Designed for manufacturing

Packaging is becoming more ornate as manufacturers enhance brand awareness, but the designers should factor in ease of inspection.

Packaging is becoming more ornate as manufacturers enhance brand awareness, but the designers should factor in ease of inspection.

by Andy Wilson

Intent on automating their production lines, manufacturers send their engineering managers to automation and vision trade shows to search for solutions. At many a trade show, I have seen such individuals, representing large companies such as Ford and Procter and Gamble, with products in hand wandering from booth to booth. Their aim is simple-to find manufacturers of vision equipment that can automate the inspection of their products. Their task, however, is not so simple. Although their products may have been designed using the latest CAD systems and can be manufactured cost-effectively and in large volumes, the task of inspecting them has remained an afterthought.

For a number of years, the Joint Test Action Group (JTAG) protocol has been used in the electronics industry to perform boundary scanning of integrated circuits on printed circuit boards. This protocol makes board testing easier by allowing signals that are not visible at the board connector to be read and set. Using this standard, test equipment connected to the JTAG port can identify components on the board and control and monitor the output of the devices. Of course, to use the protocol demands that certain JTAG specifications be incorporated into the product as it is being designed. Unfortunately, the producers of nonelectrical OEM components for the automotive, aerospace, medical, consumer, and pharmaceutical industries rarely incorporate any form of design-for-test into their products.

In this issue of Vision Systems Design, for example, we show how Soliton Technologies (Bangalore, India; developed calibration and inspection systems for automotive instruments using off-the-shelf imaging components (see p. 27). In this case, the systems integrator called upon to automatically assemble and inspect these parts had no input into how the original product had been designed. This unfortunate state of affairs places a huge burden on the manufacturing engineer who must, in a sense, reverse engineer the product and build a system to automate its inspection. And, despite advances in standards such as JTAG, this also holds true in the electronics industry, where many products are still designed with no forethought for how they will be tested.

Consumer Packaging

Manufacturers of packaged consumer goods, it seems, are the worst culprits. Filipo Berio Extra Virgin Olive Oil is one of my favorites. According to Salov North America (South Hackensack, NJ, USA;, the US importer, the olive oil is packaged in glass, tin, or plastic through a completely automated and strictly controlled process to ensure its purity. But take a look at how Filipo Berio is bottled in glass. Around the top of the neck are vines decorated with trees and bushes-all placed in probably the most difficult place for any person, let alone automated system, to inspect for quality. Lighting such a product for a machine would prove very difficult, as would inspecting the intricacies of the vine pattern.

This example highlights the problem faced by the packaging industry. In an effort to distinguish their products, manufacturers use artistic packaging tricks to create products that look (as well as taste) outstanding. As a result, Filipo Berio and others are hardly likely to redesign their packages to make the lives of automation engineers easier. In their next generation of products, however, more thought should be given to whether such products can be easily tested.

In the manufacture of light bulbs, for example, is it really necessary to stamp a mark on the top of each light bulb? Wouldn’t it be much easier if companies such as GTE Sylvania (Danvers, MA, USA; used a Data Matrix code on the bottom of the bulb to identify the power rating? One would think so. But only when the designers of products consult with both manufacturing and test engineers will this happen. Until then, manufacturing engineers will be left to figure out how to inspect an array of ever-more-complex and colorful computer-aided designed packages.

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