<b>As the machine vision market reaches maturity, more companies are trying to integrate vision into their industrial processes.</b> Each year the acceptance of machine vision grows and more manufacturers are looking for machine visionbased solutions to their manufacturing problems. As more potential customers are available, more machine vision systems integrators are becoming available to attempt to satisfy the demand. The challenge for prospective customers is finding a machine vision systems integrator that can help them integrate machine vision into their manufacturing process. Get a better perspective on what machine vision customers should be looking for when attempting to find a world-class machine vision integrator. <b>BASICS</b> Machine vision systems integrators specialize in the application engineering, installation and service of machine vision technologies. Typically machine visions systems integrators buy technologies from machine vision equipment suppliers and then resell the equipment to the end customer as part of an installed system. Often, a machine vision systems integrator is comprised of a group of people that are expert in a single machine vision supplier’s platform. In many cases, the machine vision systems integrator is exclusive to the vision component supplier and will only use the supplier’s products to solve vision problems. These integrators are usually very good with certain applications and certain technologies. Here are a few tips that can help a potential customer do a better job selecting a machine vision integrator: • <b>Platform independence.</b> A typical machine vision system includes methods of sensing, available measurement algorithms, built-in programming (teaching) and reporting tools that are purchased in a machine vision system package. Most machine vision technologies are very powerful at solving certain applications but may not be the best technology for solving other problems. A world-class vision systems integrator should be able to work back from the potential customer’s problem without being bound by a single machine vision supplier’s technology. For example, a machine Vision systems integrator may need to use laser triangulation sensors on one application and a color line scan camera on the next application. If the integrator is exclusive to one vision technology supplier, the integrator may be more apt to engineer the proposed solution to fit the available technology from their exclusive or preferred machine vision source. In this case, the end customer may not be getting the best technology to solve the application. Exclusivity or even strong preference often can limit the tools an integrator can use to apply to the problem. • <b>Active install base.</b> A truly independent machine vision systems integrator should be able to show installed systems from three or more different machine vision suppliers. Get an active install list from the machine vision integrator and call up or visit some of their customers. A company that has a working machine vision system should be happy to share success stories, and an unhappy customer will probably be willing to share information about the failure. Talk to customers that not only have systems being considered, but also applications that differ from the one at hand to make sure the integrator can handle a wide variety of applications. There really is no substitute for doing the legwork required in this step. After all, picking a company to become a partner in improving manufacturing processes should be worth the due diligence. • <b>Robot and programmable controller (PLC).</b> The general rule of thumb in the machine vision industry is that when there is a conflict between the machine vision system and a robot or PLC, machine vision is guilty until proven innocent. A competent integrator should, at a minimum, be able to debug robot and PLC communications. However, one should be paying for more than competence, and should expect expertise. A world-class machine vision system integrator should have the inhouse capability to program robots, debug communications and write PLC logic for vision applications. This in-house capability will make the installation much more efficient and will save many headaches and cost overruns on the overall project. • <b>Metrology.</b> A company that has a firm understanding and background in metrology will approach vision problems with a focus on measurement. A thorough understanding of metrology allows for practical application of concepts such as coordinate frames, part and process fixtures, repeatability and accuracy, and baseline knowledge of statistical process control (SPC). Simply understanding the proper way to light a part is only part of the battle when setting up a vision system. • <b>Software development.</b> An exceptional integrator needs to have some capability to write his own software and Interfaces to other equipment. This capability should go beyond being able to teach measurement and should extend to true development environments. • <b>Audit tools.</b> Customers should expect to be given an independent audit of the vision system’s capability using an external audit tool such as a laser tracker. This is particularly important if the system the customer is purchasing has a metrology component to it. For example, if physical tooling is required to fixture a part, the integrator with laser tracker capability could provide tooling certification prior to the installation of the machine vision equipment. Having a variety of third-party audit tools on hand is particularly helpful when trying to debug problems quickly in the field. • <b>Service.</b> Finally, the best integrators are focused on supporting their installed base. Make sure that the integrator selected has a service line and the capability to support all of the technologies that they have installed. The best way to determine the capability and willingness of an integrator to provide service is to talk to its existing customers. World-class machine vision systems integrators are service companies at heart as they typically do not manufacture their own products. Being a service company means that the integrator looks at service as its lifeblood and its reason for existing, not as a necessary evil. When the proper machine vision technology is integrated and supported correctly, machine vision can be a phenomenal tool for a customer that is looking to create more efficient and cost-effective processes. The key to a successful machine vision project is selecting a worldclass integrator to install the system. Integrators that work back from the customer’s problem and exhibit the skills and attitudes described here will be a much stronger resource to a customer that is looking to increase their manufacturing efficiency through machine vision.
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