Machine vision is transforming automation and productivity across industrial sectors from automotive to electronics to food processing. This comprehensive guide provides an in-depth look at what machine vision is, how it works, key benefits, leading applications, adoption drivers and top providers in 2023. I‘ll explain in plain terms everything you need to know about this important technology enabling the factories, warehouses and inspections of the future.
What is Machine Vision and How Does it Work?
Machine vision refers to giving machines the sense of sight – the ability to capture, process, analyze and understand digital images and video to extract meaningful information and make decisions.
As the key technology enabling automation to "see", machine vision replicates human vision using:
- Cameras and sensors to capture images
- Lighting techniques to optimize image quality
- Lenses, filters and optics
- Image processing hardware like GPUs
- Algorithms for tasks like pattern recognition and anomaly detection
- Deep learning models trained to interpret images and video
Integrated machine vision systems combine these elements to inspect items, guide robots, detect issues, read labels, measure parts and more.
Let‘s look at how these systems work in more detail:
The first step is acquiring high quality images through industrial cameras, sensors and lighting optimized for the application.
- Cameras: Options include monochrome, color, infrared, and high-speed cameras capturing thousands of frames per second. Multiple cameras can provide expanded coverage.
- Lighting: Proper illumination ensures images have the contrast and clarity needed for analysis. Techniques include backlighting, dome lights, collimated light etc.
- Sensors: Complementary sensors like infrared can capture non-visible data. 3D scanners provide detailed geometric data.
- Optics: Lenses, filters and polarizers help capture the desired image characteristics. Wide angle lenses provide a larger field of view.
Next, images are processed and analyzed to identify, locate, inspect or measure objects. Common techniques include:
- Pre-processing – Images are prepared by reducing noise, enhancing contrast, etc.
- Segmentation – Objects are separated from the background for analysis.
- Feature extraction – Visual attributes like shape, size, edges etc. are identified.
- Pattern recognition – Objects are classified by matching to trained models or templates.
- Measurement – Dimensions, distances and volumes are calculated from images.
- Anomaly detection – Differences from "normal" or defects are flagged.
- Optical character recognition (OCR) – Text and codes like barcodes are read.
GPUs and vision processing hardware provide the computational power for fast image analysis. Deep learning algorithms can be trained on sample images to build classification and detection models.
Communication and Response
Finally, the image insights are communicated to initiate an appropriate response:
- Defective products are rejected from production lines
- Robots are guided to precise locations to pick and place parts
- Measurements are checked against item specifications
- Inventory levels are updated based on items identified
- Automated alerts are triggered for potential equipment failures or deviations
Advanced integration and communication protocols allow seamless connections with factory equipment and systems.
In summary, machine vision combines sensing, processing and decision-making to provide industrial machines with automated sight comparable to human vision. Next let‘s look at the key differences between machine vision and computer vision.
Machine Vision vs Computer Vision
Machine vision and computer vision are closely related technologies but with some key differences:
- Machine vision focuses on practical industrial applications like automated inspection, guidance, and process control. It prioritizes attributes like speed, precision, reliability and mechanical integration.
- Computer vision is a broader academic field focused on enabling computers to extract meaning and inferences from visual inputs. It includes research into algorithms, methods and techniques for automated understanding of images and videos.
However, advances in computer vision research enable new capabilities and applications for machine vision. For example, deep learning techniques developed in computer vision can be adapted to improve machine vision inspection accuracy.
So the fields are converging – machine vision leverages results from the theoretical study of computer vision and applies them to solve real world problems. But the end goals differ, with machine vision prioritizing performance over theoretical perfection.
The Growing Importance of Machine Vision
Several key factors are driving surging demand for machine vision:
- Industry 4.0 initiatives to increase manufacturing productivity, quality and flexibility rely on technologies like machine vision, robots, IoT and AI.
- Advances in computer vision and deep learning fuel more powerful machine vision capabilities. Image classification error rates have plummeted.
- Improved cameras and sensors provide higher resolution images faster, even in challenging conditions. 3D data capture has improved.
- Faster processing enables analysis of high resolution images and video feeds. Cloud compute provides inexpensive processing power.
According to McKinsey, visual inspection could see up to 60% automation using machine vision, up from less than 25% today. Their research suggests machine vision adoption could nearly double revenues for manufacturers by reducing costs through automated quality inspection.
As a result, machine vision is seeing massive growth. The total market value is forecast to grow from $14 billion in 2021 to over $18 billion by 2025 according to MarketsandMarkets. Vendors are reporting surging demand as manufacturers pursue automation and digitization.
