Thursday, November 8, 2012

Is machine vision suitable for the Do-it-Yourself-er?

Smart cameras were invented as a way to make machine vision easy. Mount a camera on the line, configure a few tools, and away you went. Or at least that was the idea.
As anyone who has ever done a machine vision project knows, it’s not quite that simple. The objects you’re inspecting vary, and probably go through multiple design changes, and the environment is never static. As a result, you can never just install and forget.
Writing in Vision & Sensors, (“Turnkey Machine Vision: Ready to Go” September 6th, 2012,) Michelle Bangert argues this is a good reason for having an integrator install a turnkey system, rather than going down the DIY road. Supported by integrators and industry experts such as Bob Rongo (Decision Technology,) and Perry West (Automated Vision Systems Inc.), Michelle notes that while DIY can seem far cheaper, it can easily end up costing far more in the long run.
I don’t disagree with this, but I’d like to raise an issue Michelle has overlooked. Most integration companies are small outfits. That means there’s a risk of key people leaving, or even the company going out of business. A bigger concern though is their inability to support implementations on multiple continents.
Here’s the issue I face quite frequently. A vision system is installed at a factory in Europe, by a capable integrator. A year or so later a sister factory in Mexico wants the same system.
“Sorry,” says the integrator, “We can’t support systems outside of France/Italy/Germany.”
(And as a side note, if they say they can, quiz them on this point very closely.)
So what do we do? Since we don’t own the designs and source code, there’s no way we can copy the existing system. So either we attempt a reverse engineering exercise, or we find a local integrator and have them start from scratch. And yes, they usually do start from scratch, because they seldom have experience with the same software package and vision tools.
What’s the solution?
In my view this is why, if you’re a manufacturer with identical processes in different locations, you do your machine vision in-house.  You still have the same risk of key individuals leaving but you have far more opportunity to replicate and standardize. So let’s hear it for the DIY vision guys.

1 comment:

Brian Durand said...

I hear what you're saying, but I wouldn't always agree with your statement that end users "...have far more opportunity to replicate and standardize." Consider integrators with a lot of experience in a certain application. They have probably already standardized and then replicated again and again. And it will be easier for everyone to support a good standardized solution. Of course, that doesn't apply if the product, or it's inspection requirements, are really unique.