The age of improving the bottom line by simply pursuing further cost reductions with supplier purchasing agreements has taken its toll on the manufacturing community over the last decade.
The automotive industry has been the poster child in this arena as it continued to drive component and subassembly prices steadily down with its suppli-ers.
The food and beverage industries took a slightly different tack with industry consolidation and the rationalising of manufacturing facilities in an effort to gain from manufacturing scales.
In the pharmaceutical industry, the age of the blockbuster drug is over and now the industry has placed a greater emphasis on manufacturing operations to improve margins.
The latest generation of machine vision technology offers significant benefits for applications outside the semiconductor industry, a primary past beneficiary of huge investments in the technology. Machine vision has brought end users quantifiable benefits by boosting productivity on the production line and ensuring product quality, safety, and security.
The landscape is changing as vision companies now provide end-to-end solutions. Today’s class of integrated vision systems provides solutions that en-able manufacturers to meet regulatory requirements. These include commercially available vision solutions that satisfy both traceability and genealogy capabilities down to the component level.
The need for regulatory compliance in pharmaceutical, food and beverage, automotive, and other hybrid and discrete manufacturing industries has created opportunities ma-chine vision technology in areas far beyond typical productivity and quality improvement applications. In response, suppliers have developed end-to-end vertical solutions that support many business and regulatory requirements.
Machine vision supports regulatory compliance
Machine vision satisfies two key requirements of the food, pharmaceutical, and other regulated industries: (1) product quality, safety, and security inspection in manufactur-ing, and (2) product tracking.
The industry also has strict regulatory requirements for control system and software as well as subsequent system changes and related standard operated procedures (SOPs). Manufacturers are aware of the benefits of production line flexibility, but the unique requirements of global regulations pose further challenges when considering flexibility. Food, pharmaceutical, and other manufacturers must comply with regulatory require-ments for change management.
Machine vision systems play a critical role regulated manufacturing industries with heigtened requirements for unit-level traceability due to anti-counterfeiting and brand protection, warranty costs, regulatory compliance, and cost avoidance. Manufacturers need to contain potential quality problems before and after the product ships and provide detailed product genealogy information to supply chain partners.
Machine vision systems are available with production management or manufacturing execution system technology that provide end-to-end traceability solutions. Integrated machine vision systems and production management software applications are the re-sult of strategic alliances between machine vision companies and enterprise software companies, integrators, or OEMs to provide tightly coupled system solutions for com-ponent level traceability and genealogy.
The specific machine vision system architecture is critical to minimise deployment efforts for software and systems on a production line. For example, when an additional camera is added to enhance the process on a currently operating production line, software will generally need to be modified and (potentially) revalidated.
Using a distributed architecture with software capable of expanding and adapting to additional cameras reduces implementation efforts due to the reuse of existing application templates. Emerging standard networking technologies, such as Gigabit Ethernet (GigE), also make change easier.
[Himanshu Shah is senior analyst automation, ARC Advisory Group.]