Many manufacturers, in places like Vancouver Island, compete on a global scale against highly capable companies that could be located anywhere in the world. As burgeoning economies produce good products with low labour costs, Canadian manufacturers need to take advantage of every opportunity to maintain a competitive edge. Our labour costs aren’t very low, we need to ship raw materials onto the island and then our products back off again, and in some cases we have to buy supplies with expensive US dollars. We need to stay at the top of our game if the region is going to remain competitive. This means maintaining a competent workforce that is empowered to be highly productive, and also maintaining exceptional quality.
There are a number of tools in the productivity tool-box that are worth knowing about – one being machine vision systems. Machine vision is the automated extraction of useful information from digital images in an industrial setting (More info here) As part of the advanced manufacturing landscape, machine vision systems can improve productivity and help maintain quality. The following is a short list of applications that should get your creative juices flowing. You can also learn more from Camosun’s Manufacturing Professional’s Network on June 9th when we hear from Bruno Parent from Matrox Imaging.
1. Product Inspection: Vision systems can quickly and easily inspect a wide array of products, from circuit boards to machined parts. In circuit boards for example, these systems can quickly identify missing components, inspect sub-assemblies, identify/classify specific boards with bar-codes or serialization, inspect ball-grid arrays, identify alignment issues and part orientation, and a variety of other human or machine errors… all in a fraction of a second. For machined parts, the same is true for identifying machined features or ensuring assembled components are all present. The short video below is an example from a bottling plant where machine vision is used to identify missing, broken, or cross-threaded bottle-caps.
2. Robot Guidance: Some may argue that there are not nearly enough robot systems in Vancouver Island manufacturers, and that this is an indication of the overall level of automation. There are many challenges related to robot applications, including the need for a highly constrained work environment to make sure things are exactly where needed for a robot to manipulate a part. Vision systems are often used to help robots “see” exactly where a part is and how it is oriented. This “robot vision” significantly increases the applications for which a robot is useful.
3. Sorting: I’ve been in a food processing/distribution plant where tomatoes were sorted according to colour. Ripe tomatoes were sent off for distribution, while unripe tomatoes were warehoused for another day (to ripen up) and then be sorted again later. Two people spent hours… sorting, and then sorting again, every day catching the ones that they felt were ripe enough to go to market. An obvious application for an automated sorting systems based on vision. The speed could be increased significantly with reduced error. Sorting any product in large volume is a tedious task, better suited to a machine.
4. Automated Welding Control: It is well known that robot welding systems can improve weld quality and speed for repetitive welding tasks. Machine vision is often used to increase the quality significantly by scanning the Region of Interest to identify the exact joint location and measure the gap in the joint to fine-tune the weld parameters for each weld. Often 3D vision systems are used for this application.
5. Measurement: Machine vision systems are also ideally suited for rapid measurement of objects. Besides identifying and comparing shape and orientation of items, high speed measurements and comparisons can be made on the fly. This can improve quality control of parts and sub-assemblies, and also be used to correctly position adjoining parts.
There are many other applications for Machine vision systems including pattern/trend recognition, comparison, text and bar-code reading, machine guidance, berry picking, packaging, quality control, etc. Join us on June 9th as we explore this topic with industrial application leaders for machine vision from Matrox and Integrys.