Restrictions on Large Public Events Inspire Development of Mobile Vision Demo System
North Coast Technical develops a mobile vision system to educate customers and enhance awareness of deep learning, code reading, and image analysis technologies
To say the last year was strange is an understatement; virtually every facet of society felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in sweeping changes to health, social lives, and business. Everyone—from individuals to manufacturing operations to governments—sought new ways to adapt.
“We took the pandemic as an opportunity to generate more awareness of the machine vision tools and technologies we offer,” says Dave Sexton, president at North Coast Technical, Inc. “Building a demo system was a great way to help educate our customers, and generate awareness of newer technologies offered from Matrox® Imaging, one of our principle suppliers. We successfully increased the number of customer evaluations, during a period where many were scrambling to adapt.”
Deepening understanding of deep learning
Based in Chesterland, Ohio, North Coast Technical has been a value-added distributor of machine vision products for OEMs and systems integrators since 1997. Servicing manufacturing markets as diverse as food and beverage, electronics, and semiconductors, and packaging and logistics verticals, North Coast also works closely and directly with major automotive manufacturers in the United States.
Providing technical services to ensure successful development and deployment of machine vision and deep learning technology is their corporate mission, and North Coast prides themselves on proving the efficacy of technology before a customer makes a purchasing decision. As such, Sexton notes, there was a keen opportunity to showcase the ease of use of training and deploying a vision system that leverages Matrox Imaging’s deep learning technology. “Customer demand for machine vision and now deep learning is growing consistently,” says Irma Cruz, vision sales engineer, “and given this interest, we thought it important to highlight how this technology can work to perform image capture, processing, analysis for ID mark reading, and visual inspection.”
Doubling up on inspection potential
The mobile demo system developed by North Coast comprises two unique inspections, both powered by Matrox Design Assistant® X vision software. On one side, the software uses deep-learning-based image classification to determine whether a product is good or bad; on the other side, a code-reading tool reads DataMatrix code. The system is fully automated, with operator interaction limited to physically starting and stopping the system. The demo system provides visual feedback, in the form of the latest image and a filmstrip of past images within the user interface, displaying the inspection results of each job.
On the code-reading side, a Matrox Iris GTR smart camera is mounted over a conveyor. RM75 ring lights from Smart Vision Lights offer consistent lighting for the imaging task, and Ethernet and power cables from Components Express connect the smart camera to the rest of the system. A project—created in Matrox Design Assistant X and running on the Matrox Iris GTR smart camera—incorporates a Code Reader step to read the DataMatrix code. The software reliably handles instances where the code is rotated, scaled, or is subject to less-than-ideal lighting. Made up of black and white cells arranged in a square or rectangular pattern, the DataMatrix code is typically used for facilitating the identification of parts—often small or delicate—in automotive, food and beverage, aerospace, and electronic manufacturing industries.
On the deep-learning side, a Matrox 4Sight EV6 vision controller acquires from an Imperx C2000M GigE Vision® camera, which is also mounted above the conveyor to capture high-quality images. The camera uses filters from Midwest Optics. In this instance, the deep learning inference is adequately performed directly on the Matrox 4Sight EV6, avoiding the need for a system with specialized GPU hardware. This demo uses the Classification step to classify products deemed ‘good’ or ‘not good’. Deep learning really excels at dealing with difficult to specify classification tasks in complex and varying conditions. Classification captures the power of convolutional neural networks (CNNs) to categorize or segment images that are too complicated or costly to achieve using classic machine vision techniques.
Development and deployment of North Coast’s machine vision demo involved the expertise of Sexton, who oversaw the hardware, and Cruz, who was responsible for the software elements. North Coast Technical has a long-standing relationship with Matrox Imaging, and interacts regularly with their technical support teams for advice including optimization strategies.
“The process to conceive, develop, and implement this demo system was very straightforward,” reports Cruz, “including the training and testing of deep learning for the image classification.” Different types of neural network training, such as transfer learning and fine-tuning, are supported, all starting from one of the supplied pre-defined CNN architectures available from Matrox Imaging, who helps users build the required training dataset, including the labeling of images, as well as to monitor and analyze the training process.
The complete demo has now been installed at the Smart Vision Lights training center, so that they can better individually expose their customers to the machine-vision and deep-learning technologies available from Matrox Imaging. North Coast Technical was so pleased with the outcome of the demo system that they have already ordered the components to build a second system for customer demonstrations and trade show exhibits, when those resume. “We are a value-add distributor,” Sexton concludes, “and we proved this by leveraging an opportunity to educate customers during the pandemic. It generated awareness of the potential applications of Matrox Imaging hardware and software, and resulted in customer evaluations, which is tremendous as companies pivot to new realities post-pandemic. The key takeaway we want to convey to our customers is that Matrox Imaging products—including their excellent deep learning classification tools—are easy to both use and train.”