Automated Surface Inspection

Vision Technology Frequently Asked Questions

Information about the System

1. How fast will the system run?

The system operates on a PC processing platform. This provides high processing speeds as well as system flexibility to run many of the unique features of the WebSPECTOR system. In general the speed limitation is more to do with web handling than with the limitation of the inspection system.

2. Where is the best place to site the inspection system?

There are a number of ways to consider this question. Generally the first is whether to install it onto an existing process line, or as a stand-alone purpose built batch to batch machine.

Each has benefits; online provides reduced handling and an inspected batch directly off the process (and for some processes, such as coating, the severity/length of defects can be reduced to a minimum). Whereas a purpose built high speed batch to batch machine often allows the output from more than one process line to be inspected with a single system.

However there is a wider consideration in terms of the best use of vision systems in a manufacturing process (which may not be completed on one site). This involves a broader implementation of the technology throughout the production process stages, creating significant saving by replacing high cost external waste (customer claims/reject), with lower cost, early internal intervention to remove sub-standard product. The same total volume of scrap is removed from the system in both cases, but internal control is generally much more cost effective before full value has been added and (critically) before it gets to your customer, where additional costs may be incurred and claimed, such as shipment costs, lost process time, additional added value from their process etc.

Often an increasing proportion of value is added at later stages of manufacture that involve higher process/component costs, so substantial costs can be avoided by early detection and not processing already substandard product.

3. What is the output of the system?

There are several components to the system, each acting on data output from the preceding stage.

The first is the inspection system where defects are detected; this produces an electronic map of the batch with images of all the defects and their location on the map.

There may also be an alarm output if critical defects are detected, particularly if the process can be stopped and the cause of the defect removed. The alarms may be sent visually, audibly or by electronic message direct to email, text message etc.

The system can apply labels at the selvedge in line with a defect and can also store a complete recording of the total surface of the web for validation or as a counter to unfounded customer claims (virtual roll or batch).

Generally the defect map is then reviewed for commercial acceptability and used to create an optimised cutting plan which provides the highest yield possible for a batch. This is calculated in terms of delivering the highest value to your business whilst operating within a pre-determined set of ‘rules’ or customer/product specification.

Additional outputs include further analysis of virtually any input that is recorded, for example comparing raw material suppliers, sets of process machines etc.

4. How do I know the system is operating at the correct sensitivity, ie not missing important defects that may be borderline and not reporting unimportant defects?

The system is specified from our experience and a set of typical borderline defects provided by you and evaluated by us. During commissioning our engineer will use the virtual roll recording feature (WebCORDER) to store work orders as they are trained on the system and inspected by the system. These are then used to carefully compare the inspection maps to the results of a critical manual inspection. Adjustments to the settings can be made at this stage and additional sensitivity introduced until the output of the inspection system meets the required level. The benefit of the recording feature is that this can be run as often as required to validate the results without having to physically re run the fabric.

5. How does the system deal with the thousands of styles we run?

In order to provide the optimum inspection settings for a large and ever changing range of styles/products the system has been designed to automatically train itself on each individual style/product. This means that there are no compromises in the settings and ensures that thousands of different styles can be handled at optimum performance without operator intervention when new styles are introduced.

6. How does the system know which product it is inspecting?

The inspection system can accept input product data from networked production control systems, bar code scanners and manual keyboard entry of running, or scheduled, product data. It is important to know when one product finishes and the next starts so that the settings can be automatically adjusted for each product. This may be provided from the process control system or from other sensors that detect joins, either visually or by the introduction of metal tape for example.

7. What about if we have different quality criteria levels for different products and customers/end uses?

The WebSPECTOR system allows each product and customer combination to be set up individually from the training process and adjusted as required.

8. Do I have to teach the defects to the system?

No, the system will find all ‘features’ in the product/web that are different to the normal appearance of the web surface. These features will then be analysed, classified and graded in real time within the powerful CBIGS classification engine and assigned a defect name (from a list you provide) and graded in terms of severity according to your quality standards for that product or customer.

In this way there is no limit to the number of defect types that can be handled.

9. Does the system recognise defects by type eg slub, stain, hole, etc?

Yes, the system recognises features of the defects and can accurately assign them to not only the defect type, but to pre-defined grades of each type, which then triggers the output action of the system, such as applying a label or filtering out non critical defects, or indeed stopping the line.

10. Is the system able to report defects by size, severity and other characteristics?

Yes, the CBIGS feature uses many mathematical properties of each defect to accurately determine the seriousness of a defect. These properties are used to produce accurately graded defect maps.

11. Can I edit the inspection maps after they are produced?

The maps are in electronic form so with the right access authority they are able to be edited in line with your commercial requirements.

12. Can I detect colour defects?

The standard system uses monochrome cameras which are suitable for most applications and are used for detecting shade changes. Full colour cameras are used where required.

13. I have more than one work order on an A frame, do I need to stop at the end of one work order to change the inspection settings?

No, the system will automatically switch inspection parameters in real time to those of the next product coming through. If the next product is new to the system it will begin the automatic training phase on the first section of the new product and switch to inspection mode when the training is complete – all without any operator intervention.

