As a solution for the process and packaging market, Multipix Imaging is specifying the A5 thermal imaging camera from FLIR for use in combination with HALCON machine vision software

Because process plants and packaging lines are required to be ever more resourceful with their continuous improvement programmes, the trend towards automation is now almost omnipresent. However, one of the common obstacles encountered when looking to implement automation is a distinct lack of space. 

“Size was a major factor when we were sourcing a suitable infrared thermal imaging camera to partner with HALCON software,” said Multipix Imaging director, Julie Busby. “However, not only is the FLIR A5 extremely compact and good value for money, it also offers the plug-and-play compatibility of a GigE Vision interface, which means we can link directly to HALCON without any need for a separate frame grabber.”

GigE Vision is a camera interface standard developed using the Gigabit Ethernet communication protocol. It is the first industrial standard to allow for fast image transfer using low cost standard cables, even over long distances. With GigE Vision, hardware and software from different vendors can interoperate seamlessly over GigE connections.

Automated infrared radiation imaging offers a vast potential for improving a host of industrial production applications, including process monitoring and control, and quality assurance. For instance, take a robotic gluing operation on a clay coated paperboard or plain corrugated packaging line. Using FLIR thermal imaging technology it is now possible for a camera to detect glue beads and verify seams. Before now, this was virtually impossible because adhesives for the packaging industry are almost always clear or opaque, making them difficult to view using standard vision cameras as these require a contrast between materials. Conversely, infrared radiation is emitted by all objects at temperatures above absolute zero. FLIR cameras convert that infrared radiation into a visual image that depicts thermal variations across an object or process.

Testing

Efficient ways of testing glued together boxes on high speed packaging lines are scarce – most tend to involve destructive testing on randomly selected samples, which is slow and cumbersome. In addition, glue application has a good deal of variability that is best monitored and recorded using statistical quality control routines. Using a thermal imaging camera, images can be digitised and stored in a database for trend analysis and equipment monitoring. Ultimately, temperature is used to replace mechanical methods of inspection and testing.

A thermal image can easily detect incorrectly sealed boxes. It can also detect the correct positioning of glue spots and indicate failed boxes to remove from the line. Furthermore, a pass/fail process can be implemented that sounds an alarm in the event of pre-defined failures, thus helping prevent unscheduled down-time or the introduction of poor quality products into distribution. Similarly, because many manufacturers place more adhesive on their packages than needed for insurance purposes, the use of such a system allows tighter adhesive specifications and therefore reduced material costs.

Using the measurement tools in HALCON, the list of potential benefits is expanded. For instance, it is possible to not only check the presence and integrity of a continuous glue bead, but also its position, width, height and straightness – all achieved within milliseconds. If there is a problem with the glue gun, for example, this feedback-based system can stop the process before an entire batch of packaging is completed incorrectly and has to be subsequently scraped. 

The system can also help identify trends for maintenance purposes. Incorrect bead size, position and occasional gaps can be detected and recorded, permitting scheduled preventative maintenance instead of unscheduled corrective maintenance and the associated production down-time this incurs.

Packaging lines today are an integral part of modern manufacturing. Carton building, tray making, case erection and sealing have all become highly automated, complex operations. Growing innovation and intricate designs have become typical, placing increased requirements on the previously simple adhering and sealing process. What’s more, recycled materials, complex coatings and finishes have seen the introduction of specialist hot melt adhesives, which on occasions can make adhesive application set-up and operation more difficult.

Among additional capabilities of the HALCON-FLIR solution are pattern matching, grading applications and adhesive temperature checking. Ease of use is another principal factor likely to score well. Using HALCON’s Image Acquisition Assistant, plugging in a FLIR A-Series camera will prompt the user to ‘detect’ and ‘connect’. Two clicks are all that’s needed to get up and running.

“The use of FLIR thermal imaging for industrial automation projects could potentially be revelatory in many applications,” said Busby. “It is even possible to combine thermal and 3D vision cameras in the same system. This way, data from the former can overlay data from the latter. The result is a powerful solution that can monitor glue beads and seals using infrared, and deploy 3D vision for shape and content checking.”

The benefit of a combined camera verification system such as this is that a single set-up by the operator would be enough to permit the two systems to operate in conjunction with each other: are the glue runs in the correct place? are there any gaps? is the machine feed correct? If a manufacturing log is required for the benefit of customers, then an integrated camera solution is the answer.

Multipix Imaging

www.multipix.com

T: 01730 233 332