Car instrument panel production gains boost from machine vision

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An inspection system designed to ensure precise positioning of parts during the production of car instrument clusters has been implemented on the production lines of Visteon Palmela, based in Portugal. The company is a leading supplier to the top automotive manufacturers in the world.

One vital element of the instrument cluster involves the appliqué, a plastic sheet incorporating the speedo and tacho markings. Each appliqué must be clipped into position with pinpoint precision, otherwise the vibration from the car's motion could make the appliqué move, resulting in the incorrect speed and revs being shown.

To cope with customer demand, two identical production lines were required, running simultaneously. Two In-Sight Micro cameras from Cognex, supplied by Alphr Technology, based in Letchworth, UK, were fitted per production line and mounted onto a FlexLink frame with LED spot lights.

Using PatMax, Cognex's industry-leading geometric pattern matching technology, the cameras search for two plastic pips positioned at the three o'clock and nine o'clock positions on each appliqué's white circle. If these pips are obscured, the appliqué is sitting on top of the clip rather than behind it and is therefore not affixed correctly.

Each part is manually loaded onto the rig by an operator and then removed once the inspection is complete. Results are viewed on a PC monitor using a test program written in Visual Basic 6. Failure tickets are printed for the operators and all results are sent to a factory CIM system to monitor performance.

The overall speed of the machine for each part with manual on/off loading is 40 seconds. Speed of production has been unaffected despite the new inspection requirement, as the In-Sight Micros inspect each appliqué in less than half a second, ensuring production and optimum throughput remain constant.

Declan McCabe, applications engineer at Alphr Technology was responsible for the electrical design, software development and installation. 'Using the new Cognex In-Sight Micro vision system, with its compact size and high performance, has ensured our customer can build their parts safe in the knowledge that there will be no product defects due to appliqué clipping.'