Martyn Cleaver discusses using machine vision methods to improve competitive edge and elevate UK manufacturers to a par with their counterparts across the global landscape
There is no denying that throughout the previous decade technological advances have soared, not least in the manufacturing industry. The UK has seen a number of manufacturers rising to the challenge in terms of adopting modern methods of quality assurance within their supply chain, but this is yet to be an automatic progression, in that often UK manufacturers prefer to use fail safe, traditional methods.
For suppliers and manufacturers of products such as fastener and fixings, quality is key for building reputation within the competitive global market. As manufacturers at the start of the supply chain, quality is paramount to ensure the rest of the manufacturing process runs smoothly, hence the pressure for automotive parts manufacturers to now deliver zero defect parts per million.
The use of Keyence machines which offer vision machinery and automated solutions – termed so because of their high resolution sensory video cameras – is a promising trend with those UK manufacturers wanting to supply more reliable parts through a smarter supply chain. These machines offer motion control, data acquisition, image-processing and sensory analysis which can detect fault within a micron.
Although we have moved milestones in terms of technological advancement, and a percentage of UK manufacturers are rising to the challenge by increasing factory automation and investing in sensory technology such as vision machinery, we still fall behind international competitors. British manufacturers are often deemed behind the mark in comparison with global competitors, utilising more traditional analysis tools such as hand callipers, which do have their benefits.
The familiarity and financial savings that accompany traditional methods can be beneficial to a parts manufacturer wanting to maintain profit margins, but with technology growing, they hold the UK back in the fight to gain a competitive manufacturing edge. The trick is to supply superior quality for large quantities of products, to ensure the whole of the supply chain runs smoothly.
As it stands, more manufactured parts are imported from global companies than are sourced in the UK, when in fact, the use of technology and automated machine vision could elevate us to exportation giants of manufactured products overseas, increasing UK turnover and also building status. However, to enable this transition we need to be investing in equipment which ensures faulty products are reliably detected by machinery that surpasses human analysis.
For instance the Far East is leading the way in terms of automated technology within production lines, with 323 robots for every 10,000 manufacturing workers. Although initial investment in machine vision and automated factory processes can be costly, long term return on investment and the degree of quality assurance which can be offered will be priceless for customers wanting to trust their supplier’s quality.
Machine vision alongside automation technology allows assessment of manufactured products at a technological level that cannot be disputed. As the speed of supply chains increases and consumer demand rises exponentially, we see a greater percentage looking to opt for parts manufacturers who can ensure quality through machine vision investment.
Detected fault within one micron is the sort of precision needed to set the UK as renowned parts manufacturers. The global manufacturing climate is constantly advancing and as within any industry, it is beneficial to keep at the forefront of industry movement and advancements to ensure you remain a preferred supplier. Global competition is already adopting vision machinery and automated technology across widespread domains, it would be great to see the UK adopting the same sort of advances.
Although traditional manufacturing methods have proven to be reliable and trustworthy for decades, using skilled and specialist individuals to assess products with the help of calibrated tools. This sort of the quality analysis method has stood the UK in good stead in terms of developing a European reputation, but moving forward with vision machinery will advance the UK industry to a global standard.
Martyn Cleaver is with at Forward Industrial.