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A Clear Vision For Industrial IoT

A Clear Vision For Industrial IoT

Syed Shah caught up with Scott Summerville, President, Microscan, on machine vision and the implication of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) for his company and the manufacturing. 

What are your thoughts on the increasing relevance of machine vision in manufacturing?

There is a lot more capability to create demand and solve customer issues when you are talking about intelligent sensing devices like machine vision smart cameras with fully-featured software. These tools are what I would categorize as advanced manufacturing, and I would consider PLC-driven process machinery as a more base-level automation. There are a lot of companies that install automation systems to achieve acceptable product quality levels, or simply because human interaction is no longer sufficient to do things like building cars and making steel. That being said, machine vision technology is still highly discretionary. It is not necessarily a requirement, because you could potentially accomplish your quality goals through manual inspection (although it is not as tireless or accurate).The same goes for barcode reading for traceability – it is highly efficient, but it is not necessarily mandatory. It is incumbent upon us as the manufacturing supplier to help the customer justify ROI and demonstrate the benefits of our automation technology.

Could you explain a little more about the difference between ‘mandatory’ and ‘discretionary’?

There are some regulatory requirements, particularly in the life sciences, that are beginning to require unique device identification for items like medical devices and pharmaceuticals. These requirements are mandatory and will soon be applied as a global standard. The use of machine vision and barcode reading for traceability is largely discretionary. There is enough impetus to put in traceability systems to ensure that the products manufactured reach their intended destination and they can be tracked and traced directly to the consumer in the event that there is a recall. This is not necessarily mandated, but many manufacturers (if they have had any experience with recalls) they know that it is important to have traceability systems in place. This is especially true for consumer-driven products like cars where there could be accidents involved, or food products or pharmaceuticals where there could be health concerns.

While it might not be mandated by the government, automation systems may also be installed for reputational or image issues. Machine vision is all about quality control and precision inspection to make sure products are assembled and aligned properly, and that company brand and product aesthetic are maintained. Besides reputation, automation systems can also aid customer satisfaction, (for instance, by reducing scrap rates), so really it is again incumbent upon us as the supplier to help the end user justify our technology. And with the advent of technology becoming more powerful, more miniaturized, and more competitively priced, more businesses are now adopting it.

How is Microscan positioning itself to leverage IIoT to its own advantage? What does the IIoT mean to Microscan when it comes to product development today?

To explain Microscan’s position and philosophy on the Internet of Things, we are highly invested as producers of, well, the “thing”. We see the camera or the barcode reader as the “thing” that has intelligence, that is able to be connected, and thus it is imperative that we look at the IIoT with the concept of connectivity in mind. We manufacture our products in such a way that they can connect readily and easily across all modes of communication. This is to ensure that our products can transmit data to another system, like a PLC for instance, without compatibility obstacles. This facilitates the pervasiveness of data for widespread and variable use. Aside from this, we pack as much intelligence into our devices as possible, because it is the persistence of the “thing” that is really at the crux of our role in IIoT – the irreplaceable device. What you see in factory automation today is the flattening of control architectures with a lot more intelligence being embedded in the lowest sensors in the factory floor so they can connect peer to peer without peripheral equipment. With this architecture, you don’t have to go through a labyrinth of devices or communication media to make decisions. Ultimately, this simplification of the factory network is what is going to drive IIoT. The ability to transmit data efficiently and quickly to other devices that needed to consume it to optimize any function of manufacturing processes – that’s where we see our technologies playing a role. We aim to make our devices as intelligent as possible because these devices will persist. No matter what manufacturing scenario, businesses will always need sensors, like cameras and barcode readers, to acquire data from the factory floor to enable any process in the IIoT.

How far has track and tracing come along and how has IIoT impacted its development?

