Setting up a machine vision system and making all the different elements work smoothly can be complicated and expensive. To simplify this integration process, Eigen Innovations, a specialist in real-time monitoring systems for many industries, has developed a smart hardware module. And whenever possible, the company likes to include FLIR cameras exclusively because they are so cost effective.
Eigen Innovations systems make factories smarter by capturing real-time data from the factory floor and applying advanced analytics to improve operating processes automatically. This boosts productivity and ensures quality while reducing operating costs.
Building a monitoring and alarming system for fixed-mounted automation is complicated because every application is different, and this was the driving factor behind Eigen's Smart Module (ESM). It was designed to eliminate the need for custom integration and to provide rapid deployment.
A robust thermal camera module, ESM is based on the FLIR A-Series product which uses the GigE Vision standard for fast image transfer using low-cost standard cables, even over long distances. It allows for easy configuration of temperature thresholds, enables PLC communications and performs temperature-based calculations on designated points of interest.
The ESM is also a self-learning system. It can be used as a standalone option but, as part of a larger system architecture and for more complex processing, the module collects training data from the thermal camera, informs data in the cloud and then acts upon that knowledge. In effect, the software writes itself.
Scott Everett is Chief Technical Officer and co-founder of Eigen Innovations, a university start-up company in 2012. He explains: "We discovered the FLIR A-Series at a trade show and quickly realised this product is so much more than just camera; it's an intelligent feedback sensor for real-time processes. The great thing about this camera is that you can see the complete temperature distribution of an object, not just one temperature point that thermocouples show you.
"This results in a huge amount of data, complemented by other sensor information like pressure, speed and moisture. Our module combines all these information streams and makes sense of them."
Eigen Innovations' ESM is suitable for a variety of automation applications including parts manufacturing, pulp and paper production, food processing, fire prevention and condition monitoring. A typical example of its successful deployment comes from an automotive manufacturer who is using the system on a car assembly line to detect any problems with the rear screen defogger; the defogger is turned on and the FLIR A-Series camera checks whether the heater bands are functioning effectively.
In a normal automation set-up, the parts that need to be controlled have a fixed position. In this case however, the quality check is initiated on a moving production line as the car comes into view. That's why the algorithms integrated into the ESM module need to determine the position of the car first.
Another example is outdoor monitoring of sulphur piles to prevent self-combustion. FLIR cameras are used to look for hot spots indicating a potential outbreak of fire. Eigen's module is particularly useful here for improving the detection performance and for reducing the number of "˜false positives'; such as a flying bird registering a heat source. The ESM can train the system to determine whether the heat signature belongs to a bird, a truck or an actual fire.
Scott Everett adds: "We are very happy with our choice of FLIR A-Series and in particular the FLIR A65 which generates excellent high resolution images. It is impressive how something so powerful can be built so small."
The cost efficiency of the FLIR cameras means Eigen Innovations can now easily include three or four cameras in an installation. The camera can also replace a conventional line scanner application. The difference is that a FLIR camera is not just scanning one line, it is presenting a complete image. The inclusion of thermal cameras in its systems makes the sales job easier too. Sales cycles tend to be very long but Scott Everett confirms a thermal image clearly demonstrates what's happening in the production process and often hastens decision making.
He concludes: "In our line of work, there is much talk about the industrial internet where complex machinery is connected to networked sensors and software. To use the data to its full potential we fundamentally need qualitative sensors that deliver qualitative data. And in that respect, I believe FLIR and Eigen Innovations are facing a very exciting and promising future."
For more information, go to FLIR's web site at www.flir.com.