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AUTOMATION


Factoring in factories


Automating factories is a big business globally, but in order to maximise its effectiveness both the vision system providers and end users must play their part, as Tom Eddershaw finds out


M


achine vision and automation tend to go hand in hand. Vision can make manufacturing lines more flexible


in order to cope with product variation, rather than having individual lines for each product. In addition, the demand for mass-produced precision parts requires a level of reliability in the manufacturing process that can only be provided by automation. In Asia, the growing middle class is driving wages up, meaning companies with factories in the Far East are turning to automated production to keep costs down and stay competitive. Sam Lopez, director of sales and marketing


at Matrox Imaging, has seen examples of this in China – the cost of living has increased over the past few years and wages are rising, he noted. Tis has meant that labour costs are increasing as well. He explained that the knock-on effect is


that a lot of factories are automating because it doesn’t make sense to pay high costs for more staff. He said: ‘It used to be that in China, they


weren’t worried about automation. Whenever you had a task to do you put people there and it was cheap, fast and relatively reliable. But now people are demanding higher quality for everything. ‘China has come a long way; it used to be


almost synonymous with cheap products, but today most iPhones are made in China – the electronics industry has really helped push the country’s development. A lot of this has been made possible by automation.’ But Lopez added that Matrox is seeing a


number of factories opening up in North America and Europe. ‘In order to stay competitive with the factories in Asia, they


22 Imaging and Machine Vision Europe • February/March 2015


[European and US companies] have to take full advantage of automation,’ he added. ‘Tis means that from the start they are more efficient, have better throughput and produce higher-quality products.’ Factory automation in the UK and Europe is


growing healthily as Mark Williamson, director of corporate market development at Stemmer Imaging, has witnessed. He said: ‘Tis is mainly because a lot of companies are trying to bring back the manufacturing that went to the Far East or are wanting to compete while keeping complex manufacturing nearer to home. By using automation, you can be competitive when building a product.’ Williamson explained that there has been


in a shiſt in the general factory automation market which is, at least in part, due to easier to use, less expensive systems. ‘About 10 years


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