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9 September 2022

THE FOUR MAIN FUNCTIONS OF MACHINE VISION SYSTEMS

By Machine Vision we mean technology that simulates the behaviour of a human operator, in the functions of vision and scene interpretation, in order to automatically perform control or industrial automation tasks.

Machine Vision is achieved by appropriately using a series of electro-optical and mechanical devices to generally perform the following steps:

  • Information generation, which consists of physically characterising in a visual manner what is of interest to the control in question
  • Image acquisition, i.e. transferring graphic information into a series of digitised points on the computer
  • Image processing, which is the stage of extracting features of interest to the control and their quantitative evaluation
  • Automatic interpretation of results, which, through a series of selection and control criteria, must arrive at an unambiguous and automatic result

Resulting action, such as rejecting or declassifying parts found to be defective, driving a robot, choosing different production operations, stopping the machine or production line.

Machine Vision, to be considered as such, must lead autonomously to perform an automatic operation.

Depending on the results extracted, and possibly subjected to judgement or classification, the vision system must perform autonomously, i.e. not directly assisted by human personnel, variable operations depending on the result, such as rejecting or declassifying the examined part, or guiding a robot connected to the vision system.

At this point, we can more easily define the four most important functions that Machine Vision systems can perform in any production plant. 

1) Production set-up

Vision systems are powerful diagnostic tools, always in line with production and always working, allowing objective measurement of product characteristics and production line performance.

It is precisely this set of information that allows us to understand the functionality of the production line, but above all, it allows us to immediately inspect, in real time, the result of variations to the production process, making it possible to assess the effectiveness of the variation, to evaluate the best of several solutions and thus to quickly obtain information on the best way forward.

It is also possible to quickly assess the effect that other external variations (e.g. an increase in line speed, or a change of raw material supplier) have on product characteristics.

This leads effectively and efficiently to the improvement of production, and thus to the optimal fine-tuning of the plant.

Funzioni principali di un impianto di visione artificiale

2) 100% product inspection during normal production

During the normal operation of production plants, the vision system is an effective and tireless inspector, inspecting all parts or all continuous production, and ensuring that no part of this production does not conform to the pre-established specifications (and verified during the fine-tuning phase of the inspection system), within much lower error limits than a product inspection organisation carried out by human operators.

It is now widely verified that, while the inspection capabilities of trained human operators are generally higher than those of an automated system, this is only valid as peak performance, while nothing is guaranteed with respect to minimum performance; in fact, the human operator can have natural lapses of attention that can cause sometimes incomprehensible oversights. An automatic system, on the other hand, once set up and inspected, guarantees this minimum performance and has no lapses in attention.

3) Complete documentation of results and operation

Automated systems, especially when operated by actual computers, make it possible to keep track of control results, sometimes down to the image of each individual product, for complete traceability and documentability of the quality produced on each individual part, the completeness of an assembly or multi-package, etc.

Automated systems also make it possible to link the checks carried out to the control conditions and rules used, e.g. to the file of parameters and acceptance criteria, as well as to the operators that have intervened on the system and to all the events that have occurred on the system, by means of a veritable logbook that records all these events.

The level of detail of the documentation and the rules of access to the system and documentation enable systems to comply with the strict international standards imposed for many productions, such as in the pharmaceutical sector.

Le funzioni principali di un sistema di visione artificiale automatico
Automatic Machine Vision System

4) Optimal plant management

Automated systems monitor production directly on the lines immediately after production itself, in the event of production problems (a misalignment, a tool breakage, abnormal thermal conditions, etc.) the problem is immediately detected and, if repetitive (within set parameters) an early warning can be given, production managers alerted or the line stopped immediately, avoiding the need to continue producing scrap parts.

In traditional manufacturing organisations, where manual testing is often done in special departments at later times (sometimes the next day, for example), by the time the problem is inspected, a very large number of parts or production may have been produced, resulting in huge economic damage.

Immediate intervention is therefore essential to reduce waste parts and limit downtime.

Automated systems also allow statistical information on production trends to be kept online at all times, both in terms of quantity and quality, so that the plant manager always has effective statistical data on which to base his decisions. This data can be easily made available to remote stations, either computers or mobile devices, so that the manager or higher level manager can keep an eye on production data remotely, even aggregated over several machines or production lines.

Interfaccia sistema di visione artificiale

Ultimately, the use of vision systems always has considerable advantages, especially when high inspection rates are required (sometimes even dozens of parts every second!!), when many characteristics have to be checked, when the product has to be inspected in dangerous or health-damaging environments.

Machine Vision systems by their very nature allow for a high degree of control flexibility, definition of the number, type and characteristics of the checks to be performed, definition of working tolerances and consequent actions, in order to respond not only to current quality control needs, but also to future needs arising from the introduction of new products or processes, as well as changing customer quality requirements.

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