Under the name Xcam MF1 STA, Baumer hhs has developed an innovative, camera-based inspection system that is capable of handling a very wide range of different monitoring tasks in packaging production – and even several at once, as indicated by the abbreviation MF for Multi-Function. The new inspection system owes its flexible use to its modular structure, which is based on a building-block system that includes, among other things, different camera and lighting solutions that can be individually combined for specific monitoring tasks. Despite this flexibility, the Xcam MF1 STA is still characterised by great user-friendliness. As with all Baumer hhs systems, the intuitive, logically structured operating concept safely guides the machine operators through all the relevant setting parameters. Using the inspection system’s 15″ touch-screen monitor, it takes them only a few moments to conveniently define the measuring areas they want to check on the packagings. The relevant parameters are set with just a few taps of the finger.
Have all packagings and/or their inserts been printed with the intended information, or have blind sheets crept in? Has the right label been applied to every folding carton? Have all the labels been glued on in exactly the right position? Have they been applied straight? Are the package inserts positioned correctly? Are the reinforcing strips for easy opening of the packagings present on all perforations? Have the aluminium tops been perfectly heat-sealed onto the individual milk portions? “Packaging production involves countless monitoring tasks that could generally only be covered within limits by previous inspection systems and involved relatively great expense and effort. And since pharmaceutical companies and brand owners, in particular, are constantly raising the bar in quality assurance, packaging production is confronted with new demands virtually every day. It was against this backdrop that our experts devised the Xcam MF1 STA, a solution for universal use that offers numerous options and can be flexibly adapted to different requirements,” explains Christian Metzger, camera applications specialist at Baumer hhs. Generally speaking, the reference for every monitoring option is freely selectable – e.g. product edges, logos, 1D and 2D codes or other elements.
A truly smart alternative
Smart cameras for industrial image processing combine the functions of a camera and a computer in a single housing. Of modern, compact design, they offer a diverse assemblage of tools for very different control and monitoring tasks, leaving hardly anything to be desired.
Would you use a smart camera again? As a general rule, customers whose production is monolithic reply to this question with an emphatic “Yes”. Smart cameras are excellent at handling certain tasks, such as the control of labels in bottling processes involving endless bottle chains. The setting and programming of the smart cameras is really no challenge at all.
However, modern manufacturing processes are frequently characterised by changing products and thus by varying control tasks. In this case, the answer to the question “Would you use a smart camera again?” often turns out differently. Anyone who has ever lost their way in the parameter jungle of a smart camera, will ask themselves whether the supposedly low-cost smart-camera solution really is value for money. Sooner or later, long setup times, deficient monitoring and the high demands on programming and operation prompt a search for a truly smart solution.
Baumer hhs developed the tried-and-tested Xcam MF1 STA image processing package precisely for customers who not only impose exacting demands on flexibility, but also want the shortest possible setup times, along with simple programming and operation, as well as high reliability.
Smart advantage: project planning
At first glance, many measuring tasks appear to be clear-cut and easy to handle. That’s why numerous companies dispense with image processing experts. But the details are often where things get tricky. “The human sense of sight is highly developed. That’s why the feasibility of measurements shouldn’t be judged solely on the basis of the visual appearance,” advises Metzger.
A camera image is the result of the complex interaction between the intensity and distribution of the lighting, the reflection and scattering of the light on the object under observation, the representation of the three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional plane, and the characteristics of the camera. Under normal conditions, different reflections on a surface can, for example, make it impossible to evaluate an image, while the human eye can still identify and assess the individual zones.
Says Metzger: “In addition, there’s only limited time for evaluating the individual images on machines that operate at high speeds. The measuring task has to be completed within a certain period of time.” Otherwise, faultless and defective products are no longer identified correctly. “In that case, good products could be ejected from the product stream, while defective products are shipped to the customer.”
An example can illustrate the challenge: in a material flow consisting of 40,000 products per hour, eleven images have to be captured every second, and attributes extracted and evaluated. Depending on the camera resolution, large volumes of data are transferred in this context, and signals generated to control ejectors. The human eye can hardly keep up with the products at such high speeds. Details are no longer recognised, let alone assessed.