14.Can the system be used for any web type material?

Yes, the system is suitable for all textiles and adaptable to virtually all web type products including paper, plastic film, nonwoven, fibreglass, coating, metal, glass…

15. If I increase my process speed can I increase the system speed?

The processing platform is PC based, which means the power of the system has an inbuilt development curve in line with chip development. Therefore we have been able to remove the original PC’s from a system some years later and replace with current models that provide significant (50 to 100%) speed increases for a cost of less than 5% of the original system cost.


Making a profit from Vision Technology

16. How will I make a profit on my investment?

There are several valuable avenues of benefit that are created with our technology.  The most obvious is the potential to reduce the cost of labour associated with inspection by increasing throughput speeds, although there are others that offer far greater return, as well as projecting your level of control to your existing and potential customers.  Usually the largest of the quantifiable avenues (excluding gaining new customers) is that of optimising the sales value on goods that you produce by minimising waste and eliminating claims.

The calculation for sales value optimisation/minimising waste involves converting a proportion of ‘waste’ to first quality product and adding back the gross margin to sales. This is often achieved by the elimination of short pieces (as well as making sure the roll sizes are optimised) – those pieces that have nothing wrong with them except they are too short to send to a customer so they are scrapped (ie at the end of a roll, or joined to a running defect that needs to be cut out). This alone can often produce a return on the investment of less than 18 months.

17. What is the timescale in which I can expect to see a profit on my investment?

As mentioned above, we would not expect the timescale to exceed 18 months. In many cases there are opportunities to achieve a payback in less than 12 months depending on your costs, product values and marketplace.  Additionally we are able in some cases to offer contract rental schemes that may provide a return in less than 6 months.

18. With the optimisation will I be able to modify the map to improve the yield and my profit?

In some cases there will be the opportunity to significantly improve the yield of a batch by editing the map, or by having more flexible optimisation rules (such as increasing the roll length tolerance). The great significance of running the optimisation on an electronic, or ‘virtual’ map, is that you can be certain of the outcome of the cutting process before the batch is cut. This process can be viewed and decisions made remotely, for companies with offshore or multiple manufacturing plants.

It may be that due to the level of defects the yield cannot be improved sufficiently by optimisation and the decision is to re process the entire batch, but better that decision is made before the rolls have been cut and shipped.

19. What about if my customer makes a claim, can I reject the claim?

With the power of visual records you keep from the system you will have more information about your products that your customer. The consistency of the system performance means you can be sure the inspection has been performed to the agreed level and in fact the settings can be audited. Once your customer knows you are in control, our experience has been that they think twice before making claims and more importantly, the reasons for claims are removed. This leads to a considerable reduction in cost for both parties commonly involved as a result of claims and in resolving them (lost production, planning logistics, airfreight, re processing, value added compensation etc etc).  It may well be that you can provide your customer with additional information from your inspection process that would assist their business.


System Support and Data Access

20. I have several manufacturing plants, can I view the results remotely?

It is possible to not only view or transmit reports, but for the system to be viewed and indeed operated remotely where an internet connection exists. A centralised quality control and sales force can benefit greatly from fast, reliable and consistent quality and shipping data.

21. If we automate inspection how is the system supported, as we will totally rely on it?

Your system will be remotely supported over the internet in terms of software and operational issues. In the unlikely event of component or mechanical failure, we will have trained your personnel to rapidly replace critical components from a stock held on your site to achieve minimum downtime.


Environmental Considerations

22. Our investment policy takes recognition of our impact on the environment, what is the environmental benefit of automatic inspection?

There are many environmental advantages with our technology. The largest contributors may include energy saving by reduction of machine numbers, minimising waste and disposal aspects, elimination of airfreight for re supply of goods and the need to fly quality/trouble shooting personnel to customers plants.


Benefits for the Whole Value Chain

23. Can we use the output data to assist our customer’s process?

There are opportunities to work more closely with your customers, for example you could email them the inspection report the instant the product leaves the final process so they could ‘sign off’ the batch before it even enters your warehouse. This gives them the benefit of knowing their production (or sales window if they are a retailer) will not be disrupted by unknown quality issues, late shipments or short shipments. This could be a way of attracting more business from existing customers and/or attracting new customers who would rather place business with an organisation that has your degree of control.  Additionally, if your customer has certain lay planning and production optimising software the electronic defect map can be easily incorporated into their software to optimise cloth utilisation in the panel cutting process.

24. Can we remove duplication of the inspection process by our customer?

Once your customer understands the level of control you have from your inspection system they will want to avoid duplication of the inspection process. They would have the opportunity to use the space for more of the value adding activity that would benefit their business.

25. Can the benefits extend throughout the whole value chain?

In the garment business it is more and more important to ensure deliveries are made in full and on time to meet store sales windows as production runs reduce and there are shorter ‘seasons’ in most retail businesses. By eliminating inspection duplication, shipping unknown defects in cloth and providing data to optimise the lay planning and cutting process there is a vast opportunity to streamline the garment value chain, from fabric maker to retailer.