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6 Factors to Consider Before

Moving to Automated Inspection

If you’re producing small precision components, quality drives the entire
manufacturing process. One of the ways to help ensure the quality of such products is
through the use of automated inspection systems known as automatic visual-control
systems (AVCs).

These systems use computer visual technology to automatically check parts for many
different defects (e.g., contamination, scratches, dents, or deformations caused by
faults in production) and specifications (mainly dimensional abnormalities). They
also gather data that helps improve manufacturing efficiency, geometric
dimensioning, and tolerancing. Most importantly, considering that labor costs vary
regionally, automated inspection costs less than manual inspection and the payback
is generally two years or less.

Before migrating to automated inspection, though, a company should pay attention

to the following six key factors.

1. Each part gets its own solution.

Designing an AVC to test different part types has proven to be a difficult task, as part
geometry can become occluded or shadows can hide relevant areas. These limitations
are typically the result of the product’s design, since automatic inspection is not part
of the product design process. The defect specification, lighting, resolution, and/or
camera speed—defined by lighting and process cycle time—can help get an accurate

Whereas a human operator has a chance to get a second look at a part if something is
suspicious, a machine cannot. Every eventual defect condition has to be considered
during the AVC design process. Even similar parts have their own challenges related
to a specific material or product design, so finding customized approaches are

AVCs are complex combinations of cameras, illumination, and handling systems,

and include some sophisticated image processing.

If a company is looking into AVCs for quality inspection, it makes the most business
sense to start with the company’s highest volume parts or parts that are very similar,
such as O-rings. An O-ring inspection system can inspect a variety of different parts.
Configuring a system to test different types of O-rings is less challenging because O-
rings are very similar to one another and have simple geometries; thus, inspecting
different part types is possible with a single system.

2. Dimensional measurement and surface inspection.

Two different types of AVCs can be found on the factory floor. The first type is mostly
for dimensional measurement, while the second is for surface inspection. Of the two,
dimensional-measurement systems are the easiest to develop. Also, statistical
methods (e.g. measurement system analysis) that compute the capability of a
solution are easy to design for a machine, since everything around the AVC can be
estimated in advance. By clearly defining part specifications, a system can identify
critical parameters, those dimensions with the tightest tolerances. Once these critical
parameters are found, the capability of a system are able to rogrammed properly, l
methods., the capability of a syustem wn lighting, higher speed or resoluution
daking the arecan be validated with statistical methods.

Surface inspection, on the other hand, can be very challenging. Having documented
instructions tell human quality inspectors what to look for when manually inspecting
a part will aid AVC development. However, these instructions do not provide enough
guidance to software engineers developing the program for an AVC. While the
instruction might be perfectly understandable to a human inspector, software
developers need to be given more guidance.

For example, a quality instruction might state that a particular type of defect is “not
allowed.” Interpreted literally, this would require the inspection system to have
infinite resolution. Instead of simply saying “not allowed,” developers must be
provided with quantifiable defects so that they can appropriately design the system.
If very small defects are not allowable, the system needs to be able to “see” them and,
therefore, requires higher resolution.

Companies often face two challenges: A defect needs to occur and have been noted
before it can be corrected; and communicating defect-specific characteristics with a
computer can be difficult. As a result, companies typically implement a “base”
inspection for all areas to at least have the chance to find unknown defects. Machines
are traditionally built on the basis of those defects, since they are already available.
Some defect prediction may be feasible, but bears the risk for increased “pseudo”
Coming to a consensus on the size of defects can be difficult, because a number of
factors must be taken into account. Quality engineers have to work with the design
engineers, and even machine suppliers, to come up with the appropriate numbers.

3. Cataloging defects.

Because defining and categorizing defects is such a critical part of the development
process, quality engineers should produce a defect catalog before beginning AVC
development. The defect catalog is not only a list of all defects that the system must
be able to detect, but also a collection of parts that have defects at or near the
borderline of acceptability. The reason these parts are so important is that the system
will be validated exclusively by inspecting them.

As shown in the spreadsheet, the defect catalog includes the type of defect, where
that defect is to be found, defect severity, probability, and the critical size of the
defects, if relevant. All of this information helps the software developer prioritize the
detection of common defects.

The defect catalog is the most critical prerequisite for a successful project.
For each defect, it is desirable to have at least two samples, with one being a
borderline defect. Depending on the complexity of the part, defect catalogs will
typically have 60 to 100 parts. It’s usually preferable to have “more than enough”
parts, as it is easier to identify parts that do not add knowledge to the catalog, rather
than discover that important information is missing.

The biggest challenge in developing the defect catalog concerns communication

between the quality department and the AVC developer. The AVC developer needs to
have an understanding of the production process, and the quality department must
understand the limitations of the inspection system.

