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Feature Articles

Vision Blooms in Latin American Markets

by Winn Hardin, Contributing Editor - AIA


What's the difference between
North, Latin, South, and Central America?

North America
Includes Canada, the United States, Mexico,
Central America, and the islands of the
Caribbean Sea. (Sometimes excludes Mexico,
Central America, and the Caribbean.)

Latin America
Usually includes the countries south of the
United States, including all of South America.

South America
Includes the countries of South America south
of Panama but sometimes includes the portion
of Panama south of the Isthmus of Panama.

Central America
Includes the countries south of Mexico to north
of Colombia - Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El
Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.
Sometimes includes the area of Mexico east of
the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, such as the
Yucatan Peninsula.

Source: www.about.com


Although machine vision sales revenue for South America is difficult to obtain, local vendors estimate that the machine vision integrator pool has grown to nearly 100 companies, and many North American and Central American vendors and integrator's also serve South American markets.

‘‘Machine vision is very new in Latin America,’‘ explains Alessandro Koerich, Vice President Administration and Finance for InviSys Machine Vision Ltda (Curitiba, Brazil). ‘‘In the last five years machine vision in Latin America has experienced fast growth mainly due to the availability of smart cameras.’‘ InviSys was founded in 2004 and has experience in the areas of computer vision, artificial intelligence, software engineering, and industrial automation in the Brazilian and South American markets.

Perfume Bottle Particle TrackingJose Rizzo Hahn, CEO of POLLUX (Santa Catarina, Brazil), characterizes the Latin American market as a ‘‘fast follower’‘. ‘‘Unfortunately, there is no hard data available in terms of revenues, but it could be certainly much higher if was not for the incredibly high import and sales taxes, which can make the exact same solution two times more expensive in Brazil than in the U.S.,’‘ Hahn notes.

Latin American Industries
Pollux is organized into five business units, representing the main industries using vision in the South and Central American markets. ‘‘In our specific case, they are (in order of importance): automotive, pharmaceutical & health care, packaging, and electronics. In smaller scale, we have developed solutions for the printing industry and for those requiring surface inspection,’‘ Hahn says. With the exception of the semiconductor industry, which is non-existent in Brazil, ‘‘...the industries using vision are basically the same as in the U.S., Europe, and Japan.’‘

The comparison between Latin American markets and machine vision applications around the world is an apt one, as illustrated by the types of systems being built at Prefixa Vision Systems (Puebla, Mexico).

‘‘For the packing industry (e.g., food processing and packaging), common applications include the quality control of packaging, number of items inside boxes, or cleanliness of bottles,’‘ explains Dr. Miguel Arias, CEO and President of Prefixa Vision Systems. ‘‘For automotive, vision guided robotics are a main application, subdivided into quality of positioning, alignment, quality of welding, etc. Pharmaceutical applications focus on liquid level and particle detection inside ampoules. In electronics contract assembly [not semiconductor], there are machine vision solutions for the PCB assembly and component verification. In metal-mechanics, infrared imaging for quality control based on temperature monitoring is required.’‘

Prefixa Vision SystemsUnlike many vision integrators in Latin America, Prefixa is developing its own hardware to target these markets, including a new 3D camera for micromechanical inspection and infrared (IR) sensor for process control in the metal industry. Arias feels there is a benefit to hardware originating from the Central and South American markets, in addition to importing goods.

‘‘Cultural differences are important,’‘ Arias explains. ‘‘In Mexico, integrating innovative systems in a production line where all the components are [imported], isn't viewed very well by the customer -- even if you prove there could be improvements in the quality process.’‘ And of course, there are always the stiff import fees that domestic equipment would avoid.

Imports and Challenges
Import fees represent one of the largest barriers to non domestic companies doing business in South and Central American countries. ‘‘In our opinion the cost of a machine vision system is the most important difference between Latin America and other markets,’‘ notes InviSys' Koerich. ‘‘We are subject to very high importation fees that sum up to about 90% of the total equipment costs. Besides that, there is also the exchange rate (Brazilian Real/ US Dollar) which is about 2.2:1. Most of the small and mid-sized Brazilian companies cannot afford a machine vision system. Furthermore, many Brazilian companies have the opinion/idea that it is less expansive to have people doing quality control than a machine vision system. Very few are aware of the benefits of automated quality control.’‘

