Machine vision systems are already an integral part of many manufacturing processes, both in-line and off-line. Yet with new system components being introduced and developed every year, it can be very difficult for a business owner to understand which system would most benefit their business.
Where do you start?
If there is a problem with production, reliability, error detection, gauging or data verification, a business will almost always experience the negative fallout from the problem before they understand what’s causing it.
If you’re supplying products to highly scrutinised end retailers such as supermarkets, for instance, and your label verification system is faulty, the negative fall-out could be severe. Too many failures will lead to EPWs and fines that could seriously impact profitability.
Therefore, before you even think about looking for a vision system, you need to engage an expert to investigate your facility and all its components. If you have someone with expert systems knowledge in-house, they should be involved from the start. If you don’t, it’s imperative you seek advice externally. If the problem is impacting production and profitability, you need to address it fast.
A vision system can actually help you diagnose the problem very quickly. However, only someone with expert knowledge of how to apply systems in this way could undertake a project like this, particularly if you’re working in a strict timeframe. Without expert guidance, you could spend a great deal of money on a system that you might think will solve your problem but that might ultimately prove an expensive mistake.
Getting the right vision system people, components and software
Once you have true clarity on the issue you need to rectify, you can start thinking of how you want to tackle it.
If you’ve diagnosed the problem in-house, you may want to manage the new system in-house as well. In this case, your experts will be looking for the best possible components for their needs.
It’s worth doing fresh research at this point because new products are being launched all the time. Ironically, that doesn’t mean the newest or most sophisticated parts are necessarily the best for what you need. It may be that, with some creative thinking, a better solution can be found using lower specification components in a brand-new way.
We were recently asked to investigate a flawed system that involved a state-of-the-art high-resolution camera. For reasons that were not immediately clear, the images were not good enough for the software to process. We discovered that, despite the camera being extremely expensive and high-spec, a collection of much cheaper, low-resolution cameras – carefully placed and using different software – gave an ideal result.
Be wary too, of false economies. There are some great off-the-shelf vision systems available that, while they usually offer a comparatively cheap option, might not be the best solution for your business.If your business hinges on reliability and accuracy in inspections, you should definitely consider all your options very carefully – and choose the one that presents the most value, rather than the lowest cost.
Some basic things to consider at the planning stage are:
- What is the size of the area of inspection?
- How fast are the parts moving that require inspection?
- How many inspections will you need per second? How accurate do you need the results of the inspection to be?
- How many views of the inspection do you need?
- Do you need the system to identify different colours on your products?
- What do you need the results from your inspection to impact?
- Do you need the data to be fed into another system?
Feasibility studies and line trials
The next step is to conduct a feasibility study into the kind of systems you think will work the best. A vision system is not something you want to replace too often so you’re looking for something that will stand the test of time, using technology that can be easily managed and updated.
When you’ve identified a system you like, put it to the test. Your products are your business. Cutting corners with the system on which the quality of those products depends is akin to putting your whole business on the line.
Testing is such an important part of the process so don’t be tempted to overlook it. If there is an urgent need to get something in place, it’s understandable that you’re very conscious of time passing. However, if the issue you are trying to solve is business critical, even more reason to make sure you get your vision system right.
Maintenance and upgrades
Getting a new system in place is ultimately only the start of your next business phase. You will quickly come to rely on that system and you need to be able to trust it. How will you make sure it continues to run at optimum levels?
All systems require maintenance and upgrading from time to time. Making your life as easy as possible now is not necessarily the best way to make it easy tomorrow. There are some open source computer vision algorithms available for instance, that might look like a great cost-saving option for your system. But how will you maintain a programme if the creator stops working on it?
Think too about your hardware. How easy will it be to replace the mechanical components of your system? Is this something you’re able to manage yourself or should you engage a maintenance partner?
Vision systems can include extremely intricate pieces of machinery that require expert engineering knowledge to maintain. Parts can be very expensive to replace, and you don’t want to jeopardise your insurance or warrantee through mishandling something that should only be dealt with by an expert.
Whatever you decide, agree a maintenance schedule in advance if possible and ask about ongoing support in case something goes wrong in between routine checks.
To learn more about machine vision systems and their enormous business benefits, click below to check out our dedicated page on the topic.