I recently joined Vision Systems Design as senior editor, and while I have quite a few years behind me as a journalist, I am new to the machine vision industry. So, for a newbie like me, the 2023 Automate show was quite an interesting learning opportunity.
For me, Automate 2023 started with the Vision Systems Designs ninth annual Innovators Awards presentation program, which recognizes and celebrates innovations and products across the machine vision industry. Needless to say, the honorees are some of the industry’s best and brightest and to find out more about who they are and what they do was a valuable opportunity.
After the awards presentation, it was time to explore the show. Educational seminars were an interesting and informative aspect of the show, and with discussions, panels, and seminars ranging from economic forecasts to career opportunities, there was something to pique anyone’s interest.
Meanwhile, out on the vendor floor, it would have been understandable, especially for those new to the industry and to Automate, to conclude that the main story was robotics. From the small, dog-like quadra-ped from Stokes Robotics (Carl Junction, MO, USA; www.stokesrobotics.com that seemed to greet visitors as they entered the vendor space—even lowering itself to the floor and rolling over on its back as if asking for a belly rub—to huge industrial set-ups, such as intricate bin picking systems or automated machine tool solutions, it seemed there was a robot for almost any function.
Machine Vision is Important Part of Automation
But robots, while fun, interesting, and illustrative, are but one aspect of automation and applications that include machine vision. Machines that seem relatively simple at first glance usually require a number of vision systems.
Robotic carts, for example, need high-resolution 3D depth cameras, LiDAR, and proximity sensors, among other equipment, in order to travel unimpeded and avoid colliding with people and machinery while completing their mission.
“The military especially likes us because our carts do not need WiFi to operate,” Deb Halada, a sales professional with MuL Technologies (Mequon, MI, USA; www.multechnologies.com) said of MuL’s Mobile Autonomous Robotic Cart (MARC), a self-contained, easy-to-use intra-facility delivery solution.
One theme that seemed to permeate the show was the sense that manufacturers and innovators are working to simplify and streamline products and processes. Indeed, more and more vendors seemed to be showcasing more turnkey solutions, especially for processes and functions such as bin picking, automated manufacturing processes, inventory control, and industrial inspection,
For example, Zebra Technologies’ Aurora Deep Learning OCR tool (Bronze Innovators Award honoree), is designed to be an easy to deploy and user-friendly turnkey system, especially for those users who are not experts in coding or working with deep learning models, says James Witherspoon, Product Manager at Zebra (Lincolnshire, IL, USA; www.zebra.com). “For example, users don’t need to collect samples of all potential OCR fonts—and all possible variations of a given font—to train the software.”
The software allows users to draw a box around an image or an area of interest for fixturing, which also teaches the algorithm the fonts. Thresholds can also be set to help differentiate between different character strings, such as mathematical, alphanumeric size, or spacing.
These were just a couple of literally thousands of products, solutions and services on display, and it would take far longer than I had to delve into even a small percentage of what was there. Therefore, I would be remiss if I did not offer kudos to the people at the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), who put on and hosted the show. The logistics of handling an event of that size is obviously no simple task. Everyone I met who was involved with the show was polite, professional, knowledgeable, responsive, and friendly. That certainly went a long way in making my first Automate show a most interesting, illuminating, exciting experience.