When I first started my journey with Microscan, someone told me that it would not be long before you will be able to track and trace a product from manufacture to the end user with the use of a smart phone. I have not seen this yet, but with the rate at which connectivity technology is evolving, I believe that this scenario will be entirely possible sooner than later. Privacy issues are the main obstacle in the road to achieving this because of all the data collected from various parties along the way. However, I think that the ability to track a product directly to a household and advise the consumer about the quality of the product, should there be any concerns about it, is going to happen eventually. This would be the ultimate display of the capabilities of the IIoT – a scenario where I can use a smart phone to access information acquired from barcode readers at the various stages in the manufacturing supply chain. So it is only a matter of time before the technology that is able to tie all these data together, and present them at the touch of a finger, is available.

Could you tell us more about the MicroHAWK platform then, and how in line is it with IIoT?

The MicroHAWK series is what I would call a complete product platform. We had four design principles that we were focused on. The first principle was to produce the smallest and most capable product on the market today. This is because customers are downsizing the footprints of their machines on manufacturing floors, so they need the most bang for the size of the product on the manufacturing line. Next is the ease of use, or “the out-of-box” experience. Our latest web interface for the MicroHAWK platform, WebLink, offers an unprecedented user experience and gives us patent-pending technology that also plays into IIoT. With regards to performance, we have upgraded our decoding algorithms to X-Mode 4.0, which is the most robust set of decoding algorithms in the industry today. During manufacturing operations, codes can get dirty or damaged, so having a robust set of decoding algorithms to read codes regardless of unpredictable results of environmental conditions was essential. The fourth design principle in the product design was modularity and scalability. We wanted to come up with products that leveraged a common software and hardware platform, providing customers with a range of products that could achieve different requirements with one highly-configurable toolset.

MicroHAWK is built on a common imaging engine at the core of the ID-20, -30 and -40 barcode readers, with two gigabytes of memory and interchangeable lenses across the board. The three readers differ in terms of connectivity. For instance, in the ID-40, there is an Ethernet port, whereas there is a Micro USB port in the ID-20. Other differences include the reader size, industrial rating, and illumination options. The choice of reader for a given application is dependent on the environment that they are going to function in. For instance, the ID-20 is better suited for a closed environment, for instance, a lab. The ID-40 would be best suited for more robust manufacturing spaces and applications where exposure to harsh manufacturing conditions is more likely.

On each reader, there is an embedded browser-based interface called WebLink. The actual Graphical User Interface (GUI) for WebLink (that is, the software) is embedded on the reader itself. Typically, with many barcode and vision products in the market, the software would be provided separately in a dongle which you would have to load onto a PC and interface it with the product. But in the case of the Microscan’s MicroHAWK series, by embedding the browser in the camera, you can bring up the interface on a PC or any device with a web browser without worrying about the stability of the software, its compatibility, or version, in the same way you would if it were loaded onto a PC separately. So as long as you have any sort of updated web browser at your disposal, all you need to do is enter the URL of the device and you can access the reader immediately.

Which verticals will the product be targeted at and what kind of offerings can it provide?

The ID-20 is targeted at instrument manufacturers, where we have had a lot of success in clinical and laboratory applications. We are working directly with those manufacturers to educate them further about the benefits of the ID-20; for example, the flexibility of its read range. Some of our competitors’ products, for instance, have had to use mirrors or other peripherals to achieve the same read performance that our readers can achieve at various mounting angles or orientations within equipment. The ID-40 would be targeted more towards sectors like the FMCG and electronics because of its high-speed Ethernet communication capability. The ID-30 would be somewhere in the middle of what the ID-20 and -30 can offer, and can cater to customers that are in both closed and open manufacturing environments. The ID-30 has serial communication, five volt input, and has an IP54 rating at a cost-efficient price point, so it has a competitive value standpoint.

LVS was recently acquired by Microscan. How does the LVS brand strengthen Microscan’s position in the machine vision market?