Quality engineers, for example, understand the term “flash” (which is produced by
rubber being pressed into the tool separation line). However, the specific
characteristics, such as shape, softness, and thickness, must be described in some
detail to the AVC developer to ensure that the system will find defective parts and not
reject good ones. Depending on the cause, the defect may be a wide thin area
(meaning the compression was too high) or a small thin fiber (meaning the tool had a
scratch). Detecting these may require different approaches.
4. Program for finding defects.

To reliably find a particular defect, the program must perform five steps:

1. Part localization: The program must locate the part in the image, compensating
for slight variations of the handling system.

2. Image segmentation: The program splits the image into functional areas of
interest. Each area is defined by a limited set of defects and as a single function in
relation to the part, such as seal lip, outside diameter, top face, and so on.

3. Image normalization: Remove everything from the image that it would normally
find in a good part. This includes design/feature lines and common product
variations. This is a core function, as it compares each new image with the history of
good parts and highlights deviations from this history.

4. Signal/noise optimization: At this point, the program filters the image to extract
possible defects from known noise. This step takes specific defect features, such as
dark contamination, bright marks, and vertical flow lines into account.

5. Defect detection and classification: Finally, the program identifies suspicious

regions and assigns a classification value, which is used to a make a pass or reject
decision. In addition, the program notes whether or not the part has any acceptable
defects. This data can be used to head off production problems before they occur.

5. Ensure a good image.

A good inspection relies on a quality image. Here, companies can do several things to
ensure that the AVCs produce the best possible image. Image quality typically
depends on the illumination and camera setup, but one also has to consider the type
of defect. Other factors include minimizing the number of false rejects; staying
within the required cycle time; and making the best use of available machine space.
The best setup is typically through experimentation. In addition to analyzing
different images from defective parts in the defect catalog, companies should also
experiment with images of production parts to represent process variation. Based on
these findings, a preliminary investigation from the AVC expert is done, which
typically reveals the required setup.

The optimal setup allows for the inspection of the smallest relevant defects.

As an example, a company can take images of its parts made before and after tool
cleaning, or made with different tool sets, to give it an idea of how process variations
will affect image quality. By analyzing the images and applying its knowledge of the
image-processing software’s limitations, the company would be able to come up with
a workable solution. Software limitations sometimes mean that the company has to
develop a more complex lighting and camera setup. At other times, hardware
limitations increase program complexity or development times, or in some cases,
means that you have to live with more false rejects than you’d like.

6. Big investment = big payoff.

For any company, developing and installing AVCs has been a big investment, but it's
an investment that generally pays off. The biggest benefit is reduced cost, since
automated inspection costs less than manual inspection. Another benefit is AVC, if
programmed correctly, greatly reduces the risk of performing a bad inspection and
delivering defective parts. It can also detect anomalies that are not quite yet defects.
The data can alert engineers to problems, so they are able to make corrections before
defective parts are produced.

AVC systems have reduced the number of customer complaints, and for some part
types, the complaint rate has dropped to zero. This trend may continue to grow, as
“smart systems” that train themselves how to find parts that differ from the typical
products are already being developed. Smart systems may allow AVCs to gain even
more traction, as they have the ability to reduce the risk of programming errors, as
well as the time and cost to implement a new solution.

Dr. Helmut Hamfeld studied computer science at the University of Kaiserslautern

and earned his PhD in 3D-scanning technologies. After working on 3D human-body
visual scanning, automated car-body inspection, and general image processing at
different German companies, he became responsible for automated visual-control
systems for Freudenberg Sealing Technologies GmbH & Co. KG.

9 Types of Automation
posted by John Spacey, January 09, 2016
Information technology comes in two major flavors: automation
and user interfaces. Technologies such as information visualization,
communication tools and digital media are examples of user
interfaces. Automation tools generally fall into one of the following

Process Orchestration

The automation of business processes by a central controller that

invokes process steps in response to events and data.

A process automation technique in which processes react

independently to events like dancers reacting to cues from
music.Choreography often uses a publish/subscribe model for
events whereby an event is published once and all subscribing
processes are notified.


Workflow is a common term for the semi-automation of processes

that include both human and automated steps. In practice, most
business processes involve human tasks and aren't full automated.
Workflow engines may use process orchestration, choreography or
both. Humans typically interact with the workflow using interfaces
that visualize a task with relevant information.

Business Rules

Rules of automation that are used to direct the flow of processes,

validate information or make decisions. Tools such as a business
rule management platform may allow business users to configure
rules directly. This allows changes to be made on the fly without
the need for heavyweight development and change management
Event Processing

Technologies that examine streams of data for actionable events.

Such events can be used to trigger processes or notifications.

Machine Automation

Automation that performs physical work such as manufacturing a



An type of machine automation that has advanced features such as

sensory perception. The term robotics also implies machines that
are adaptable and flexible enough to handle a range of tasks.

Decision Algorithms

Code that makes business relevant decisions such as the decision to

execute a financial transaction. The term algorithm implies a level
of sophistication that results from a rigorous design process.
However, the term is also commonly used as a buzzword in ways
that lack concrete meaning.

Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence is a class of software that learns. It is widely
used for decision automation and robotics.