Robotic vision has never looked so good

Many manufacturers are setting their sights on vision systems as a way of increasing productivity, and as Katherine Crichton found out, now might be the time to invest.

Many manufacturers are setting their sights on vision systems as a way of increasing productivity, and as Katherine Crichton found out, now might be the time to invest.

MANUFACTURERS thinking about investing in industrial vision systems, have got the push they needed with the Government’s recently announced 30% tax rebate on capital equipment.

People who might have been thinking about making a decision in the next 12-18 months have been spurred into action, says Simon Hales, Operations Manager at John Hart.

“Also with a slowdown in production, the technology can be implemented with less disruption.”

With production runs getting smaller resulting in a stronger focus on lean and Just in Time manufacturing processes, Hales says there is more emphasis on the flexibility of robotic vision systems on the production line rather than just on just 24/7 operations.

“Robots are not just being used to replace a person doing a repetitive job anymore; now users are looking at systems that allow them to competitively manufacture different items at lower volumes.

“People are demanding vision systems that allow them to perform changeovers very quickly without spending a lot of money,” Hales told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

A question of timing

While vision technology hasn’t changed fundamentally over the past few years, a significant development – and one that is seeing a wider adoption of the technology – is the improvement in the speed of vision systems.

Sales Engineer Matthew Plant, also with John Hart, says this is opening the technology up to markets which wouldn’t have been considered before.

“In the past it was hard to justify vision technology in some applications because it would have been too slow.

“For example, in complex applications where the component itself was fairly intricate, the vision system may have taken 15 seconds to recognise it. Now it will do this in a matter of seconds,” Plant explained to Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“I think that’s where the technology is headed. The systems can’t really do something now they couldn’t in the past: it really is now about timing.

“We have gone through a couple of generations of vision systems so the technology is becoming more reliable and cost-effective.

“Now using the vision system, you can place any part in front of the robot and it will recognise it. Whereas previously it would have taken quite a bit of auxiliary equipment to position the part correctly.

“So from that point of view, someone running multiple components will get a quicker payback using vision systems due to the lower auxiliary equipment cost,” Plant said.

A case for vision

Both 2D and 3D vision systems have applications were they work the best and make the most sense from a cost point of view.

Traditionally one of the biggest challenges for both types of vision has been the price of the technology, but according to Clyde Campbell, CEO of MAR (Machinery Automation & Robotics), the key driver of mass adoption of vision technology is the end product’s quality.

“Machine vision technology can ensure quality of a product whereas manual inspection relies on the qualification of the person to be able to do it.

“The early days of vision didn’t have the processing power that the newer systems have, plus the price of vision is dropping.

“Nowadays you can buy yourself a $300 digital camera whereas 10 years ago it would have cost $3,000.

“While the price has dropped, the technology has improved. The optics have improved dramatically, the speed of processing is faster etc, but you still need the proficiency in vision to make that input realisable and a valuable system for users,” Campbell explained to Manufacturers’ Monthly.

While it may be tempting for some to run out and get the latest vision system available, Campbell advises users to speak with an experienced integrator, sentiments that Hales and Plant echo.

“It is important to understand what you want to achieve,” Campbell advises, “then trial the system with an integrator or internally before you go full scale with it,” he said.

Campbell says as robotic vision systems become more sophisticated they will be able to make more value-based decisions as to what is a good or bad product and how to deal with them.

“Vision is one part of sensing. There is an enormous amount of other types of sensing including x-ray, ct scans, ultra sonic, that are all working their way into mainstream industrial automation,”Campbell said.

John Hart 03 9542 6262.

MAR 02 9748 7001.