More Manufacturers are Seeing Machine Vision Clearly in Their Future – and So are We

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By Matt Van Bogart, Global Channel Strategy, Industrial Automation, Zebra Technologies.

There are over a dozen good reasons why fixed industrial scanners and machine vision systems should be installed in every warehouse, distribution center (DC) and factory today. Yet, there’s one main reason why they’re not: they have a reputation for being overly complicated to setup and difficult to deploy. 

Many manufacturers have tried to integrate machine vision into their operations to improve quality and yield. Yet, some manufacturers have never considered this technology a viable option because of the extensive resource commitment required to implement, onboard and manage legacy systems. The same holds true of logistics companies that have long needed a better way to track and trace picked and packaged goods moving along a conveyor belt for maximize efficiency or to manage reverse logistics of returned items for reshelving.  

Fortunately, “reputation takes a lifetime to build but only seconds to destroy.”  

New Machine Vision Systems Automate Decision Making and Expedite Actions for IT Teams, Plant Engineers, and First-Day Employees Alike

This past year, engineers at Zebra Technologies have done what no one else has yet to accomplish. They have incorporated the principles of legacy machine vision systems – everything that made this technology worth trying decades ago – into a single cohesive vision and scanning platform that is straightforward and simple to setup, operate and scale. And when I say simple, I mean extraordinarily simple. Instead of fixed industrial scanners and machine vision cameras being disparate hardware components managed by very cumbersome, archaic software via multiple user interfaces, they are now unified on a single software platform that can easily be operated by anyone. There are no special skills or prior experience required to learn, use or upgrade these scanning or machine vision technologies. They are simple to setup, monitor and deploy.

This hallmark simplicity means you can confidently assign new employees to inspection stations, knowing they’ll be able to make the right pass/fail decisions on day one. And you can reassign scanners or cameras to support new applications within your four walls with a single-day software upgrade. More importantly, it means you can prime your operations to sustain output levels in volatile periods, even if labor pools and IT budgets continue to shrink.

A single software platform can now power fixed industrial scanners for high-speed track and trace on the line and machine vision-based work-in-progress validations at quality control checkpoints. Just as notably, the unified scanning and vision system can capture defects, guide robot actions, and verify proper labeling positioning on packages and pallets for downstream tracking. That’s just the start, though.

The endless adaptability of this redesigned machine vision system is already proving valuable to manufacturers who need to improve process flows, shrink onboarding timeframes, or automate decision making to improve output capacity and reduce costly mistakes. Even warehouse operators once wary of machine vision systems’ benefits are reconsidering their value as they try to inject greater transparency into inventory movements and speed up the simplest of tasks, such as inbound and outbound item scanning by material handlers.

The Real Reason Why Zebra Sees Value in Machine Vision Right Now and You Should Too

The pandemic revealed flaws in supply chains and related processes, the data disconnect between supply chain silos, and the consequences of both. Even here at Zebra, we started to recognize gaps in traditional workflow structures and technology architectures we wouldn’t have seen without such a disruptive event. But, like you, we’ve viewed this situation as an opportunity to listen, learn and add value. Knowing how critical it is for decisions to be made in unison with upstream and downstream supply chain partners and to understand why something is happening, we looked at technology’s purpose and applicability through a different lens.

After focused research, design and testing, we have been able to adapt traditional barcode scanning and machine vision technologies to better suit today’s automation-centric workflows. For example, Zebra has been working with some warehouse operators to transition from legacy hand-scan applications to productivity-enhancing overhead scanning applications that will deliver significant efficiency improvement. We’ve also collaborated with global manufacturers on new machine vision applications that are going to solve problems far beyond standard track and trace, process control, and quality inspection challenges.

If they are meeting production quotas but still not able to get orders to customers on time, they’re going to be able to see why. They will also be able to see if robots are doing their jobs correctly and know exactly how to optimize them to increase reliability. In addition, the new smart cameras used within the dual function fixed industrial scanning and machine vision system are making it easy for manufacturers and logistics providers to make quick work of tool, job, and visual verifications.

It’s Time to See Machine Vision for What It Can Be – Not What It Once Was

From our perspective, technology innovation is about driving progress. I know many interpret that to mean that you must leave the past in the past. But I have been in the industrial imaging and machine vision market for over 20 years and seen my share of innovation. I can tell you that re-embracing machine vision right now is one of the best ways to bend to the demands of your customers and regulators without breaking your well-oiled systems or your workers’ spirits.

With global supply chain compression expected to continue for a couple years, you can’t predict what your company will be asked to do or what resources you’ll have to follow through. Every quality part product means revenue and margin. So, you must be fully prepared to shift gears, or machine vision system settings, on a whim without delay or disruption. With a highly configurable and scalable platform such as the one Zebra has developed, you will be able to better monitor, measure, and control the output and movement of goods that are most necessary to make society function.

You can learn more about the capabilities, benefits and universal simplicity of dual-mode fixed industrial scanning and machine vision platforms here.

 

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