Intelligent image processing for reliable quality judgements

A keener eye for quality assurance – this is the aim of an application developed by Steinbeis Qualitätssicherung und Bildverarbeitung GmbH (SQB GmbH) for one of its clients. Integrated in this system, among other things, are SMARTEK Vision cameras an
SQB Spring Carousel (PresseBox) (Pullach, ) The manufacturing industry is currently on the cusp of attaining new heights in quality management. More exacting requirements by customers, the growing prioritisation of cost factors and careful use of resources are just one aspect of this transformation. The availability of advanced technology, which allows greater precision together with increased cost efficiency, is currently a key driver of this trend. In addition, innovative and efficient partnerships are being formed between service providers on the one hand and hardware and software experts on the other, which offer creative solutions for achieving new records in quality assurance.

Job-specific research and development, production and consulting on all facets of quality management – these are the focal points of work at SQB GmbH. Here, the engineering and manufacture of innovative measuring and testing systems for non-contact precision measurement and visual inspection are as much part of the company’s activities as the development of programs for specific applications and independent and universal software components. Another important part of SQB GmbH’s endeavours is consulting and training in the fields of quality assurance, image processing and measuring and testing technology. Typical areas in which SQB solutions are used include in-line quality assurance, optical and tactile precision measurement and surface inspection, sorting tasks and workpiece identification, spectral analysis and the recognition and classification of agricultural produce. Particular efforts are always made to provide a modern, user-friendly software interface, which is created in collaboration with product designers.

The project itself concerns an innovative and user-friendly image processing system for in-line quality assurance in the production of springs. “The special challenge in this case,” explains Dipl.-Ing. Steffen Lübbecke, Managing Director of SQB GmbH and responsible for the project “lies in combining flexible and simple operation with high reliability in the manufacturing environment.”
A technical highlight of the solution is the GC652M-A90 GigE camera from SMARTEK Vision, which is used in conjunction with SQB’s own QI Flash Control LED strobe controller with USB interface. This industrial camera must successfully combine many different features – a compact, angular housing design, a high-frequency CCD matrix with GigE interface and insensitivity to extraneous light and electromagnetic radiation. “This camera delivers exactly the performance spectrum that is required in such a complex operation as spring production,” asserts André Brela, Product Manager for the SMARTEK Vision portfolio at FRAMOS. The two-channel controller offers a huge range of configuration options for the strobe characteristics via PC and input buttons, a two-line LCD indicating the operating mode, and the simultaneous, synchronised interconnection of input and output channels.

Up to 900 springs a minute must be reliably inspected in the machine – in a highly restricted space and a tough manufacturing environment, subject to vibrations and strong electromagnetic fields. What is more, the springs’ sophisticated surface structure demands the permanent reduction of extraneous light to ensure the most precise quality judgements possible, “which is ensured by the excellent camera features and the use of a filter,” remarks Steffen Lübbecke. A further objective in this connection was the development of a high-precision strobe function, in order to reduce motion blur to the greatest possible extent in the highly dynamic spring coiling process. “Here, the LED strobe controller is ideal,” says Steffen Lübbecke, “because in combination with the LED background illumination, this device produces extremely precise, brief and powerful strobes.”

“During everyday operations, it quickly became clear that expectations had been met in every respect, and the image processing system has the necessary reserves in terms of production speed,” says Steffen Lübbecke, praising the results of the partnership’s endeavours. “The creation of a closed control loop, which automatically compensates for material fluctuations, is especially noteworthy.”

Where the cost efficiency of this development is concerned, he emphasises not just the excellent price-performance ratio of the cameras and lighting components used, but also the space-saving and simple integration of hardware and software in the spring coiling machine. However, according to Steffen Lübbecke, the most remarkable achievement is the increase in productivity, which is due to the system’s extremely easy operation: “It might be a cliché but it’s true – quality comes at a price. But here the return on investment will be reached in an impressively short time.”


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