Vision framework saves time in the Grundfos manufacturing process
The air vibrates with the monotonous hum of moving conveyor belts in the Grundfos manufacturing plant. Pump houses, ceramic bearings, stator elements and a host of other component parts wizz along the lines every day for assembly into the company's core products – pumps which end up anywhere from private homes to manufacturing companies and the water supply sector.
Jan Bigum stands at one of the lines and looks at a terminal which shows the result of a vision inspection of a stator element. He is the lead engineer of the Grundfos Production IT Department and has led the collaboration with CIM.AS on the development of a new vision platform which significantly reduces the time consumption of installing new vision solutions somewhere in manufacturing process.
And they often are, because at Grundfos, there is no way around vision when the pumps are inspected:
"Vision plays a part when there is doubt about whether our process equipment is stable enough to handle the task. Are there dents in a pump chamber or cracks in a ceramic bearing, for example? Another important element is the manual part where we also use vision to check that our people have properly assembled the pumps. And then we use vision with robots to automate the handling of items in manufacturing" explains Jan Bigum.
Initially expensive and time-consuming
Vision systems started finding their way into Grundfos manufacturing in 2003; however, during the subsequent decade, Jan Bigum and his colleagues had no solid vision platform to rely on when manufacturing staff called and asked for the development and installation of a new vision solution.
"The first vision solutions ended up being very time-consuming and expensive projects. Every time, we had to develop approximately 50 percent of the solution from scratch because it was difficult for us to reuse the code from previous projects. We reached the conclusion that the development of a standardised vision platform was required" says Jan Bigum.
Below the terminal in front of us, the conveyor belt continuously carries new stator elements past the critical eye of the vision system. The vision platform which CIM.AS has helped Grundfos put together in recent years means that a few clicks of the mouse configures the vision system to communicate with many different types of hardware, such as PLCs, barcode readers and camera modules. It is easily moved from a line to a robot when the need arises.
It is no longer necessary to master programming in the National Instruments software LabVIEW to get a new vision solution going somewhere in the manufacturing process. Now, the individual steps in the inspection of the component part of a pump may be selected from a list in the user interface on the screen.
"Earlier, we had to code in LabVIEW to implement a new vision solution. Now, you are able to be a vision systems specialist without having any knowledge of LabVIEW because the new platform is more like an enterprise software that is easily configured. This means that a much wider range of people are able to implement a new vision solution in the manufacturing process, and the installation time has been significantly reduced" says Jan Bigum.
Simulation keeps the line moving
However, the vision platform is still a framework, and it provides Jan Bigum and his colleagues in the vision department with a freedom which they cannot achieve with an off-the-shelf product:
"We often receive requests for the implementation of new functions and, if it is a very particular vision application, we are able to develop it ourselves and patch it into the existing framework. This lends us a very high degree of flexibility, which we do not have with a piece of finished software" says the vision boss.
When changes are to be made to a vision solution, the new function must be thoroughly tested before it is released in the lines. However, it is also important to Grundfos to keep the lines running with as little disturbance as possible and, therefore, a "playpen" for the testing of new functions has been built into the vision platform:
"The built-in simulation tool allows us to simulate new functions offline with image material from the line, which has been stored. This means that we only have to stop the manufacturing line for a few minutes to introduce new functions. It is a powerful tool which we use very much" says Jan Bigum.
On the screen, numeric values and symbols reveal whether wires are correctly connected on the stator element and whether tolerances are met. The user interface contains only that which is absolutely necessary and, where possible, written messages are replaced with symbols. Status bars, green check marks and red stop signs tell the user that 10,776 items have now been approved, while 71 did not pass the inspection - a 0.7% error rate.
It is an entirely conscious choice which, along with the simple configuration, makes it easier to roll out the vision platform in others of the 56 countries, in which Grundfos is represented worldwide. Here, a few appointed "super users" are able to complete the task without new specialists having to be hired by the Grundfos vision department.
"We have more than 150 vision solutions globally, and this means that, in the vision department, we must be spot-on in what we do. Now, we have a thoroughly tested vision platform which just needs configuring and that means that our colleagues are able to focus on technical vision issues, whether the solution is to be implemented in France or in Serbia. Manufacturing staff becomes self-supporting to a high degree and, then, things just run more smoothly" says Jan Bigum.
CIM.AS has reached the same conclusion and is now ready to roll out the vision platform with other companies.
"The vision platform is now adequately mature to allow us to quickly implement similar solutions elsewhere in Danish industry. This means that we will be able to solve classic machine vision tasks at a competitive price and at low risk" says Anders Meister, Sales Director at CIM.AS.