To combat a manual labor culture, Latin American vision suppliers have to be willing and able to develop proof-of-concept systems and show how their systems are cost effective. ‘‘There is not much culture for clients in Mexico to pay for proof of concepts in small projects, as opposed to well defined off-the-shelf inspection products,’‘ explains Prefixa's Arias. ‘‘So either you go with your own resources to show feasibility, which consumes time and money, or you can propose a solution similar to a costly existing product as an alternative. There are other opportunities for machine vision, mainly related to substituting legacy equipment with less costly vision systems that have easier maintenance and also part availability, particularly in the food industry inspection area.’‘

Pollux SystemConferences and expositions are growing to support the Latin American vision market, mainly through industrial automation shows that give machine vision suppliers a chance to show what their systems can do compared to hard automation. Currently, ISA supports three shows in Mexico and one in Brazil. These shows offer excellent opportunities for vision companies interested in the South and Central American markets to network, explore, and build bridges. Unlike some countries, North American and European vision suppliers should be able to quickly adapt to Latin American cultures and ways of doing business, although business conditions could be better, as Pollux's Hahn explains.

‘‘Having lived and worked in the US for five years, I dare to say that conducting business in Brazil, on the interaction side, has many more similarities than differences when compared to the way business is done in North America or Europe,’‘ concludes Pollux's Hahn. ‘‘Brazil is a melting pot, and a lot of our culture was influenced by the Europeans that moved into the country few centuries ago. Nevertheless, the similarities stop right there. Over here we are in the middle of one of the most complex and ineffective business environments within a developed country, as it relates to bureaucracy, laws and taxes in general. The cost of doing business in Brazil is pointed by many international institutes as one of the highest worldwide.'

Vision Vignettes

Demand for machine vision is growing as quality assurance in manufacturing seeks more flexible systems that can adapt to new product lines and new defect parameters. Latin America is no different as it experiences escalating demand for automated quality inspections. To support the premise of Latin America as a 'fast-follower' in the global machine vision industry, we've asked several vision companies that operate south of the Rio Grande to share a story of a recent design win.

And like so many vision companies in North American, automotive was the first industry to come to mind.

Miguel Arias, Ph.D.
Prefixa Vision Systems

We had a project with the Volkswagen-Puebla (VW) plant to locate the position of studs welded by robotic arms in the Jetta floor. Our solution was to use an off-the-shelf camera and frame grabber from The Imaging Source (Charlotte, North Carolina), to acquire a calibration pattern when the car floor was not in the robotic cell. We used a proximity sensor to detect the arrival of the car floor to turn on illumination and acquire the image, and developed an algorithm to detect the centroids of the studs and a statistical record to show the deviations of the center to monitor missing studs or deviation from the tolerance positions to correct them before they reached the limits.

We prototyped the system with MVtec (Munich, Germany) Halcon, but later adopted our own algorithms. We delivered 0.1-mm accuracy, 2000 times a day as each car floor passed by. A proposal to monitor the 83 bolts of the floor was done but never progressed because of cuts in the VW plant at that time.

Alessandro L. Koerich
InviSys Machine Vision Ltda

Recently we have integrated a machine vision system for inspecting the quality of 4 weld points on steel structures. The inspection consists of verifying the presence of weld along the structure, as well as its distribution. Furthermore, it was also necessary to verify the distance between the end of the weld and the edges of the structure. Another common problem that may occur is some holes and gaps along the weld. So the machine vision system has to check that as well.

In such a system we have employed three high-resolution (1280x1024) Prosilica (Burnaby, B.C., Canada) FireWire cameras. The cameras are linked through FireWire to an industrial PC running Linux. We developed the image processing software in-house to check the welds.

Jose Rizzo Hahn

We were recently challenged to develop a fully automated inspection machine to control the quality of automotive piston pins produced in Brazil by a large German manufacturer.

The cylindrical pins must be completely free from any superficial defect, including tiny scratches and very shallow bents, which are very hard to see. Pollux's Inspection Machine division designed the equipment, combining sophisticated lighting techniques, three Cognex (Natick, Massachusetts) In-Sight vision sensors and our own supervisory software to do the job. The final result was exceptional and we are about to export the first units to Europe.



Known for its warm weather, beautiful vistas, and friendly populations, Latin America also is gaining recognition as a hot and growing market for machine vision systems.



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