Inspection is an important aspect of production in the industrial world as it represents the final step in quality control in many assembly and manufacturing processes.Historically, inspection was one of the many assembly line processes that would be handled by a person or many people at a station. These people would spend many hours of the day in the monotonous task of careful individual inspection of each unit.
For a company that produces or handles many parts and pieces, sometimes very small parts and pieces, the automation of repetitive processes represents huge savings of time and money. But in many cases, manufacturers who have automated their processes are actually not automating to the extent that they could be. The process of inspection is commonly overlooked when manufacturers are automating their processes, but it is also one of the easiest and cheapest steps to automate.
In vision inspection, engineers utilize cameras to visually detect errors on parts as they pass by the camera. Cameras in vision inspection systems can be programmed to recognize when a part appears to be incorrect or have an error, and then send out an alert to stop the damaged part before it goes on to the next step of manufacture or to packaging. The system may stop the piece from moving forward in one of a couple of ways. One option is to equip the system with a robotic arm. In this case, the robot can work in conjunction with the camera so that when the camera detects a problem, the arm can respond immediately to remove the problematic piece. In other cases, the camera can send out an alert that causes the piece to be redirected, or that allows an employee to manually remove the problem piece.
Because inspection is just one step in the manufacturing process, it’s very common that manufacturers will incorporate vision inspection into a larger automated system. This means that if a manufacturer has automated many steps in their process, they may add the step of inspection onto the already flowing automation process (for example, if the manufacturer is automating the production of glass jars, they may automate the process of pouring and setting the lids, the process of making the cap, the process of assembling the caps and the lids, and finally the process of inspecting the assembled lids and jars for quality and consistency).
However, in some cases it may be appropriate for a manufacturer to choose a stand-alone vision inspection system or a turnkey stand-alone system. In most cases, these are available and are financially viable for most manufacturers. A manufacturer might want a stand-alone vision inspection system if they already have components of an automated system, but would like to add in vision inspection without having to replace the whole system.
Rachel Greenberg writes for Automation GT, a manufacturer of custom automation machinery in Carlsbad, CA in the San Diego region.