Allan Anderson, UKIVA Chairman, looks at the role the vision industry is playing in supporting recovery in many other sectors.
With the global economy in deep recession as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the vision industry is not alone in having to adjust to a changing landscape. It faces the same challenges as all businesses in terms of finding new customers, as well as developing and demonstrating solutions to customer problems within potentially tighter financial constraints. Nevertheless, it is in a strong position to help many other industries with their recoveries by providing the tools to help them to increase levels of automation and improve efficiencies.
An extensive range of established and versatile vision technology is already in use in a variety of different industries and can be readily adapted to meet emerging requirements. For example: in a directly ‘virus-related’ application, there has been a significant increase in the use of infrared imaging to detect elevated body temperature for screening in high-traffic public places as lockdowns have been eased. However, machine vision can also open up many opportunities for automation across multiple industries using key building blocks such as embedded vision, deep learning 3-D vision and vision-guided robots. In a post-COVID world, this is especially important in labour-intensive applications where the use of vision could reduce the number of people needed in a particular area or dramatically speed up production processes, or both. During the pandemic, we have seen some businesses struggle to re-open due to the numbers of workers unavailable through infection or self-isolation, while in others (notably meat processing plants) virus hotspots have arisen due to the close proximity needed between workers making it difficult to impose social distancing measures.
Making it happen
Although video conferencing has been widely and successfully used during lockdown, the inability to make site visits made it particularly difficult for vision projects in their early stages. While some vision companies provided on-line feasibility studies to help mitigate this, the added uncertainty about when businesses might be able to re-open, inevitably led to some projects being cancelled and others postponed. However, in many other cases, projects that were much further advanced were accelerated to enable businesses to be in the strongest position possible when they re-opened. Vision companies were also able to continue to provide technical support for existing vision systems through video conferencing, on-line customer training, and on-line product ordering. In addition, companies have worked hard to minimise the impact of any supply chain disruptions on customers. There are now many more opportunities for both face-to-face meetings and site visits as lockdowns have eased, which in turn are enabling more projects to go ahead. Currently, there is a lot of interest in automating processes within the food and logistics industries. There is also increasing interest in the use of vision systems with remote access for adjustment and trouble-shooting as a consequence of the site access restrictions that have been experienced.
With major trade shows cancelled due to the pandemic, including the UKIVA’s own Machine Vision Conference & Exhibition (MVC), the association aimed to maintain awareness about the capabilities of vision technology by making MVC’s technical programme of events available to all via its on-line Technology Presentation Hub. Subject to restrictions being lifted on events such as trade shows, the next physical MVC is scheduled to take place at the Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes on 11 May 2021.