Rise of the automatons

Self-operating machines or mechanisms, especially robots, are known as automatons-a word derived from the Greek automatos, meaning “self-acting.”

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Self-operating machines or mechanisms, especially robots, are known as automatons-a word derived from the Greek automatos, meaning “self-acting.” But what is not Greek to today’s manufacturing engineers is the increasing value of vision-guided automatons and other vision-based automated assembly equipment. Many of these tools are discussed in this issue and will be on display at the International Robots & Vision Show in Rosemont, IL, USA, from September 27 to 29.

Vision-guided robots and autoracking-the subject of our cover story-continue to inject new competitiveness into the automotive-manufacturing sector. In recent developments, 3-D vision systems now enable robots at DaimlerChyrsler to find automotive parts without dependence on fixtures to hold the parts. In another story, Lawrence Plastics uses a vision system to inspect headlight assemblies-a smaller-scale example of the benefits of automated inspection described in an article by contributing editor Winn Hardin.

Many other manufacturing sectors are also turning to vision and automation and, sometimes, automatons. Spangler Candy Company is using robots and off-the-shelf components to inspect and pack fragile products such as candy canes. And, contributing editor Charlie Masi describes how a pharmaceutical company is deploying an automated, vision-based, statistical process control system that inspects packaging to ensure both safety and visual appeal.

It’s not just in the United States that design engineers are recognizing the rise of the automatons. In China and India, the need to automate production processes has also led to the deployment of vision-based industrial automation equipment. Asian manufacturers, in particular, must be tremendously competitive in deploying automated, vision-based equipment. In our Business Views interview, Ding Shaohua, managing director of Second2None Machine Vision Systems in Shenzhen, China, reflects on the competitive pressures his company and other system integrators face and how Chinese industries are incorporating vision to automate their assembly lines-for the right price. Second2None acts as a distributor for several US vision component companies in addition to offering its own line of components and system-integration services. These product and service offerings now extend beyond China to the North American market.

In addition, India is home to many technically sophisticated, English-speaking vision engineers who are already showing the ability to market themselves beyond the borders of Southeast Asia in both system design and OEM product development. In both India and China, system integrators may not be able to charge much to their local customers for the value of their services and intellectual property. In many cases, 60% or more of the price of a vision system there goes toward purchasing equipment. Compare this to the USA, where the lion’s share of the cost of a system is tied to system-integration services, and it is apparent that smart overseas system integrators will offer OEM products in their countries and offer system-integration services in the USA, where the opportunity is greater.

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W. Conard Holton
Editor in Chief
cholton@pennwell.com

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