Machine vision technology and digital transformation are closely related
Published on : Tuesday 02-11-2021
Adarsha Sarpangala, Imaging Business Key Account Manager, Edmund Optics India Pvt Ltd.
What is the nature of EO operations in India? Is it only marketing or is there any value addition in hardware/software?
Let me brief you about Edmund Optics before I come to our India operations. Edmund Optics, established in 1942 in the USA, is now a leading supplier of optics, imaging, and photonics technology. We design and manufacture more than 2 million optical components, imaging lenses and optomechanical components every year in 8 manufacturing plants across the globe that serve a variety of markets including Life Sciences, Biomedical, Industrial Inspection, Semiconductor, R&D, etc. We also support OEM applications with volume production of stock and custom products. Currently Edmund Optics is present in more than nine countries with over 1000 employees.
To serve the growing Indian customer base locally, we decided to begin our operations in India in 2019. Our Bengaluru office started as a dedicated sales office with 3 employees. It is managed by Deepthi Sasikumar who is the Technical Engineering Manager and head of India operations. We have 2 business development engineers to support sales operations of all Edmund products. I am responsible for supporting vision integrators and machine vision customers. We also have a dedicated customer service representative for back office sales support. In two years, we have added 8 product support engineers specialised in the field of optics to handle customer queries effectively. They are responsible for answering customer emails, technical questions, visiting customers whenever required to suggest solutions, etc. In addition to supporting the Indian customer base, our product support team is now assisting Edmund Optics customers in South East Asia, US and the European Union as well. We also provide 24-hour online chat support to customers, 6 days a week. So, anything in the field of optics, imaging or mechanics, customers are assured of quick and reliable support all the time. In addition to our direct presence in India, institutional buyers can purchase Edmund products from our official distributors called Infrared Optics.
Edmund Optics established a direct presence in India in early 2020. What is the experience since then about the local market?
Edmund Optics India office started operating in Bengaluru by late 2019. Before we set up the office, Indian customers were handled by our Singapore office directly. Even though we had a couple of Business Development Engineers to support local customers in India before we set up our office, customers had to import all the Edmund products themselves. But our local presence eased some of the difficulty’s customers were facing in terms of shipping, customs clearance hassles, payment in foreign currency, etc. With the local office, customers were also assured of the immediate support whether it is related to pre-sales, product related technical queries or post sales.
Even though India is geographically very vast, the industrial and manufacturing sector is centralised to few specific regions of the country. In recent years, companies are rapidly adapting to newer technologies, implementing automation in each and every field. But what we have observed is the majority of the market is highly cost sensitive with direct competition from Chinese suppliers. At the same time, customers are expecting quality products and quick support. With the global branding of Edmund Optics, within 2 years of starting the operations, we were able to capture good market share in many sectors which are not limited to Medical & Healthcare, Material Processing, Automotive, etc. Now, with many companies choosing India as their investment destination, and also with government’s initiatives like Start-up India and Make In India to push industrial development, we anticipate a lot of growth opportunities in the coming years.
How are the advances in machine vision technologies helping rapid adoption of digital transformation?
Traditional machine vision systems have replaced quality inspection performed by the humans in the industry for a long time. Machine vision technology and digital transformation are closely related. Transformation basically requires some source or raw data. In a Machine vision system, images are the digital data or the source. For digital transformation, these digital data are used from machine vision systems. In order to get the right set of digital images, proper combination of automation, material handling and image acquisition hardware is necessary. Once we get digital images, those images are to be processed using image processing algorithms to get the results. At the image processing stage, we can notice the difference between traditional vision systems and advanced vision systems which use artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, 3D vision, liquid lens auto focusing, etc.
Traditional vision systems are used for relatively simple but repetitive tasks like presence/absence, identification, barcode reading, measurement, etc. Let’s take one application example of sorting good and bad parts to compare traditional vision systems and advanced systems. In traditional machine vision systems, only the master image is trained for decision making so natural/acceptable deviations in the part are getting rejected by it. However, with the help of deep learning which is based on the neutral networks, machine vision systems are capable of accepting these variations. So, for complex applications which are not solvable using rule-based approaches, AI based vision systems adapt autonomously. Of late, we are seeing rapid increase in the use of robotics in automotive, logistics and consumer goods sectors. With the use of AI, the application areas are going to be spread to more demanding requests in the industry.
If we talk about the application that requires automatic focusing of different object heights, lenses with stepper or DC motor control capabilities were used in the traditional way. These systems are bulky, complex to integrate and slower in response. But with the introduction of liquid lens technology, vision solutions are more compact, fast and reliable nowadays. Liquid lenses are small cells that contain optical-grade liquid which changes its shape when a current or voltage is applied. This occurs within a matter of milliseconds and causes the lens’ optical power, focal length and working distance, to shift at a very high speed. So, all these advancements are giving humanlike qualities to machines and helping the customers to automate more and more manufacturing and handling processes. New emerging technology and considerable advances in existing technology mean that machine vision is more powerful than ever at addressing the needs of modern-day requirements and are assisting the customers in moving to Industry 4.0 and digital transformation.
