chase Trust -- Analyst

Hi, guys. Happy early Holloween. Not an important holiday for you guys. [inaudible] for a strong quarter.

I wanted to see if there's any updates from the recent acquisitions over the last year or two and how you would label the acquisition pipeline.

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Bobby, thank you. Halloween is our favorite holiday here at Cognex, and we celebrated it in a very spirited way on Friday. So some of us may still be feeling worse for wear from that. Anyway, so yes, our acquisitions, we made 6 acquisitions in the last year or so.

And from our perspective, they're performing well. ViDi deep learning software techniques are helping us broaden the scope of machine vision application. 3D acquisition, EnShape and Chiaro and AQSense really helping us open up new opportunities in 3D for Cognex and for the industry. And then GVi helping us get into automotive, and Webscan is helping with barcode verification.

So we're very pleased with all of those acquisitions, and we're very hard at work at making them deliver for Cognex. So there's that. Then we continue to be very active in looking at new markets and looking at opportunities within -- for acquisition in new markets and our own search market. So that's an ongoing process that we have.

We've looked at many opportunities each quarter, and we're very selective in what we choose to move forward on. We really like acquisitions like the 6 that we've done in the last year, which are small revenue, great technology, great engineers and engineering teams that are going to help give us advantage in our -- around our existing markets. So that's kind of -- that's what I would say you would expect to see more of us doing. While we wouldn't hesitate to acquire competitors or large businesses, those don't often come up for sale.

And when they do, when we scrutinize them, sometimes we're not impressed with what we see there. So we're not really looking to bolt-on revenue. We're looking to bolt-on quality.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the end of the question-and-answer session, and I would like to turn the call back to Dr. Shillman for closing remarks

Bob Shillman -- Chairman, Founder, Chief Culture Officer

Yes, thanks. Okay. Just a quick wrap-up. We reported record-breaking results tonight for the third quarter.

The team did -- around the world did a terrific job growing revenue and expanding margins, and we hope to continue on this growth path, and we look forward to speaking with you again and reporting on our results once again. Thank you for joining us tonight and good evening.

Operator

This concludes today's conference. You may disconnect your lines at this time. Thank you for your participation and have a great day.

Duration: 62 minutes

Call participants:

John Curran -- Chief Financial Officer

Bob Shillman -- Chairman, Founder, Chief Culture Officer

Robert Willett -- Chief Executive Officer

Joe Ritchie -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Joe Giordano -- Cowen & Co. -- Analyst

Richard Eastman -- Robert W. Baird -- Analyst

Jim Ricchiuti -- Needham & Co. -- Analyst

John Decurcio -- Canaccord Genuity -- Analyst

Josh Pokrzywinski -- Wolfe Research -- Analyst

Paul Coster -- JPMorgan Chase -- Analyst

Jairam Nathan -- Daiwa -- Analyst

Jeremie Capron -- ROBO Global -- Analyst

Jagadish Iyer -- Summit Redstone -- Analyst

Bobby Eubank -- Chevy Chase Trust -- Analyst

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