Traceability is critical when it comes to the health and pharmaceutical sector. Making sure that the barcodes are of good quality so that they can be tracked throughout the supply chain is critical. Recently, we acquired a company called Label Vision Systems, which verifies barcodes to barcode quality standards like ISO, GS1, and others, to meet the traceability requirements of certain industries. This is getting back to government mandates and regulatory requirements – they are hitting the medical device and pharmaceutical industry more directly to ensure that there are unique barcodes or identifiers on every product, and that those codes have sufficient quality so they can be read downstream. Ensuring readability of codes means that they need to be graded. So with Label Vision Systems, we now have a full range of technology intended specifically for grading barcodes and other identifiers to meet these customers’ needs.

Verification is a critical element in traceability. Verification uses machine vision technology, rather than barcode reading technology, because you are not just reading a code but rather analyzing its physical appearance as well as acquiring data for further code string format analysis. The synergy of LVS verification technology within the Microscan portfolio is compelling because Microscan was already providing verification, but this was primarily for direct part marks. By adding LVS products to our offerings, we expand our expertise from DPM verification to the verification of any barcode, printed or marked. LVS also allows us to expand our role in the manufacturing process into more areas of the supply chain. Take a medical device company as an example – LVS may be working with their packaging operations to make sure that the label on the outside of a box can be tracked. Meanwhile, we at Microscan are working with the same company ensuring traceability through the manufacturing operations of the product itself after it is packaged. With the acquisition, we can now offer all of these capabilities as a single solution, including the capability to do offline and inline verification through LVS products. Not only is our unified product line extremely synergistic, but LVS also addresses the same customers as us, so there is a lot of synergy from a market and customer standpoint as well.

How does Microscan differentiate itself from in the market?

Looking back at the four design principles that the MicroHAWK is based on, we are going to be smaller in terms of footprint, bigger on functionality as compared to other readers out there, and offer a much better “out-of-box” experience through superior ease of use, especially with WebLink. Compared to the competitors in the market today, we have better decoding performance and offer more modularity and scalability using a common imaging engine, and we are able to drive cost down as a result.

We also try to differentiate ourselves in how we work with our customers. Here at Microscan, we strongly believe in the element of trust playing a critical role in how we do business with our partner or our customer. We want them to trust us in providing them with accurate information through thick and thin to get their application right.

Strategically, we strive to bring to our customers the highest level of quality in the market in terms of products and service. For example, as part of our service, we can provide custom interfaces for specific applications, such as installations that enable real-time verification of barcode quality on products as they are passing down the production line. Wherever we see the customer or the market has a real need, we will take our core technology, maybe customize some software, and provide the right solution that will fit that application.


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Cognizant Augmented Reality Enhances Device Performance

Cognizant Augmented Reality Enhances Device Performance

Technology that enhances device performance is sweeping the world from smartphones to scanners used in major logistics work. By Jayajyoti Sengupta, APAC head, Cognizant. 

Augmented reality (AR) has captured the attention of everyone worldwide. This was evident yet again when Niantic launched the Pokémon Go game application. Since its release in July 2016, the app has quickly gained widespread popularity, surpassing even the number of daily active users of Twitter.

In addition, with the average player spending nearly 44 minutes a day on the app, the game also received a higher usage time than WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger — a testament to its success.

The key to the game’s popularity perhaps lies in its ability to successfully induct players into the world of Pokémon. Using an avatar, users have to move around in the real world in order to capture creatures via the in-built camera on their device.

Brings Digital World To Life

More than a passing fad, AR is now becoming an important technology in the enterprise, literally bringing the digital world to life. For all their benefits, AR applications are also not complicated to deploy, and once properly in place, they require minimal effort for maintenance.

Success stories lend greater credibility to the benefits of AR and cement the technology’s position as an innovation set to take the world by storm. For example, in a pilot project, DHL found they were able to improve accuracy by minimising errors, and increase efficiency by 25 percent when they equipped warehouse workers with AR-enabled smart-glasses that guided them through item picking for order fulfilment.