What are the industry segments that are using machine vision solutions in India extensively?
Manufacturing is the major industry where vision solutions are used extensively. It includes automotive, pharma, FMCG, Medical & Healthcare devices, electronics, home appliances, and many more sectors. India is a basically big hub for automotive manufacturers with a lot of companies having their manufacturing setups established in different industrial segments. To support them there are a lot of tier-1 and tier-2 suppliers as well. This industry demands highly automated mass production, with strict quality requirements so the vision system is widely used for different processes in their facility. Healthcare, pharma and medical devices is another sector machine vision is used extensively in India. Typical applications are track & trace, fill level and contamination inspection, inspection of ampoules, vials, capsules, blisters, etc., image analysis and many more. FMCG is the 4th largest sector in the Indian economy according to a study and it has steady demand throughout the year. So, the adoption of vision technology is very consistent in this industry as well. Security and surveillance is another sector which demands steady growth in use of machine vision. With the use of artificial intelligence, without human intervention live videos and images are analysed from camera systems. This includes applications from inhouse to road, rail, airport, etc. Some of the other segments with usage of vision-based solutions are material processing, jewellery, packaging and logistics, agriculture, E-commerce, etc. Last but not the least, educational institutes, R&D centres are investing a lot nowadays for the use of machine vision and computer vision projects by establishing centres for excellence. So, it is fair to say that now machine vision solutions are gradually entering into each and every sector.
Companies today are seen not merely as product vendors but solution providers. How does Edmund Optics help customers in this endeavour?
If we talk about implementation of machine vision technology in the industry, most of the end users in India are dependent on external suppliers. The role of Vision integrators, OEMs and SPMs are very significant here. We do work closely with the leading machine vision solution providers, OEMs and SPMs of the country. Being a manufacturer of imaging lenses, our focus is to empower these solution providers with the latest products and trends in the market so that they can provide the best solution to their customers. We provide extensive imaging resource guides both online and in our imaging catalogue for in-depth understanding of the subject. In addition to this, our team of imaging experts are available to help the customers for any additional support.
Globally, we partnered with many leading machine vision camera and illumination manufacturers. Their products are made available for our customers as a one stop destination for the machine vision needs. We also have special pricing support for Indian customers which are competitive to other players in the industry. If our standard imaging lenses are not suited for any application, we have an expertise team of engineers to design, prototype and manufacture customised lenses.
We also have a Vision Integrator Partner program in Edmund Optics. Through this, vision integrators can partner with Edmund Optics to provide our machine vision lens, optics, illumination and other hardware to offer seamless vision solutions to end customers. We will be finalising our association with the VIP program soon in India and interested integrators are welcome to contact us.
How has the Covid pandemic and lockdown impacted business and the learnings thereof?
Covid-19 affected everybody in one way or the other and we are not any exception to it. In-fact, within a few months of our operations starting in India, we had to face this pandemic. We were in a situation with one entire month with zero sales and great uncertainty of the future. Logistics was badly impacted during this period due to which orders were stuck, imports were halted, and customs clearance was taking longer time due to piling up of shipments at airports. The healthcare industry is first to bounce back during this pandemic. We were serving many customers from this industry and their demands were suddenly surging in order to fulfil the requirement of producing diagnostics and testing machines in large numbers. So even during this pandemic, with the help of our manufacturing facility across the globe, we were able to deliver Edmund products in time to our customers.
This pandemic also changed the work culture from onsite support to remote support. This was the huge challenge mainly for the machine vision solution providers who were originally supporting customers with trial, demos and installations onsite. However, both end users and solution providers adapted to these changes with the help of technological advances but it affected sales cycle duration.
During the pandemic, industries which had already implemented digital solutions are better positioned to pass the storm with minimal damage. And they are moving towards full-fledged implementation of digitisation. Others are also moving in the same direction by introducing automation and digitisation processes in order to minimise the effects of shortage of onsite workforce. So, we can expect rapid transformation towards industry 4.0 in coming years.
Adarsha Sarpangala is the Imaging business Key account manager in the Edmund Optics India Pvt Ltd, Bengaluru office. He manages Edmund Optics’ machine vision business for Indian markets. Adarsha has 10 years of experience in the machine vision industry including working with a selection of cameras, lenses, lighting systems, and machine vision solutions. For any queries about the article or about machine vision applications, he can be contacted at email@example.com