Add Depth to Your Processes With 3D Machine Vision

What comes to mind first when you think of 3D? Cheap red and blue glasses? Paying extra at a movie theater? Or maybe the awkward top screen on a Nintendo 3DS? Neither industrial machine vision nor robot guidance likely come to mind, but they should.

Advancements in 3D machine vision have taken the old method of 2D image processing and added literal depth. You become emerged into the application with true definition of the target—far from what you get looking at a flat image.

See For Yourself

Let’s do an exercise: Close one eye and try to pick up an object on your desk by pinching it. Did you miss it on the first try? Did things look foreign or off? This is because your depth perception is skewed with only one vision source. It takes both eyes to paint an accurate picture of your surroundings.

Now, imagine what you can do with two cameras side by side looking at an application. This is 3D machine vision; this is human.

How 3D Saves the Day

Robot guidance. The goal of robotics is to emulate human movements while allowing them to work more safely and reliably. So, why not give them the same vision we possess? When a robot is sent in to do a job it needs to know the x, y and z coordinates of its target to best control its approach and handle the item(s). 3D does this.

Part sorting. If you are anything like me, you have your favorite parts of Chex mix. Whether it’s the pretzels or the Chex pieces themselves, picking one out of the bowl takes coordination. Finding the right shape and the ideal place to grab it takes depth perception. You wouldn’t use a robot to sort your snacks, of course, but if you need to select specific parts in a bin of various shapes and sizes, 3D vision can give you the detail you need to select the right part every time.

Palletization and/or depalletization. Like in a game of Jenga, the careful and accurate stacking and removing of parts is paramount. Whether it’s for speed, quality or damage control, palletization/ depalletization of material needs 3D vision to position material accurately and efficiently.

I hope these 3D examples inspire you to seek more from your machine vision solution and look to the technology of the day to automate your processes. A picture is worth a thousand words, just imagine what a 3D image can tell you.

Document Product Quality and Eliminate Disputes with Machine Vision

“I caught a record-breaking walleye last weekend,” an excited Joe announced to his colleagues after returning from his annual fishing excursion to Canada.

“Record-breaking?  Really?  Prove it.” demanded his doubtful co-worker.

Well, I left my cell phone in the cabin so it wouldn’t get wet on the boat so I couldn’t take a picture, but I swear that big guy was the main course for dinner.”

“Okay, sure it was Joe.”

We have all been there — spotted a mountain lion, witnessed an amazing random human interaction, or maybe caught a glimpse at a shooting star.  These are great stories, but they are so much more believable and memorable with a picture or video to back them up.  Now a days, we all carry a camera within arm’s reach.  Capturing life events has never been easier and more common, so why not use cameras to document and record important events and stages within your manufacturing process?

As the smart phone becomes more advanced and common, so does the technology and hardware for industrial cameras (i.e. machine vision).  Machine vision can do so much more than pass fail and measurement type applications.  Taking, storing, and relaying pictures along different stages of a production process could not only set you apart from the competition but also save you costly quality disputes after it leaves your facility.  A picture can tell a thousand words, so what do you want to tell the world?  Here are just a couple examples how you can back up you brand with machine vision:

Package integrity: We have all seen the reduced rack at a grocery store where a can is dented or missing a label.  If this was caused by a large-scale label application defect, someone is losing business.  So, before everyone starts pointing fingers, the manufacturer could simply provide a saved image from their end-of line-vision system to prove the cans were labeled when shipped from their facility.

Assembly defects: When you are producing assembled parts for a larger manufacturer, the standards they set are what you live and die by.  If there is ever a dispute, having several saved images from either individual parts or an audit of them throughout the day could prove your final product met their specifications and could save your contract.

Barcode legibility and placement: Show your retail partners that your product’s bar code will not frustrate the cashier by having to overcome a poorly printed or placed barcode.  Share images with them to show an industrial camera easily reading the code along the packaging line ensuring a hassle-free checkout as well as a barcode grade to ensure their barcode requirements are being met.

In closing, pictures always help tell a story and make it more credible.  Ideally your customers will take your word for it, but when you catch the record-breaking walleye, you want to prove it.

Machine Vision: A Twenty-first Century Automation Solution

Lasers, scanners, fingerprint readers, and face recognition is not just science fiction anymore.  I love seeing technology only previously imagined become reality through necessity and advances in technology.  We, as a world economy, need to be able to verify who we are and ensure transitions are safe, and material and goods are tracked accurately.  With this need came the evolution of laser barcode readers, fingerprint identification devices, and face ID on your phone.  Similar needs have pushed archaic devices to be replaced within factory automation for data collection.

When I began my career in control engineering the 1990s high tech tools were limited to PLCs, frequency drives, and HMIs. The quality inspection data these devices relied on was collected mostly through limit switches and proximity sensors.  Machine vision was still in it’s expensive and “cute” stage.  With the need for more information, seriously accurate measurement, machining specs, and speed; machine vision has evolved, just like our personal technology has, to fill the needs of the modern time.

Machine vision has worked its way into the automation world as a need to have rather than a nice to have.  With the ability to stack several tools and validations on top of each other, within a fraction of a second scan we now have the data our era needs to stay competitive.  Imagine an application requiring you to detect several material traits, measure the part, read a barcode for tracking, and validate  a properly printed logo screened onto the finished product.  Sure, you could use several individual laser sensors, barcode readers and possibly even a vision sensor all working in concert to achieve your goal.  Or you could use a machine vision system to do all the above easily with room to grow.

I say all of this because there is still resistance in the market to move to machine vision due to historical high costs and complexity.  Machine Vision is here to stay and ready for your applications today.  Think of it this way.  How capable would you think a business is they took out a carbon copy credit card machine to run a payment for you?  Well, think of this before you start trying to solve applications with several sensors.  Take advantage of the technology at your fingertips; don’t hold on to nostalgia.

Beyond the Human Eye

Have you ever had to squint, strain, adjust your glasses, or just ask for someone with better vision to help read something for you? Now imagine having to adjust your eyesight 10 times a second. This is the power of machine vision. It can adjust, illuminate, filter, focus, read, and relay information that our eyes struggle with. Although the technology is 30 years old, machine vision is still in its early stages of adoption within the industrial space. In the past, machine vision was ‘nice to have’ but not really a ‘need to have’ technology because of costs, and the technology still not being refined. As traceability, human error proofing, and advanced applications grow more common, machine vision has found its rhythm within factory automation. It has evolved into a robust technology eager to solve advanced applications.

Take, for example, the accurate reading, validation, and logging of a date located on the concaved bottom of an aluminum can. Sometimes, nearly impossible to see with the human eye without some straining involved, it is completely necessary to ensure it is there to be able to sell the product. What would be your solution to ensuring the date stamp is there? Having the employee with the best eyes validate each can off the line? Using more ink and taking longer to print a larger code? Maybe adding a step by putting a black on white contrasting sticker on the bottom that could fall off? All of these would work but at what cost? A better solution is using a device easily capable of reading several cans a second even on a shiny, poor angled surface and saving a ton of unnecessary time and steps.

Machine vison is not magic; it is science. By combining high end image sensors, advanced algorithms, and trained vision specialists, an application like our aluminum can example can be solved in minutes and run forever, all while saving you time and money. In Figure 1 you can see the can’s code is lightly printed and overcome by any lighting due to hotspots from the angle of the can. In Figure 2 we have filtered out some of the glare, better defined the date through software, and validate the date is printed and correct.

Take a moment to imagine all the possibilities machine vision can open for your production process and the pain points it can alleviate. The technology is ready, are you?

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