Quality Control is a fundamental requirement for all businesses to ensure products are manufactured to assured high standards and in accordance with customer specification.
Manufacturers are also having to adhere to ever more stringent standards, including onerous requirements to sample, test and document procedures to ensure the product is suitable for despatch. The sheer scale of administrative burden this puts on manufacturers is becoming a drain on resources and for some, it is simply not practical or effective to continue using people to carry out these duties.
As well as this, the way many products are produced is changing, meaning that Quality Assurance needs to change with it. For instance, historically, manufacturers would develop a product and then make it in large volumes, perhaps for years and examples of this can be found in the automotive, pharmaceutical and hardware sectors. In today’s market, this is different. Take pharmaceutical for example where more targeted therapies are being developed and these are often manufactured in smaller volumes. This can place even great burden on quality control roles because manufacturers have to move away from single product manufacturing and inspection to multiple product lines and smaller volumes. Each requires a separate and detailed approach to quality assurance. Resourcing becomes an issue because each line may require a dedicated inspector, which takes time and money to train a person to the required standard. Add to this a 24/7 shift pattern and the need for three QC people on eight hours shifts.
This ‘mass customisation’ of product manufacturing is occurring in many other industries, such as choice of colour and interior specification in vehicle manufacturing, computers and phones offered to consumers in different colours and food manufacturers allowing for different toppings or ingredients such as gluten free. Add to this the complexity of different labelling for each option – an area that is becoming ever more stringent especially for food manufacturers – and businesses soon realise that they have to rethink how they go about implementing a fit for purpose quality control process.
However, those manufacturers that can find a way through, and establish an effective, automated quality control procedure using Computer Vision (CV), are able to offer value added services to their customers. That’s important because manufacturers need to ensure that when they go down this route it is profitable - mass customization can produce extra cost and complexity at the same time as creating more opportunities if it is done right. To put this in context, where manufacturers try to cling to traditional methods of quality control, manual observation and sampling, they soon become mired in the sheer volume and complexity of multiple processes and production lines.
Computer Vision Artificial Intelligence (AI) can overcome this because of its ability to handle vast amounts of data. It also enables manufacturers to embrace greater elements of customisation, whilst maintaining or improving on their already high-quality standards. Being able to offer customers shorter production runs with the support of a responsive and effective CV AI quality control solution in place can create a powerful competitive advantage.
Although quality control still remains a manual operation in some companies, they are, however, quickly realising that the ability of people to visually inspect different products on a rapid production line when they are prone to fatigue and boredom whilst performing repetitive tasks will result in errors. By contrast, Computer Vision-based automated quality control systems offer an effective alternative. In fact, they go further by adding value to inspection operations due to enhanced productivity, better aligning with the manufacturing processes, reducing operational costs and absolute traceability of products.
When Computer Vision is deployed on a production line it uses an internet-enabled CCTV to capture images which are then compared using algorithms to predefined images in order to detect defectives. This approach, described simplistically here in one, narrow remit, is proving particularly effective for detecting product imperfections, labelling errors, packing anomalies, colour variations, amongst others. Its application extends further, with, for example, the ability to detect whether operatives are wearing appropriate PPE.
Manufacturers that embrace Computer Vision often wonder how they managed using a manual approach. Here we look at some of the benefits that the technology delivers for them in a modern manufacturing business:
Computer Vision systems with image-processing capabilities are able to operate at speed with near zero mistakes. Unlike humans, the technology does not become tired or bored. That means manufacturers that invest in Computer Vision will have consistently high-quality products from a rapid production line.
This feature is particularly beneficial for manufacturers that embrace an element of customisation because Computer Vision solutions can be quite easily configured to whatever product variation is on the process at that time.
Computer Vision can also be used to verify that packaging has the correct product descriptions and labelling – particularly useful where manufacturers run shorter batches – in order to prevent mislabelling or shipping errors.
Computer Vision conducts monotonous tasks more effectively than people. Implementation of a fully automated system speeds up the production line by being able to scan multiple products at the same time. The accuracy is far better than what can be achieved with the human eye.
Avoiding having to stop or slow the production line is particularly beneficial where the product is heat or time sensitive and checking quality can disrupt the process. The ability of Computer Vision to carry this out at speed avoids interrupting the flow rate.
- Reduced Downtime
Computer Vision systems can do more than simply detect defects. They can cross-references data from other CCTV and sensors and that can action early intervention when a quality issue is identified. This reduces the number of defective products that are manufactured, which can be a significant cost saving for any business.
An automated system is an effective tool to reduce quality control downtime. As the system is fully automated, it runs much faster, it is able to work 24/7 and it does not need any breaks for rest.
- Improved safety
Another advantage of Computer Vision is that it improves employee safety by eliminating the risk of manually inspecting products on a production line and the associated risks of being near hot works or revolving machinery. It can also be used to determine that production operatives are wearing required PPE if they have to make an intervention on the line. If a system detects an employee without a safety vest or helmet, visual alerts or notifications are issued and intervention can be made.
In conclusion, manufacturers that implement Computer Vision systems to replace manual based quality control systems can add significant value and reduce costs in the manufacturing processes.
The answer to the question; are people still needed in quality control roles is a resounding yes, but just not in the traditional manual roles they have done until now. Business will find that they can deploy many manual inspectors to more value-added roles in the business, whilst Computer Vision provides all the benefits of technology to attain new levels of automated quality.