Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A distinct lack of communication

Because of the highly application-specific nature of many vision systems, small to medium sized enterprises must often bring together teams of engineers with highly-specialized knowledge to create new bespoke designs for their customers.

Not only must these individuals have extensive experience in selecting the appropriate vision hardware for the job, but also be able to choose - and use - the appropriate tools to program the system.

Most importantly, however, it is often the mechanical or optical engineer working at such companies who can make or break the design of a new vision system. Working with their hardware and software counterparts, these individuals can make vitally important suggestions as to how test and inspection fixtures should be rigged to optimise the visual inspection processes.

Indeed, as smarter off-the-shelf hardware and sophisticated software relieves engineers from the encumbrance of developing their own bespoke image processing products, it is the optical or mechanical engineer that can often make the ultimate contribution to the success of a project.

Sadly, however, the teams of mechanically-minded individuals employed by such companies often work in isolation, unaware of what sorts of mechanical or optical marvels may have been whipped up by their rivals - or even customers - to address similar issues to the ones that they are working on.

That's hardly surprising, since many of such companies' customers force them to sign lengthy Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) before even embarking on the development work. Some customers even purchase the rights to the design after the machine has been built to prevent their rivals from developing similar equipment at their own facilities.

But while this unbridled protectionism is understandable from the customer's perspective, preventing such information from being disseminated in the literature or on the Interweb actually does a complete disservice to the engineers working at the companies that are building the equipment.

That's because, rather than being able to gain any sort of education from reading about how other engineers may have solved similar problems to their own - especially those in the all important field of mechanics and optics - they are effectively trapped in an secluded world where they can only call upon their own experience and ingenuity, which may, or may not be enough for the job.

Is it time then for systems integrators to politely ask their customers to forgo the signing of such NDAs so that such mechanical and optical information can be made more widespread for the benefit of us all? Perhaps it is. But I'd be a fool to think that it will ever happen.

No comments:

Post a Comment