Flexible, smart vision systems open new application areas
A discussion with Michael Göhner - AIT Göhner
A discussion with Michael Göhner, AIT Göhner
Michael Göhner is CEO of AIT Göhner (Stuttgart, Germany; www.ait-goehner.de), which he founded in 1990. He has a degree in mechanical engineering from the Technical University of Braunschweig, and he has worked at the Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart and South Australian Centre for Manufacturing in Adelaide, Australia. Editor in chief Conard Holton spoke with him about trends in inspection systems.
VSD: What sort of systems or services does your company provide?
Göhner: AIT has been a system integrator of vision systems for 16 years. Because of the relatively high level of standardization in machine vision, many systems are delivered off-the-shelf. With this as a basis, we work according to a three-column model in which every column has the same importance: development, distribution, and service.
VSD: Do you specialize in certain applications or frequently develop new ones?
Göhner: We work in a wide range of application areas. In the early 1990s, we tried to focus on a single area. Fortunately we did not succeed! I say “fortunately” because we would have had a problem if we had focused on the electronics industry, because this industry experienced a sharp economic decline in Germany.
So we expanded our customer base beyond electronics to include the automotive, plastics, mechanical engineering, medical, and food industries. A recent area of growth for us is the solar-panel industry. For these industries we offer systems part identification, measuring, checking for product completeness, color verification, and code reading. In particular, reading Data Matrix codes is a major topic that AIT has focused on for several years.
VSD: What technologies and components do you use in these applications?
Göhner: The major suppliers for our machine-vision systems are Cognex (Natick, MA, USA; www.cognex.com) and Vision Components (Ettlingen, Germany; www.vision-comp.com). Both produce excellent smart cameras. The smart cameras of Vision Components allow the manufacturing of very cost-effective, dedicated solutions integrated into machines. Also these smart cameras are very flexible in programming.
As for Data Matrix readers-both hand-held and fixed-mount-and part identification, the product range of Cognex In-Sight cameras is outstanding. For PC-based systems the Cognex boards are still leading the market [see figure].
VSD: In which areas do you see the most growth?
Göhner: We have to distinguish between growth in terms of number of systems and growth in terms of good margins on high-end systems. There is still good growth in the need for highly sophisticated solutions-for example, linescan applications or vision systems with integrated SAP database access.
We also see a good potential for increasing the number of product-tracking systems that incorporate Data Matrix code reading or in dedicated warehouse applications.
VSD: What are users demanding from you in the design of new systems?
Göhner: Certainly the systems have to be very robust in terms of hardware and software. Quite often the systems must meet the IP64 standard for protection from water and dust. Connectors and cables must be robust enough, for example, to be mounted on a moving axis. And the illumination must fulfill industrial needs.
Our customers are asking for very flexible vision systems for interfacing to the existing user systems such as Ethernet, ProfiBus, or Profinet. A further requirement is the integration of the user interface into a central operator console. And, of course, a major point for our customers is the ease of installation. The systems have to be installed as quickly and easily as a laser beam sensor can be installed.
VSD: What could vision equipment manufacturers do to make your implementation jobs easier?
Göhner: The flexibility has to be increased-flexibility in terms of programming, interfaces, and robust housing. Also, “debug” features for smart cameras have to be improved so that they are comparable to the standard programming environments on a PC. Finally, powerful software libraries for smart cameras are essential for success, and they must exist in parallel with easy-to-configure systems.
VSD: What kinds of applications do you expect to emerge in the future?
Göhner: Vision systems will leave the borders of the factory floor and laboratory and will move into areas such as automotive guidance, sports analysis, or supermarket bottle-refund inspection. The use of 2-D vision is now a difficult trial when evaluating a task better done by a 3-D system. But computing power is increasing, and real 3-D systems will become applicable and affordable in production processes.