It is no wonder then, that many early-adopters in retail, manufacturing, utilities, education, tourism and gaming have started conducting field trials to test the technology’s ability in improving their employee engagement, workflow and business processes.

AR For Training

One area where AR is gaining traction is in workforce training. Many companies are increasingly applying AR tools to create training programs that drive employee engagement. According to the American Society for Training and Development, investment in employee training has a direct impact on the bottom-line.

The study found that a mere US$680 increase in training expenditures per employee generated a six percent improvement in total shareholder return on average. In addition, a Louis Harris and Associates poll found employee retention was two-thirds higher than that in an average company when employees felt they were given adequate training.

Textbook To Playground

Perhaps the greatest benefit of AR-based training lies in its ability to take learning from the textbook to the playground. Rather than have employees rely on hard copy instructions or user manuals, they are equipped with a handheld device such as an iPad or a wearable such as Google Glass instead.

When these devices are directed on the AR machine, a realistic, 3-D, life-sized model of the machine is rendered into the physical world with information on each part of the machine and its role, making it seem as if they are training on a real machine. Learners can then interact with the 3D model using gestures and touch.

The ability to customise AR-based training for different situations is another one of AR’s key value propositions. In the medical sector, for example, AR technology is being used in training sessions on body parts and functionalities for medical students. The same technology can also be tailored to other industries easily.

AR Aids Industrial Design

Today’s rapidly evolving technology and business landscape also means organizations often require agility and speed in the workplace for competitive advantage. AR technologies can enable custom-designed maintenance solutions where complex procedures can be animated directly on the equipment.

This enhances effectiveness or accuracy for employees as animation-based instructions and reference materials are overlaid directly on the physical equipment. AR for inspection and maintenance is now being used across a wide spectrum of industries. Field service agents, for example, can use AR and wearable technology to access checklists and work manuals, interact with systems via voice and gestures, and provide remote support.

AR is eliciting interest in the energy and utilities world for asset inspection, meter-reading, remote monitoring of tasks, and health and safety. In healthcare, AR can help nurses and clinicians to learn about surgeries, carry out modelling of organs, and explain medical procedures. Automotive companies can benefit from AR in diverse areas such as factory planning, product visualization, worker support and customer support.

The technology can help industrial designers visualize and experience a product’s design and operation, car body structure and engine layout, to name a few.

Now At Enterprise Level

AR has been around for a while, but was seen more as a fun thing rather than as something useful at an enterprise level. That has changed. AR is now viewed as a potential game changer, because it can produce experiences that can actually reduce hardware and people dependencies by delivering real-time information on user movements.

Given the speed at which AR is impacting existing industries and creating new ones, it could also provide a huge benefit to any company willing to make the investment. In the end, the flexibility offered by AR makes it a frontrunner in the race for enterprise adoption over the long term.


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Efficient Sawing In A Digitised Environment: Kasto Industry 4.0 Machinery And Equipment Are Key

Efficient Sawing In A Digitised Environment: Kasto Industry 4.0 Machinery And Equipment Are Key

The rise of new Digitised Environment industrial technology, referred to as “Industry 4.0”, is transforming the business models of distributors, manufacturing plants and service providers throughout the world, and Southeast Asia is no exception. By Armin Stolzer, owner and chief executive officer, Kasto Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 Machines, goods, raw materials, load carriers, transport equipment and locations are no longer isolated; they are globally linked and interconnected by means of information networks. Production and logistics are merging, and the integration of processes is increasing. Handling tasks are becoming more and more automated. Digital technology controls the value chain from the producer of raw materials to the final customer.

This has created immense opportunities for companies Digitised Environment Machinery And Equipment Are Key, but it has also confronted them with new challenges. Competition is becoming more international and thus more intense. Only by standing out from the crowd and offering customers genuine value can a company stay competitive in the long run. At the same time, expectations in the market are increasing. Customers are demanding more and more different products, and these must be produced in smaller batches. Production must be fast, free of defects, flexible, inexpensive and reliable.

