How Machine Vision Systems Can Improve Product Quality and Reduce Costs

In manufacturing, microscopic particulates—often as small as 1/100th of an inch—can contaminate products during the manufacturing process. If left undetected, the manufacturer runs the risk of allowing low-quality products to end up in the hands of their customers. In these circumstances, it is wise for manufacturers to rely on machine vision inspection solutions, such as particle vision systems, to ensure high-quality, contaminant-free products are leaving their facilities.

A particle vision system (PVS) measures and inspects each part as it is in motion during the manufacturing process. These sophisticated systems include a very powerful industrial camera and lighting setup as well as software capable of analyzing specific characteristics in a product (e.g. number of particles, types of edges, or the distance between edges). A manufacturer can set a particular threshold for these characteristics, and the PVS will trigger a signal if the threshold is exceeded. These systems are highly adaptable, making them perfectly able to keep up with changing technology and be uniquely applied to each situation.

The Challenge: Product Contamination in a Small Space

One example of our Matrix engineers creating a unique application of this product was our recent work with a medical device manufacturer facing problems while producing a device to conduct a hemoglobin test. The manufacturer found that an unacceptable number of microscopic particulates were collecting on a particularly sensitive piece of the product used to test a small blood draw (see image below). If the number of particulates on the part (called a “reagent plateau”) exceeded their established threshold, the reagent used to test the blood would not react correctly, resulting in incorrect readings.

Machine Vision Inspection
Particulates gathered in the reagent plateau on a test kit cartridge

To attempt to locate and remove products with an unacceptable level of particulates, the manufacturer was using a microscope and the human eye—a process that was time-consuming and had great potential for error. In addition, while their team had some theories on where the particulates were coming from, they weren’t yet able to confidently track down the source.

The Solution: An Inspection System that Reduces Waste and Improves Quality

To solve this problem, Matrix developed an inline particulate inspection system that detects and counts particles visible only under a microscope at 50X magnification. The system (pictured below) uses a Cognex 5-megapixel high-resolution camera, 55-millimeter telocentric lens, and two dark field lights with an intensity of 67,000 Lumens each—the equivalent of 50 100-watt lightbulbs. This intense lighting arrangement provides the necessary amount of light to allow the high-speed camera to capture images within a 2-millimeter target area moving at line speeds of 450 milliseconds per part. After the images are captured, the system software  counts the number of particles and flags contaminated products—a much faster and more accurate process than human-led interventions.

Microscopic Inspection
Shrouded Particulate Inspection System
Inspection Process
Inline Particulate Inspection System

By introducing this sophisticated system, Matrix was able to automate the process and increase the accuracy of the measurements. The system thresholds are adjustable, allowing the manufacturing team the ability to test how many times the system flags products at different levels. In addition, this system provided better tools for the team to investigate the source of these errant particles. Altogether, the system has given this team better control over the quality of the product and the ability to track down the root cause of contamination, resulting in higher-quality products that are safe and more cost-effective.

The Value of Machine Vision Systems

Machine vision systems help manufacturers find contaminants and other potential problems that are impossible to see with the naked eye. Though this case examines how a particle vision system analyzed and improved a piece of medical equipment, this type of system has many applications in any situation where a manufacturer is looking for microscopic defects in a continuous stream of product. By identifying the contaminants more accurately and providing a way to track down the source, these systems provide a cost-effective method of improving the safety and quality of products.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our inspection and verification capabilities and machine vision solutions, contact Les Haman, Senior Consultant, Inspection and Verification.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.

Tags: / Inspection Process  / Microscopic Inspection  / Wonderware System Integrator  / Quality  / Safety  / Allen Bradley  / Wonderware 

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