The ongoing miniaturization of electronic components enables manufacturers like Schneider Electric to build smaller, lighter, faster, and more efficient electrical distribution and protection products.
Throughout its Smart Factory in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, the smallest components often play a large role in determining the effectiveness and quality of more than four million products per month. Situated across 12 acres, the factory is a vital manufacturing hub in Europe, supplying seven distribution centers in over 28 countries with electrical distribution and protection products, such as circuit breakers, for people and businesses.
Soldering Inspection Too Challenging for Traditional Machine Vision
Manufacturing miniaturized electrical components is not without its various challenges. For example, soldering requires precision and can be an extremely complicated process. The process becomes even more complex when you consider the multiple conditions, from temperature to the placement of components, that can affect the final quality of a solder joint in an electronics device.
Ultimately, solder defects, such as cracks, voids, or weak bond strength, can impact the performance of a product, which can result in customer dissatisfaction.
Manufacturers inspect, measure, and evaluate solder joints to identify defects. Traditional soldering inspection systems use high-resolution machine vision systems to scan various electronics components and their connection points, enabling manufacturers to examine the solder joints and surrounding areas to ensure quality.
However, according to Martin Yordanov, Method and Maintenance Manager, at the Schneider Electric Plovdiv Plant, this type of inspection has been challenging when using conventional machine vision due to the high levels of variation in defect types, size, and location.
Schneider Electric Collaborates with Cognex Through Their Exchange Partner Ecosystem
When the time came to find a solution to improve the soldering inspection process, they turned to their own ecosystem of partners, Schneider Electric Exchange. Corporate partner communities, such as Exchange, help facilitate the types of partnerships that can tackle industry issues through co-innovation. Together, collaborative partners devise joint solutions that solve tough business challenges. Additionally, users of Exchange can leverage IoT solutions that are compatible with the EcoStruxure™ architecture for their plant automation and energy management projects.
“From Exchange, we communicate with our partners in a very reliable and effective way. We share ideas and best practices in our area,” says Yornadov. “We decided to work with Cognex because they are a well-known partner of ours,” he adds.
Cognex, a machine vision pioneer and recognized industry leader, has been driving innovation in the machine vision market for over 40 years. According to Christophe Denis, Global Account Manager at Cognex. “It’s the only type of automation product that we design and produce. Compared to some other automation solutions providers, we only do machine vision.”
Cognex has supplied machine vision and traceability systems to Schneider Electric plants worldwide for over 20 years. Over the past five years, Cognex has elevated its relationship with Schneider Electric by becoming a Schneider Electric Technology Partners Program (TPP) partner and promoting its products on the Exchange marketplace.
A Centralized AI-Based Inspection Solution Improves Production
One of Schneider Electric’s challenges at the Plovdiv factory revolved around automation. “It was important that, together with Schneider Electric applications and Cognex technology, we created a centralized solution that helped improve production efficiency in the Plovdiv factory,” says Yordanov. “Cognex skillfully developed solutions applicable to EcoStruxure applications.”
Cognex vision systems support a large variety of protocols, which enables them to communicate with any type of PLC or external system.
“With Cognex, we managed to develop a few solutions in our process, which helped us produce better quality products,” says Yordanov. “As an example, we used Cognex’s In-Sight D900 with integrated AI-based technology which helped the plant improve the management of the soldering process.”
All the intelligence is embedded inside the vision system, which means that it doesn’t need any external computer or controller to work on the system. With AI-powered technology embedded, the vision system equips users with the ability to combine artificial intelligence with a comprehensive range of conventional machine vision algorithms.
Denis explains that AI-based solutions embedded in their vision system offerings learn by example. “A neural network is a program that trains by providing some images or examples of what is a good part and what is a bad part. And based on that experience, the system can automatically separate good parts from bad parts,” he says.
With the development of Cognex AI-enabled inspection solutions, the applications at the plant are much easier to solve with very accurate results. It helps Schneider Electric deliver quality products to their customers on time. The Cognex In-Sight D900 combined with the DataMan barcode reading system enabled Schneider Electric to maximize the effectiveness of their process.
Yordanov elaborates on how Cognex AI-based solutions helps operations at his plant. “The barcode identification system provided by Cognex together with the In-Sight D900 allowed for maximum effectiveness in our process,” he says.
Yordanov explains that with EcoStruxure, the plant can effectively track the process, and the Cognex solution makes it possible to improve product quality.
“The ultimate winner, in the end, is the client because they will receive quality products on time,” says Yordanov.
Cognex AI-based systems can detect highly variable defects that are too challenging for rule-based machine vision, helping to reduce scrap on the production lines and the amount of repetitive work during operation. As a result, organizations will save energy, reduce consumption of raw materials, and improve workforce productivity.
By improving visibility into production lines and automating the inspection process, the factory managed to raise clients’ satisfaction with ready-to-use products and minimize losses throughout the manufacturing process, according to Yordanov.
“We expect to save €40,000 each year and we lowered our waste to insignificant levels,” he says.
Through the solid partnership between Cognex and Schneider Electric, the projected return on investment for this project will be less than 2 years, according to Yordanov.
A Story of Effective Collaboration Built on Trust
For the Plovdiv plant project, as is the case with many customer application deployments, Cognex worked with Akhenaton, a local partner system integrator. “That’s one of the strengths of Cognex is that we have more than 400 certified partners worldwide, to integrate our solutions and which provide local services to our customers,” says Denis.
“We work directly with our customers to define and provide the right solutions that will be integrated by our partners―that’s the way we work at Cognex,” stated Denis.
The use of the Cognex solutions at the Plovdiv factory and numerous other Schneider Electric factories worldwide demonstrates the high level of trust between Schneider Electric and its technology partners.
As for where this partnership is headed, he sees two axes of co-innovation and development.
“The first one is with Schneider’s factories, to deepen the global partnerships we started years ago,” he says. He highlights the growing adoption of AI-based technology to drive inspections and traceability solutions.
His second point is about developing joint solutions with Schneider Electric, that can be leveraged by mutual customers of both companies.
“Since we have expertise in machine vision at Cognex, and Schneider Electric has expertise in data analytics from industrial processes, like with the EcoStruxure Machine Advisor solution, there is great potential for collaboration which will provide added value to our customers,” Denis says.
Cognex has several of its solutions listed on Exchange, a corporate technology partner community that provides a digital marketplace where third parties can capitalize on EcoStruxure-compatible IoT innovation for automation and energy management, and will soon add others, including the In-Sight 2800 vision system launched earlier this year.
“This new product embeds edge learning technology. It is AI-based, easy to use and simple to deploy. Furthermore, this solution doesn’t require any specific skill to set up, providing the power of edge learning to any user,” he says.
The Schneider Electric Exchange helps people find answers that can address significant technical challenges as well as collaborate on building innovative, reliable manufacturing solutions.