Supply chain organisations see a new vision for next-gen vision technologies

By Laith Marmash, EMEA Product Marketing Advisor – Machine Vision/Fixed Industrial Scanning, Zebra Technologies. 

Like every other industry, manufacturing and logistics companies have faced huge change over the past year, including the urgent need to streamline processes and embrace new technologies to meet a shift in customer habits and expectations.

With ever-changing production goals and increasingly tight fulfilment times, manufacturers and supply chains need the flexibility to adapt individual workflows and entire operations quicker than ever before – and machine vision and computer vision are just two of the technologies that can help the manufacturing and logistics industry become more efficient and agile.

The difference between machine vision and computer vision

Machine vision and computer vision sound similar. To an extent, they are, with both technologies used to capture and analyse images. But they’re designed for very different purposes. To understand machine vision and computer vision technologies better, it’s easier to begin with the similarities. 

Both technologies are intelligence-based systems, used to capture, process and analyse images. In enterprise and industrial environments, machine vision and computer vision solutions are capable of catching isolated issues and patterns that humans may miss, helping to improve quality control and process control. 

This could be something as simple as picking up on discrepancies within an organisation’s operational process, using systems that can then notify key employees if there’s an anomaly, and helping them to decide the best course of action. In turn, this can help businesses avoid significant inventory, financial or customer losses. 

Yet, where machine vision and computer vision differ is in the speed and level at which intelligence is gathered, distributed and applied.

Helping manufacturing and logistics companies become more efficient

Machine vision solutions are often self-contained, providing the ability to capture images and process data on premise. This makes it the ideal technology for production lines, where manufacturers need to be able to easily and quickly pick up on visual inconsistencies when it comes to the execution of label, packaging or product design. 

Businesses can also place smart cameras transformed into fixed industrial scanners above conveyor belts in warehouses to analyse any item that passes through. This could be used to analyse barcodes, for example, with integrated sensors that can analyse data and advise operators of any anomalies in the package contents or destination, before items are sent out to customers. As a result, product lines can run more efficiently, with greater speed and less chance of errors going unnoticed. This saves money and helps warehouse managers stay focused on other areas of their operations.  

Computer vision takes a different approach, instead using advanced algorithms to carry out more comprehensive analysis. Like machine vision, it can help decision makers see what’s going on within their operations. But computer vision goes a lot further, helping key stakeholders also understand why any occurrences are happening, making it better suited for use in retail, healthcare and other such industries in conjunction with other enterprise intelligence solutions. 

With far more data to analyse, computer vision generally takes longer than machine vision to provide the information needed to make decisions, and its qualitative analysis is better suited to front-line image capture technologies, including intelligent automation solutions, bioptic scanners and mobile computers. 

Companies have used computer vision to help streamline the shopping process, for example, using cameras and computer vision to enable retailers to track the items that customers pick up. Such technology can, in turn, add any items to a virtual shopping basket and bill customers automatically once they leave the store, all without having to worry about scanning, queuing or paying for items using traditional point of sale technology.

The impact industrial automation technologies are having across the supply chain

Machine vision and fixed industrial scanners aren’t just having an impact when it comes to manufacturing; they’re making waves across the whole supply chain. Warehouse and distribution centre operators have been looking for ways to streamline the returns process for some time, and never has this been more apparent than over the past year. 

Industrial automation technology, such as Zebra’s dual-function machine vision and fixed industrial scanning solution, can take on some of the heavy lifting, helping businesses to automate the collection, analysis and application of all kinds of data in a simple way. For example, cameras can verify the quality of returned products before releasing refunds to customers and reshelving items, and barcode readers can automatically record a returned item in the inventory management system. This helps retailers more quickly turn inventory around for sale once again. 

In other words, machine and computer vision can be applied across multiple supply chain touchpoints to help the manufacturing and logistics industries respond efficiently to the ever-changing requirements of customers and ensure retailers have the quality goods they need to deliver the best customer experience possible. 

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