3 Ways Machine Vision Improves Automated Manufacturing

Consider jobs where industrial drones are flying several hundred feet above the ground, handling tasks like inspecting bridges. Now think about a flexible robot stationed between two workers and assembling parts or tending machines. Completely different types of automation, right?

Yet, flexible robots can have vision guidance systems that help them adjust to variables in their path just like drones can make changes. Get a better understanding of what vision systems can accomplish.

Vision and Safety

Accidents ruin a productive day for people and for industrial drones, also referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Commercial companies have a safety-first attitude and are anticipating the first comprehensive FAA regulations that are expected to take effect in 2017.

Demand is growing for applications in unmanned systems to avoid collisions. The article Air, Sea, Land: Drones are Moving Target for Machine Vision Technology, points out that sense-and-avoid systems for air and sea are "more straightforward" because the surrounding environment is similar. Land, though, is "complicated and will present some daunting challenges."

Sound, familiar? Any variation is challenging for a robot that doesn't have vision and automated manufacturing systems will continue to need flexible components.

Vision and Productivity

Robots that don't use vision guidance are considered "blind" and can handle the same task millions of times as long as the variables don't change. Once variations like different shapes are introduced then vision becomes necessary.

For increased flexibility, robots need visual perception. Compared to blind robots, vision guided robots eliminate the need for hard tooling and are more suitable for mixed-model processing applications. Vision-guided robots can manage part variability without fixturing and facilitate quick changeovers. Consistent quality is another primary advantage.

Vision and Quality

A vision system can quickly scan for defects as detailed in the case study Picking a Winner. A company that packages commemorative coin sets needed a system capable of picking out defective coins from among thousands that zip along on a conveyor. The good coins were packaged into specific slots. Any faulty coin would be a setback for the customer.

The system used 13 vision-guided robots. In the early processing, a robot picks the coin inserts from a stack, and presents them to a camera to inspect for smudges, scratches and other imperfections. The faulty coin is then transferred past the six coin-placing robots.

Consistency isn't just needed for physical products. A company was building a rack-mounted system that had several LED lights on the front user interface panel. In the article Design Your Product for Producability, Design for Automation, the original inspection process is described as a manual one, where a person was looking for alignment, brightness or intensity, and color consistency of the LEDs. People don't see light changes the same way.

An automated process was installed with a camera that showed the alignment of the LEDs and the consistency of the color, the brightness, and whether the lights were actually installed and functioning. The result was that yields went up and product returns went down.

A high quality vision system integrated in your automated manufacturing can be worth the investment for you and your customers. More higher quality products with fewer customer returns results in more profit and credibility in the marketplace for your company.

In some cases, something more is at stake like peace of mind. The question is raised in the article Drones are Moving Targets for Machine Vision Technology that looks into the future with this scenario:

Why would a $1,000 drone need a $4,000 camera system? Perhaps the bigger consideration is this: Is that $10 billion bridge worth a high-quality image, or, how much would you pay to keep your children safe on the way to school as the wheels on the autonomous bus go round and round?

As new technology and updates to existing systems are rolled out, you may wonder what you should use in your workplace and how to implement the changes. Get input through trainings, videos, and blog posts offered on A3.