It isn’t always possible to estimate the challenges actually associated with image evaluation, which is why Baumer hhs regularly goes for project planning during the offer phase. Based on the description of the measuring task and concrete product examples, applications specialists perform practical tests to examine the technical feasibility of the project and the necessary equipment features. One results is, for example, that the lighting is then often adapted to suit the measuring task.
Advance project planning offers customers various advantages: for one thing, the feasibility of the project is clarified ahead of time. That avoids any surprises, and the risk of investing in unsuitable equipment is eliminated. Nor is there any need for customers to perform their own experiments, which is frequently a very wearing task. And for another thing, the limits of the application, including the performance data, are established in advance. This makes it possible to assess the actual cost-efficiency.
All this presupposes a set of specifications that describe the measuring task, and concrete samples for trials. The results of project planning ultimately form the basis for the offers.
Software developed for individual customers often still contains bugs at the start, while standard software is usually not very flexible. With its project planning approach, Baumer hhs establishes a mature, standardised basis for adapting the software to individual customer requirements.
Smart advantage: simple, intuitive operation
Smart cameras come up with a host of different setting parameters to ensure the most flexible possible adaptability to widely varying tasks. However, flexible production and changing products necessitate frequent parameter adjustments. Operators often feel overtaxed. And in view of the countless parameters, there is a major risk of incorrect settings being made.
When developing the Xcam MF1 STA image processing package, Baumer hhs stuck to the motto “Keep it simple and safe”. Given the enormous flexibility of the new inspection system, simple operator prompting is of particular importance. Says Thomas Walther, Technical Manager at Baumer hhs: “Only if our customers can parameterise different control tasks quickly and easily, will they really exploit the diverse capabilities of Xcam MF1 STA in practice. That’s why our developers put a lot of intelligence into the simplicity of its touch-optimised operation – and retained the familiar, intuitive logic of our systems in the process. For instance, the menu prompts only ever offer the setting options that are relevant to the task in hand. That makes for clarity and simple structures.” Machine operators who already work with gluing or quality control systems from Baumer hhs, in particular, will quickly find their way around the new system.
To define the measuring fields for the cameras on the packagings, the operators tap on the appropriate point of the packaging on their touch-screen monitor and then draw boxes, whose position and size can be changed at will at any time. They then only need to set the associated parameters in the defined fields, which takes just a few taps of a finger. They need neither a keyboard, nor a mouse. It could hardly be simpler. Even operators with no special expertise need have any worries at all.
“Of course, the simplicity of operation is best revealed by practical experience. That’s why we like to invite existing and potential customers to visit our Baumer hhs Solution Center in Krefeld, where we can give them a demonstration of the capabilities of our new Xcam MF1 STA image processing package under real practical conditions and go into their individual requirements in the process,” says Walther. “Our visitors operate Xcam MF1 STA on their own after just a few minutes. That’s a convincing argument.”
Smart advantage: process reliability and tracking
Be it pattern matching, control of 1D and 2D codes, positions and lengths, or other inspection tasks: when packagings are identified as being defective, Xcam MF1 STA causes them to be optionally ejected automatically or marked with UV ink, for example. This inspection system likewise operates according to the Baumer hhs fail-safe principle. In other words, all packagings are fundamentally considered to be defective, until the quality control system identifies them as being flawless. All detected defects are displayed on the monitor, documented in clearly structured form in the statistics, and ejected or marked on request.
In the event of malfunctions, customers can use TeamViewer to communicate with the Service Department of Baumer hhs, in order to remedy faults quickly and easily. To do so, the operators send an access code to Baumer hhs by e-mail, thereby granting the Service Department once-only access to the inspection system.
Xcam MF1 STA is already being used in various fields of application by several Baumer hhs customers, who had previously experienced the problems encountered in monitoring with smart cameras in their own day-to-day work. “Practical experience shows that Xcam MF1 STA offers a simple solution, no matter how complex the monitoring task may be,” says Metzger, summing up.