Machine Vision: Seeing (Electronically) Is Believing

Sept. 6, 2007
Here's a look at what's hot in machine vision systems and a basic preview of next month's Pack Expo show. In addition, this online report includes information on x-ray inspection systems and other packaging equipment you're likely to see on the show floor.

With this year’s Pack Expo (Las Vegas) coming up in a few short weeks (Oct. 15-17), a look at the latest in packaging technologies is in order. Within the finite space of a magazine, however, our focus must be limited to a particular subcategory: vision systems. (Editor's Note: This online version also includes information on x-ray inspection systems and other packaging equipment.)

Machine vision applications in the pharmaceutical industry have broadened considerably over the last two decades, according to consultant Nello Zuech, president of Vision Systems International. Since the first system to perform filled ampoule inspection was introduced more than 20 years ago, machine vision suppliers have added application-specific systems for solid dosage inspection and blister pack inspection, on-line date and lot code verification, 2D matrix code or bar code reading and proofreading of labels/inserts/packages.

As pharmaceutical packaging and associated FDA regulations have become more complex in recent years, drug manufacturers’ expectations of vision systems have risen. Driving their growing adoption of these systems have been technological advances in the cameras themselves and the emergence of an infrastructure that supports machine vision, so that it is no longer an “island of automation,” Zuech points out. “Line information systems . . .  seamlessly integrate the data into management information systems that optimize line performance, minimize downtime and yield productivity and quality improvements,” he says. “These systems are also responsive to FDA requirements for Good Manufacturing Practices.”

Many suppliers now offer both single-purpose sensors and integrated systems, systems that can “see” in full color and/or 3D, and sensors that operate reliably at extremely fast line speeds. In addition, connectivity to hardware such as PCs and PLCs (programmable logic controllers) has become commonplace. Software to collect, record and manipulate data from vision systems has proliferated, as both vision systems suppliers and packaging software providers have developed packages to help manufacturers meet FDA’s 21 CFR Part 11 requirements, increase line efficiencies and improve supply chain management.

Below, we provide descriptions of selected vision sensors and systems, followed by information on x-ray inspection systems and other pharmaceutical packaging equipment that will likely be featured at Pack Expo.

Sensors Make Their Presence Felt

The PresencePLUS P4 AREA & AREA 1.3 Series includes application-specific and multi-application sensors for a wide range of uses. One key pharmaceutical packaging application is confirming that each package includes a product information insert. The leaflet can be placed in any orientation, but must be face up. The AREA's Geometric Find tool can tolerate 360 degrees of rotation to find the insert. If the insert is missing, the package is rejected. PresencePLUS P4 sensors feature serial, Ethernet and video connections, three bicolor status indicators, and inline housing. They combine Blob and Gray Scale tools to capture and analyze images, providing high-speed analysis of up to 10,000 parts per minute. Included as standard with all PresencePLUS sensors are remote TEACH, configurable I/Os, and live video and communications.Banner Engineering Corp., Minneapolis,

Next-Generation Inspection Sensors

Cognex Corp. recently rolled out the next generation of its Checker inspection sensors, the Checker 200 series. These sensors are easy to set up and small enough to fit almost anywhere. They offer built-in lighting, variable working distance, and high-speed inspection at rates faster than 6,000 parts per minute. The Checker 200 can inspect multiple part features and deliver reliable, precisely timed, pass/fail results. Unlike conventional photoelectric sensors, the Checker 200 detects parts by finding an actual feature such as a product graphic; inspects multiple part features simultaneously, such as pills in a blister pack; and overcomes varying part positions on the line without requiring precise part handling. All Checker 200 series sensors have a rugged IP67 housing, quick disconnect cables, encoder-based part tracking, I/O and high-speed USB connectivity.Cognex Corp., Natick, Mass.

Sensor Combines Intelligence with Vision

The ICS, Intelligent Camera Sensor, can perform object identification by easy area analysis to advanced contour conformity. Its compact housing contains all the components of a complete image processing system such as optics, object lighting, evaluation hardware and software. Suitable for very fast operations, the ICS provides for flexible use through its different evaluation methods and durable design. It can transmit parameters to or from a PC or a PLC (programmable logic controller), and allows teach data to be selected via PLC. In addition to the ICS, Sick’s vision sensor lines also include the IVC-2D (pictured below scanning antacid packages), Ranger and Ranger E.
SICK Inc., Minneapolis, Minn.

