Markus Schnitzlein, CEO, Chromasens
How did you come to be part of the imaging/machine vision industry?
My background is optics; I studied physics with a focus on optics, so from the beginning I was interested in optical systems in cameras and light sources. Following my studies, I worked for a Siemens subsidiary developing high-speed document scanners for sorting printed images on forms and documents. My background led me to realise there is a big challenge in developing high quality camera systems. Some years later – 14 years in fact after starting at Siemens – I founded Chromasens. The company is focused on colour imaging – ‘chroma’ means colour and ‘sens’ is sensing.
How do you convince customers that they need machine vision?
There are many different arguments to convince our customers of the benefits of machine vision. One of the most important of these is the consistency vision systems provide with regards to colour. We have two challenges: cameras have to be accurate in distinguishing between subtle differences in colour fidelity and intensity and they have to do this at the high speeds found on production lines – printing machines run in excess of 10m/s, which makes manual inspection impossible.
Our cameras are able to do that; they are more accurate than a human eye in terms of colour measurements and identifying very small defects. We have applications where we’re looking for defects in the order of 10-20μm. This might be possible to do manually using a microscope, but not on the high-speed production lines where these cameras operate. Optimising the quality of products is one of the most important factors in manufacturing in any market and this can be enabled with vision systems.
What role does Europe have in the development of machine vision?
A lot of production equipment is developed in Europe and all of these machines need vision for quality inspection and to optimise output. European companies have to develop – and this is happening at the moment – sensors for improving production quality. Many of these companies are located in Europe, not in the Far East. Therefore, Europe plays a very important role in the development of new sensors and inspection systems, which will be needed all over the world in production machinery.
What do you see as the major growth sectors?
I see a big market emerging in Asia for printing and packaging. In India, for example, where we have a small subsidiary, printing and packaging is one of the fastest-growing markets. India is carrying out most of printing for Russia, for instance. In India, and also China, printing for packaging is a fast-growing market that, I think, will continue to grow over the next 10 years.
What are the most important technological challenges facing the industry?
Machine vision technology is changing from greyscale to colour sensing; colour imaging is one of the most important developments for a lot of machine vision applications. In the same way, I see a change from 2D to 3D imaging.
I see more and more applications emerging using colour, not only RGB but multispectral applications, in which a combination of visible colour and infrared, or colour and UV is used. All these greyscale applications found in the automotive industry, for example, will move to colour.
In addition, there is a move from 2D to 3D imaging and we are also seeing a fusion of different sensors. For example, combining 3D and colour imaging to gain textural information along with colour. In the near future, more and more systems will be developed with different types of sensors combined in one inspection module.
Chromasens has developed a 3D system using multispectral colour imaging – a 3D measurement system providing textural information, not only in RGB, but also in infrared and UV. We can solve a lot of specific inspection applications with the system, which weren’t possible two or three years ago. Food sorting, for example, or sorting any kind of organic material, such as quality inspection of leather, etc, can be achieved with these systems.
In your opinion, what will be the most significant commercial changes in the industry during the years ahead?
Many companies are looking to make their manufacturing processes more efficient and sustainable, and applications are emerging in different market segments relating to green technology. Manufacturers are looking for reductions in power consumption and to optimise the output of their machinery to reduce waste. There is a trend towards not only maximising profits, but also reducing waste. It will become more important in the future to answer the question ‘is the technology green or not’, and machine vision will play a role in making production processes more sustainable.