Thursday, March 15, 2012

How to work with an integrator

Under the heading, “Three types of computer vision companies?” I said that if your integrator screws up, it was your fault. In a nutshell, you’re paying the piper, so tell him what to play. But perhaps you’d like some more actionable suggestions? If so, here goes:

Project definition
Start by defining what it is you want to achieve – BEFORE YOU START TALKING TO AN INTEGRATOR - and why you want to do it. If you can’t write this down in just two or three sentences I suggest you really haven’t got a project.

You might like to add some notes on what’s excluded from your project – “This does not including gauging the sprocket location on the XY widget” – and perhaps also the primary constraints: “This has to fit at the end of line 2 and have a footprint of less than 3 square feet.”

Project Specification
Next, document the task the vision system is to perform. Spell out what the vision system is to do – measure between two points, detect the absence of the came lever, find scratches in the acrylic – and add the parameters like size range, acceptance criteria and limits.

Add some notes on the production requirements and constraints; the speed it is to run at, footprint, the location in the manufacturing process, (this should indicate if the part will be wet or dry, for example,) and the environment. And don’t forget to identify the range or family of objects the system will be asked to look at. It’s also useful to spell out the tests the system will be expected to pass before the integrator receives his final payment.

Getting buy-in
This might be the hardest part of every vision project: identifying all those affected and getting their input into the specification. Yet without it there’s a very real risk of an aggrieved party standing on the sidelines and throwing metaphorical rocks at your system. Ideally, you want all the stakeholders to have some skin in the game – something at risk if the project goes badly.

Building up a truly representative set of sample parts takes time, even more so if you’re going to ask multiple integrators to quote, so start early. Don’t forget that, in addition to examples of nonconforming product your integrator should also see the entire range – largest to smallest and every acceptable variation of color or finish.

Do some research and produce a list of integrators who seem to have handled your type of project. If it’s a web inspection check their website for examples of that kind of work. You do no one any favors when you ask unqualified people to quote your job.

Publish the RFQ
When you have all the technical requirements together, add in some notes on your commercial terms and conditions – especially the payment terms you want – and send it out to your shortlisted companies.

You may have noticed that there’s nothing new in all this; it’s really just good project management, but many companies seeking vision integration seem unable to find the time to go through these steps. As a result, the integrator, perhaps unwittingly, makes assumptions about what is and isn’t needed and in the end, neither party is satisfied.
Those are my – hopefully – simple tips for working with an integrator. If anyone has any others I’d like to hear them.


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