The Many Applications of Machine Vision
Machine vision is being applied across manufacturing, logistics, automotive, food processing, electronics and more. Some major applications include:
- Automated visual inspection for quality control
- Robotic guidance for precision assembly
- Product grading and sorting
- Measurement of dimensions, spaces between components etc.
- Checking fixture positioning
Warehousing & Logistics
- Reading barcodes, package labels and license plates
- Automated parcel and baggage sorting
- Inventory management using image recognition techniques
- Inspecting vehicle bodies, interiors and components for defects
- Measurement and alignment checking during assembly
- Self-driving vehicle navigation and understanding
- Inspecting PCBs for missing or defective components
- Checking part alignments are within accepted tolerances
- Monitoring automated assembly processes
Food & Beverage
- Inspecting for product defects or contamination
- Monitoring fill levels, portions, volumes
- Tracking batch codes and expiry dates
- Medical image analysis to detect abnormalities
- Surgical augmentation to guide procedures
- Automated lab testing and sample handling
The wide scope of applications speaks to the versatility of machine vision technology. Next let‘s look at the tangible benefits it delivers for these industrial use cases.
The Benefits of Machine Vision Systems
Adopting machine vision delivers significant advantages over manual visual inspection:
- Speed and throughput – Machines can process images far faster than humans while operating 24/7. Production rates increase.
- Reliability and repeatability – Results are consistent with no lapses in judgement or focus. Defects are identified reliably.
- Accuracy and precision – Small inconsistencies easily missed by humans are detected. Measurements are extremely precise.
- Multiple metrics – Systems process more visual data points simultaneously than possible manually. Better decisions result.
- Working conditions – Operators no longer endure repetitive inspection work. Safety and ergonomics improve.
- Scalability – Inspection volumes can scale seamlessly with production. Additional cameras can be added.
- Objectivity – Decisions are unbiased, using consistent rules. There is no human subjectivity or variability between inspectors.
These benefits translate into reduced manufacturing costs through automated quality control, increased output by boosting production speeds, lower customer returns from shipping defect-free products, and improved working conditions.
For example, according to Cognex, one manufacturer found machine vision inspection reduced escape rates by 76% compared to human inspectors. This cut rework costs significantly.
Key Considerations for Choosing a Machine Vision System
With the wide variety of machine vision applications, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Here are some important factors to consider when selecting a system:
- Image quality needed – Will high resolution images or specialty sensors be required?
- Speed and throughput – Is a high-speed, real-time system needed to keep up with production?
- Field of view – Will multiple cameras or specialty lenses be required?
- Lighting – What illumination design will optimize images?
- Ability to handle variability – Will the system accommodate minor variations in product appearance?
- Integration requirements – How will the system connect with existing factory hardware and data?
- Scalability – How easily can the system be expanded to additional lines or processes?
Leading machine vision providers like Cognex, Keyence and Omron work closely with clients to understand requirements and match the right hardware, software and peripherals to their needs.
They offer user-friendly solutions that simplify set up and changeovers for different products. Some advantages of working with established vendors include:
- Experienced application engineers to advise on system design and integration
- Modular hardware that scales with needs
- Comprehensive software with ready-to-use tools
- Intuitive interfaces to ease use by factory personnel
- Training and ongoing support services
- Solutions compliant with industry standards for connectivity
Major Providers of Machine Vision Technology
The machine vision sector includes camera, lighting, optics, sensor and hardware providers as well as software-focused players. However, manufacturers typically prefer turnkey solutions from vendors who offer integrated hardware and software tailored to their specific use case.
Some of the top machine vision technology companies include:
- Cognex – The clear market leader with over 3 million systems installed. Offers a wide range of products for industrial machine vision.
- Keyence – A major player with innovative software and hardware offerings. Known for ease of use.
- Basler – Leading provider of quality image acquisition and camera solutions.
- Omron – Known for advanced sensing technology. Experienced in factory automation integration.
- Teledyne DALSA – Specializes in high-performance image capture boards and software.
- Sick – Major sensor and automation company expanding into machine vision.
- ISRA Vision – Experienced in surface inspection, robotic guidance, barcode reading etc.
- Baumer – Provider of cameras, lenses, instruments and integrated systems.
Adoption of machine vision continues to accelerate across industrial sectors as the technology becomes more capable and affordable. With machines empowered with vision, manufacturers are achieving new levels of automation, productivity, quality and flexibility. This guide provided a comprehensive overview of the state of machine vision in 2023 – where the technology is at and where it‘s headed.