How Machine Vision Helps Manufacturers Thrive in Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0
From food to lumber, Machine Vision revolutionizes industry automation.

What is Industry 4.0?

Throughout human history, industrial revolutions have changed the world we live in and the way we manufacture goods. The first industrial revolution introduced water and steam-powered machines which enabled the mass production of goods. The use of electricity defined the second revolution by powering production lines and extending operating hours. The development of electronics, computers and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) in the third industrial revolution gave rise to the automation of production lines and processes. In the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0, cyber-physical systems are optimizing manufacturing automation with enhanced data and machine learning.

Industrial revolutions have come a long way since 1784. As businesses strive to achieve higher productivity with better quality control, more companies are also looking for ways to slash down unscheduled downtime. Experienced System Integrators and Machine Builders know that piecemeal technological investments will no longer be sufficient for manufacturers to thrive in the age of Industry 4.0. A network of connected machines with real-time monitoring is the key to achieving sustainable success.

3D Machine Vision Paves the Way

With Industry 4.0 foreseeing a greater reliance on machine learning, machine vision technology plays an integral role in capturing the physical world and transforming it into networked, digital data. This data can be analyzed and processed in real-time to improve productivity, maintain quality standards and reduce waste, allowing businesses to boost operational efficiency in a cycle of continuous improvement. In fact, companies report as much as 10–12 percent gains in areas like manufacturing output, factory utilization, and labour productivity after they invested in smart factory initiatives. Industries that are already utilizing 3D machine vision are unlocking opportunities to a better profit margin while their non-adoptee competitors are falling behind.

A 3D machine vision scanner uses lasers to map the surface of an object and digitize it into a point cloud to represent the 3D copy of the object. This data stream is continually transmitted downstream for processing by a computer or a PAC/PLC. The output from such a device further determines the actions taken next in the automation process. Businesses who adopt machine vision in robotic guidance will see an exponential increase in its productivity, efficiency and quality. Undoubtedly, facilitating them to create values for their clients and generating new revenue streams for themselves.

Benefits and Applications of 3D Machine Vision

Robotic arm guided by machine vision technology
Machine Vision-guided robotics will help firms advance ahead of their competition.

In Industry 4.0, machines are connected to form an ecosystem known as IoT (Internet of Things). The integration of 3D machine vision with automation systems improves the quality and quantity of data capture, making the smart factory a reality. This additional data is used in applications to ensure quality, minimize waste and increase safety; all at a greater production speed.

Automate Quality Control

In manufacturing, delivering a consistently flawless product that meets clients’ requirements is crucial for the reputation and financial success of the business. In the age of Industry 4.0, quality control is enhanced by the integration of machine vision to identify discrepancies in the products in real-time. Instead of waiting to manually test or examine batches of products after completion, the 3D scanner continuously monitors the products during production and prevents entire batches from being wasted as substandard.

Many industries are now incorporating 3D machine vision for quality assurance roles. For instance, in plants that manufacture goods with specific dimensions such as paver blocks, lumber or tubing and piping, 3D scanners can generate accurate real-time measurements of the product dimensions during each stage. Unacceptable variations in the product dimensions can trigger an immediate warning to the operator and shut down of the production line. Machine vision-aided quality assurance guarantees product accuracy and quality consistency are met every time, decreasing operational losses from wasted products.

Increase Safety and Throughput

Traditionally a production line has required human participation and judgement at critical steps. Not only does this mean consistent output and quality is difficult to achieve, throughput cannot be improved without sacrificing workplace safety. The onset of Industry 4.0 offers an automated solution where, with the aid of machine vision, machines can now make decisions based on the data captured by the 3D scanner. The result is a smart and safer plant that minimizes the use of labour while increasing the throughput.

The food industry can benefit immensely from the use of machine vision. For example, a meat processing facility equipped with a 3D scanner can identify the precise cut to be made by the band saw to the spinal channel. The automated process increases the throughput as the cut can be done faster, more accurately and the risk of human fatigue is removed. Most importantly, it eliminates any manual work done near the saws, reducing the risks of workplace injuries.

Optimize Resources

As businesses become increasingly competitive, resource management is more closely intertwined with a company’s profitability. In many industries, the use of machine vision allows for more precise processing which reduces waste and therefore also reduces demand on the planet’s resources. An automated system uses the digital copy created by the smart scanner to run through simulations that determine the maximal usage of the material. Over time, the accumulated data can be analyzed about the process control to further optimize the performance of the production lines.

Readily applicable for the sawmill industry, 3D machine vision has made the automation of the log rotation process possible. The scanned data is processed to optimize the plank yield from a log, a process that traditionally relied solely on human judgement. The use of high-speed machine vision technology identifies off-sized boards immediately, ensuring consistency in the manufacturing process while minimizing further material waste. Machine vision enables a business to achieve the long-lasting benefits of improved production accuracy and precision. This means that a sawmill can confidently implement process upgrades such as reducing target size or using thinner saw blades. Both enhancements will see a significant upturn in waste reduction, and most importantly, profit. For example, a typical sawmill can add up to $200,000 to the bottom line by reducing the target sizes by 0.01 inch.

How Should Businesses Move Forward?

With all the benefits realized by adopting machine vision and Industry 4.0, companies that are making automation a priority will gain a competitive edge over their counterparts. This will help to ensure future growth and financial stability in the coming years. If you have questions about how to integrate 3D machine vision in your project or to determine if it is applicable to your application, contact us. We have experience with a wide range of industries and can help you determine the best course.

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