Sick's IVC-2D sensor inspects drug packages online.

Photoelectric Sensors Range Far and Wide

Series 31 Opti-Vue photoelectric sensors offer long sensing ranges in a small, rugged IP67 housing. Available in DC voltages with 4-in-1 output or AC/DC voltages with SPDT relay output. Models include Diffused, Retro-Reflective, Polarized Retro-Reflective and Thru-Beam sensors, with choice of cable or quick disconnect.
Pepperl+Fuchs Inc., Twinsburg, Ohio

Laser Measurement Sensor Maximizes Flexibility

Omron’s ZX laser measurement sensor system features a single amplifier unit that supports 11 different sensing heads interchangeably, eliminating the need to purchase unique amplifiers for each sensing head. Heads available include eight visible red laser reflective sensing heads and three through-beam heads. The ZX calculating module compares two ZX sensor inputs, performs math functions, then activates control outputs for thickness and jam detection measurements. The ZX amplifier includes two numeric displays and keys for inputting values and setting values. Teaching functions simplify setup of high/pass/low discrimination outputs and analog transfer output to a SCADA system. The ZX sensor is suited for use on packaging lines to detect rejects, and on production lines to verify proper positioning of work pieces.
Omron Electronics LLC, Schaumburg, Ill.

Camera Mounts Easily on Machine Vision Systems

Combining high resolution with ultra-compact, lightweight dimensions, the CS5260 color camera from Toshiba Teli America, Inc. provides trouble-free integration into machine vision systems, and is well suited for scientific microscopy and visualization tasks. Featuring a 1/2" CCD with 768 (H) x 494 (V) effective pixels, this DSP camera has 140 different parameters that can be set through included software, allowing for precise fine-tuning. The camera features random trigger shutter, full frame output, built-in white balance, 470 TV lines resolution, along with a standard Camera Link interface. Camera dimensions are 31mm (W) x 29mm (H) x 80mm (D).
Toshiba Teli America, Inc., Irvine, Calif.

Label Inspection in Three Dimensions

Peco Controls will debut its LabelScan camera-based label inspection system at Pack Expo Las Vegas (Booth #C-2902). The system uses PC-Eyebot technology, which allows it to “learn” and store the correct label parameters for each product easily and quickly. With this “learned image,” all the packages on the production line are compared for conformity and out-of-tolerance packages are automatically ejected from the line. Each LabelScan system includes camera, lighting, control enclosure, ejector timing, and ejector. By mounting the camera on a rotary labeler platform, LabelScan provides a total look at each container label with inspection for skew (alignment), presence, correctness, tears, dog-ears and flags at speeds of up to 800 containers per minute.
Peco Controls, Fremont, Calif.

Smart Camera Systems Patently Effective

Adept Technology’s Smart Camera machine control systems recently earned patents covering their application with robotics or motion mechanisms where the image processing is done within the camera versus traditional PC-based systems. This lowers the cost of vision adoption in assembly and material handling manufacturing applications. The integration of vision with motion control creates highly robust, scalable and flexible automation systems.
Adept Technology, Inc., Livermore, Calif.

Play to Win at Pack Expo Las Vegas 2007

Following tradition, the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI) will hold its annual Expo and Conference at the Las Vegas (Nev.) Convention Center. In odd-numbered years, Pack Expo takes place in Las Vegas, whereas in even-numbered years, it is held in Chicago.

Exhibits will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 15 through Wednesday, Oct. 17. More than 1,200 companies will use over 500,000 square feet of exhibit space to spotlight the latest and greatest packaging machinery, converting machinery, materials, packages and containers, and components. PMMI expects more than 25,000 attendees, including 2,000+ international visitors from at least 75 countries.

Special Pavilions, designed to help attendees zero in on specific areas of interest, will include the Brand Protection Center, the Containers & Materials Pavilion, the Contract Packaging Pavilion, the RFID Pavilion and the Showcase of Packaging Innovations. For attendees seeking food for thought, the Conference at Pack Expo will offer dozens of educational sessions. Conference “tracks” will cover Brand Protection, Converting, Cost Savings, E-Machinery, Material Advances, Processing, Safety, Sustainability, Track & Trace and Upgrading Operations.

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About the Author

Heidi Parsons | Managing Editor