If you are in the market for automotive or related products and believe that automation and machine vision are a match made in musical heaven, think again. You may be overlooking a critical piece of the supply chain puzzle. Automotive systems and many other manufacturing processes are complex and have the potential to put your business in jeopardy if you are not careful. Before investing time and money into new automation systems you should review your current systems to identify areas that are not optimized with automated capabilities.
Many manufacturing processes are highly repetitive, which places a tremendous amount of stress on machine vision systems. In fact, most manufacturers find that there is more wear and tear on existing systems than new ones. As the volume of manufacturing increases, so does the number of machines on the same assembly line or plant floor. This increases the amount of wear-and-tear on your current system and also increases the possibility that it will need repairs. Safety is imperative in any industry and having real-time visibility into all aspects of the assembly line, from welds to rollers, from machine shop to vehicle bed, using high resolution imaging requires the ability to look at all of these items in one view.
High speed transport and storage are essential to any manufacturer. A good portion of the current machine vision applications are designed around the concept of vehicle transport. Whether transporting cars and other types of vehicles or storing and handling massive amounts of materials, continuous motion and the ability to locate defective components or maintain precise control over operations is critical to meeting customer demands. Automotive machine vision systems need to be able to locate and track vehicles as they move through the assembly line or a manufacturing facility. The ability to gather data at high speeds and in real-time is necessary in the area of vehicle mobility and also enables the operator to perform multiple tasks such as inspecting and repair moving vehicles on the fly.
Distribution is another key area targeted by machine vision applications. Modern machine vision systems have been designed to allow any type of conveyor system to be easily monitored and controlled. Whether it’s an automated system that moves products on a pallet or a manually operated conveyor that delivers a product to an end user, accuracy is vital to the smooth operation of a manufacturing operation. With the ability to simply trigger a machine vision application when a product is dropped or picked up, the operator can now monitor the entire supply chain for potential problems or outages. Being able to trigger an application based upon actual product movement, rather than a preset time period or date set during setup, allows for quick corrective action to be made before an outage can potentially cause loss or damage to a critical part.
Supply chain automation is not the only application targeted by machine vision systems. Supply chain robots and pallet management software had also seen huge growth over the last decade and more manufacturers are deploying this technology to their production facilities. Machine vision programs can locate missing products or pick up unneeded items at the very beginning of a process, significantly improving on-time productivity. Again, being able to trigger an application based upon actual motion in the production facility, rather than a preset date and time set during machine setup, makes these types of machine vision applications extremely useful for long-term stability and security in the manufacturing facility.
The final few areas where machine vision applications have found massive success is in asset tracking. Modern machine vision software can easily map and monitor thousands of physical assets throughout a facility. This includes inventory, asset tags, or even individual assets as part of a company stock. Being able to determine what, when, and how much of a particular asset has changed over time can allow a company to quickly track and trace lost or stolen goods, helping to avoid excessive loss due to spoilage or loss of company property. Again, being able to monitor a large number of physical assets through a machine vision program reduces the amount of time spent each day searching for missing or lost items.
Many machine vision applications are also designed to help supply chain operations. Supply chains, in turn, play a vital role in keeping most modern facilities operational. Yet, coordinating all the processes of the supply chain can prove to be quite a challenge. High-performance machine vision software combined with advanced infrastructure and sensors allow even a small distribution facility to detect and measure all aspects of its operations, from the number of truckloads of product that it sends out each day to the exact number of truckloads of inventory that it holds at any given moment. This results in a drastic reduction in cycle times and increases the overall efficiency of the distribution operation.
Above all, machine vision applications are not limited to the realm of manufacturing. They are also very valuable for government agencies and law enforcement agencies throughout the nation. With the explosion of targeted terrorist attacks over the past decade, many law enforcement agencies have taken an interest in high-tech surveillance tools and technologies to reduce the amount of collateral damage during arrest and apprehension operations. Machine vision can also be applied to computer vision and image processing, in order to improve the detection of potential terrorist activity and to increase the efficiency of police investigations. In the private sector, machine vision is an increasingly important component of security and asset management systems, which helps to protect both physical assets and digital ones (such as company databases and customer data). As technology advances and machine vision become more widely available and affordable, the impact of this new technology on business will become clear.