A promising outlook for vision

09 August 2011

John Haddon, technical consultant for UK Industrial Vision Association, is excited about the future potential for vision technology – fuelled by the need for automated technology to make efficiency savings while ensuring better quality control and product consistency.

John Haddon, technical consultant for UK Industrial Vision Association
John Haddon, technical consultant for UK Industrial Vision Association

The European vision market was forecast to grow 5% in 2010 but the European Machine Vision Association (EMVA) has recently announced that growth was nearer 35%. In addition, the European Machine Vision Industry Report 2011, published by the EMVA, predicts further growth of 20% in 2011. This has been fuelled by the accessibility of vision and imaging technologies, easy to use of software and the flexibility of interfaces and camera technology.

A major contributor to this trend is the increasing demand placed on industry to be more cost efficient and to reduce defects, improve quality control and to eliminate human error through the use of automation.

Automation is having a significant influence on the industrial vision market as the manufacturing sector strives to ensure competitiveness in response to the threats posed by lower labour costs in other parts of the world. Industry has also been able to benefit from technology advances, developed for the demanding security and defence sectors, which have been driving improved performance and reducing system prices. Vision is also expanding outside its natural home of industrial production and is moving into areas such as agriculture, security, surveillance, logistics, life science, medical technology, retail, sports and many other walks of life. It would seem that this trend is no ‘flash in the pan’. Another report, ‘Global Machine Vision and Vision Guided Robotics Market (2010-2015)’ published recently by US based Marketsandmarkets predicts significant growth for the machine vision and related components market throughout the world during this period.

A cash injection
In the industrial sector, a cash injection of £600,000 has been announced by the UK Coalition Government to help stimulate the adoption of automation in UK manufacturing. A two-year programme will allow experts to go into UK manufacturing companies and work with them to identify their automation needs and help specify the most appropriate solution. This offers a big opportunity for the UK Vision industry to demonstrate the contribution that vision can make to this vital area.

From a control engineering perspective, vision systems can help automate manufacturing processes, both in conjunction with robotic systems (pick-and-place and robot guidance) and independently by providing sophisticated automated inspection capabilities, at high speed, if required. Smart cameras (where image processing is carried out within the camera itself), multipoint camera systems (where image processing is carried out in a dedicated industrial controller) and the traditional PC-based single and multi-camera inspection systems offer powerful and versatile inspection capabilities.

A key factor is not just the ability to incorporate vision into new processes or OEM equipment, such as processing and packaging machinery, but also to seamlessly integrate it into existing processes and manufacturing environments. With GigE Vision now an established industrial vision standard, and other Ethernet products available for I/O, triggering and lighting control, a ‘network centric’ approach to running a production line vision system provides a high level of automation and versatile processing and control possibilities.

Integrating vision measurements into statistical process control (SPC) methods offers even greater potential productivity benefits by controlling the manufacturing process within its allowed tolerances. In many applications, 100% inspection can be carried out, and each and every product or component can be measured. By feeding this data into the SPC system, trends be identified at an early stage and random and sudden defects can also be identified. If the process cannot be brought under control and the tolerances can not be relaxed (for example in the automotive industry), then the vision system can still be used at the end of the production line in its ‘inspection’ role to weed out defective items and ensure only in-tolerance product is delivered to the customer.

With new data transmission standards such as GigE Vision 2.0, CameraLink HS and CoaXPress emerging to offer faster data transmission over longer distances using simplified components, together with continued advances in camera technology, image processing capabilities and the improving affordability of 3D imaging and measurements, the technology of industrial vision continues to develop at a fast pace. Improving capabilities, downward trends in pricing and a strong market demand make the vision industry an exciting and rewarding place to be right now.

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