Speed, Versatility, Precision

In the metalworking industry, for example, sawing technology must meet increasingly tough requirements. Industry 4.0 Machines and tools must not only be fast and versatile, they must also produce cut parts with precise dimensions and surfaces of excellent quality. When the parts are burr-free and reproducibly precise, less work is required for reworking. This raises production efficiency.

Moreover, users want to minimise losses at the start and end of the cut and other kinds of waste in order to make optimum use of the material. For this, high-quality sawing technology tailored to the given requirements is indispensable. When it comes to cutting bar stock in the skilled trades, manufacturing and steel processing, further increases in efficiency and cost-effectiveness can be expected in the future. In each sector, the potential for improvement differs depending on the material, order structure, production volume and personnel costs.

In particular, metal sawing machines for various purposes have been significantly improved through technological progress, with notable increases in cutting performance. Moreover, material handling for sawing has been simplified, with shorter idle times, automation of the material supply and better removal of cut parts.

Automation Kasto Industry 4.0 In Sawing Technology

The Southeast Asian market therefore has a huge demand for innovative and high-quality sawing technology. Efforts are being stepped up in all industries to deploy networking and automation to rationalise production processes.

This is where sawing machine manufacturers can provide users with optimum support. Even the standard versions of many modern sawing machines offer a high level of automation and can be integrated without difficulty into a uniformly controlled materials flow.

This is also true of combined sawing and storage systems in which all the storage, handling, sawing, marking, palletising and bundling processes are performed fully automatically—from the entry of the raw material through to the commissioning of the cut parts. These tasks are increasingly carried out with the help of industrial robots. The requirements relating to performance, efficiency and flexibility are steadily increasing, and these are areas in which robot technology offers enormous potential.

When it comes to saw blades, carbide tools promise significantly improved performance in the machining of various materials. There have also been enhancements in ergonomics and design, including incorporation of strict safety standards.

An increasing division of tasks is arising between high-volume steel suppliers and manufacturers on the one hand and smaller metal-processing companies and manufacturers on the other. The latter need low-cost, universal sawing solutions to cover a broad range of sawing applications, while high-volume producers are investing in highly automated sawing facilities with the aim of cutting personnel costs and running their machinery for long hours without staff.

Carbide-tipped sawing tools are finding increasing use in high-volume production with band saws and circular saws because they considerably reduce sawing times.

Carbide Tools, Advanced Performance

To take full advantage of the increased performance offered by carbide tools, a machine must be massive, robust and optimised to prevent vibration. Thanks to its excellent damping properties, polymer concrete is often preferred to gray cast iron for this purpose.

Other important requirements include greater drive power with a corresponding drive design, modified cutting edge feed, protection of teeth when the blade is retracted and adequate chip removal. Today’s sawing machines also include advanced components for driving, guidance and sensors. More than in the past, it is now possible to provide low-cost, custom solutions by means of fully enclosed machines based on a modular design. Modern machine control systems make it easy for operators to enter engineering and job data.

Companies that do made-to-order sawing in small and medium-sized quantities are increasingly relying on sawing machines with carbide tools. On the feed side, these machines often have magazines or are connected to a sawing centre, allowing them to run fully unattended for long periods. In addition, the outfeed side is modified to cut back on manual sorting and palletising. Robot solutions are flexibly integrated into the machine design so that cut parts can easily be sorted and other machining steps like deburring, milling or centering can be added.

Lowering Cost Per Cut

From the broad range of modern sawing machines in various performance classes and automation levels, the perfect solution can be found for every application. Significant advances in sawing and tool technology have brought about substantial reductions in production times and idle times. Although the necessary high-end peripheral equipment can be more expensive, when applied under the right conditions it can significantly lower the cost per cut and raise overall productivity.


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