Replacing human inspection with machine vision can go far in automating factory operation, but implementers need to carefully match machine vision options with application requirements.

Many key tasks in the manufacture of products, including inspection, orientation, identification and assembly, require the use of visual techniques. Human vision and response, however, is slow and tends to be error-prone either due to boredom or fatigue.

Machine vision systems can perform repetitive tasks faster and more accurately with greater consistency over time than humans.They can reduce labor costs, increase production yields and eliminate costly errors associated with incomplete or incorrect assembly. They can help automatically identify and correct manufacturing problems online by forming part of the factory control network. The net result is greater productivity and improved customer satisfaction through the consistent delivery of quality products.

Does it Need to be Complex?

Traditionally, manufacturers have thought of machine vision as a complex and expensive initiative. Many components were involved, and systems integrators were required to build a machine vision system that could be implemented in manufacturing. Today, however, the costs of machine vision have come down significantly as the technology has become more widely adopted. In addition, there are more choices than ever.

A custom system is one option. A systems integrator can create a system from individual machine vision components – cameras, frame grabbers, software, etc. – that will match your specific needs.

There are also all-in-one vision systems. These packaged machine vision solutions integrate image capture and image processing together with built-in software to provide quality control and improved productivity for manufacturing operations. Integrated vision systems have designed for ease of use by manufacturers without the need for a systems integrator.

Options for End Users

These integrated solutions are ideal for factory floor automation. If you decide that an integrated machine vision system is the way to go, there are two basic options for end users.

The first option is an all-in-one vision system, which can be multi-camera, embedded machine vision solutions meeting both current inspection needs and have the capability to grow as future needs dictate. They provide the ease-of-use, performance, and flexibility required to meet the diverse requirements of industrial applications, while accommodating the needs and experience of end users. Some such systems can support as many as eight cameras with flexible system configuration and are quick and easy to deploy.

The second option is a smart camera. With a smart camera, all of the machine vision components are built right into the camera. By definition, this solution is for single point machine vision inspection needs. The best of today’s smart cameras are highly integrated optical inspection tools for controlling quality and increasing productivity. They comprise all the elements of an industrial machine vision system in a tiny smart camera style package including: including sensor, camera, image-processing and software, all within a protective enclosure. For use on the factory floor, look for a smart camera that is designed and ruggedized for harsh environment as well.

Quality Inspection: Easier than Ever

Machine vision technology is used extensively throughout manufacturing to improve product quality, increase productivity and reduce costs. The typical implementation involves configuring camera systems to capture and analyze the manufacturing process against user-defined acceptance criteria. Costly errors associated with incomplete or incorrect assembly can then be quickly identified and eliminated to assure customer satisfaction and brand protection. Machine vision systems can be integrated directly into the factory control network for efficient data sharing and process monitoring.

Such solutions can be applied across a wide range of applications and industries including automotive, electronics, medical, packaging, pharmaceutical, semiconductor and general manufacturing. Within these industries, your all-in-one machine vision system or smart camera can handle many tasks, including:

  • Positioning - Guiding robots or aligning tools for inspection

  • Identification - Tracking production parts, reading and verifying product lots and codes

  • Verification - Verifying parts, assemblies and packaged goods

  • Measurement - Checking dimensional accuracy on parts against geometrical tolerances

  • Flaw Detection - Detecting discoloration, scratches, cracks on product surfaces

  • Case in Point: Measurement

    In exploring just one of these tasks – measurement – we can see how a manufacturer of jewelry castings and settings turned to machine vision to automate a tedious and time consuming manual process. [Read Bonus Article“Machine Vision System Improves Jewelry Inspection”for the full case study.] This jewelry company now uses an all-in-one vision appliance to measure tiny 1/4 inch earring backs and ensure that the pinprick or dimple in the center of the earring back is correctly positioned.

    Manufacturing requirements for measurement range from presence verification to checking high-precision dimensional accuracy and geometrical tolerances. Attention to the inspection environment and image quality is as important as the vision algorithms themselves.

    The automotive industry has many applications that require online and offline measuring systems. For general manufacturing needs, machine vision measurement provides a fast, highly accurate and cost-effective way to assure product quality and customer satisfaction. Manufacturers of medical instruments must measure each part of the assembly process to strict tolerances, as an incorrectly manufactured part could have dire consequences.

    Measurement tools are just one element that a machine vision solution can provide to assist with manufacturing accuracy and quality. A machine vision system will work tirelessly on mundane repetitive tasks at high speed with great precision. Explore your options to see if an all-in-one machine vision is the next step for improved quality in your industry.