Vision 4.0: Industrial image processing moving towards the future

Creating a scope for new solutions – SICK AG is playing a key role in advancing these paradigm shifts in sensor technology with the SICK AppSpace eco-system. Intelligent image processing systems and seeing sensors create the scope to provide completely new solutions, particularly in the context of Industry 4.0. Binary assessments such as “yes or no” and “good or bad” are replaced by the development of individual applications, which are based on a wide range of data and intelligent evaluations of said data. This opens up unimaginable horizons of availability for industrial production processes.

As SICK has made vision sensors from the Inspector P63x, P64x, and P65x product families, for example, open and programmable, integrators, OEMs, and interested end customers have the scope to integrate their knowledge and therefore their applications and ideas for the sensors. The technology in the Sensor Integration Machine (SIM), which is an additional component of the SICK AppSpace eco-system, goes one step further. For the first time in this form, it enables complete, digital object transformation for data collection and archiving for quality control, process analysis, and forward-thinking condition monitoring in the context of Industry 4.0. The SICK AppSpace approach, therefore, provides a great deal of added value, right through to the development of new app-based services and business models. What’s more, SICK has started the SICK AppSpace Developers Club, which encourages developers of the eco-system to share their experiences and information, providing a forum for disruptive or even radical ideas for changes in automation engineering.

Industrial image processing promotes visionary outlook on Industry 4.0 

The fourth industrial revolution promotes and requires visionary outlooks. Fundamental changes are in the pipeline: Intelligent, seeing sensors collect a multitude of data and are more than just simple switches for controlling industrial production processes. Technologies such as industrial image processing, which creates scope for new solutions, are helpful in this context.

The detection of good/bad parts using an image processing sensor is the classic example of binary assessment – but on the face of this, it has very little to with a pioneering solution for a smart factory. However, if the data collected from the sensor in the inspection process can be used to introduce concrete measures for preventing bad parts, then this will change the potential for added value and the benefits of the image processing solution immensely.

Vision sensors which record 1D bar codes and 2D codes provide additional food for thought when it comes to Industry 4.0. Familiar tasks, such as sorting processes or track and trace, are implemented reliably – they are no longer disruptive or even radical innovations. On the other hand, the link to additional data, such as the object history, digital fingerprints, and histogram and attribute data, open up the possibility for trend and variance analyses which go way beyond the pure identification of components and products. Image processing, therefore, forms a valuable basis for newly conceived applications and services in the context of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT).

New paths in navigation: If a moving control can generate a spontaneous route from position determination information and additional environmental characteristics and derive the associated navigation commands from this, then an image processing sensor solution is also responsible for this. It records the concrete utilisation scenario of the vehicle and makes it possible for the control to leave the predetermined course, select another route, and therefore respond intelligently to obstacles and events. When implemented on an industrial level, new business models can result from this, such as new parking management systems with autonomous industrial transporters which safely move cars into and out of spaces, for example. In this sense, Industry 4.0 is advancing quickly towards the private sphere.

All three example shows the disruptive or radical potential with which industrial image processing “made by SICK” is moving towards Industry 4.0 and making it possible to develop new services. The Sick AppSpace eco-system is the technological pioneer here.

SICK AppSpace: Fully operable eco-system for individual sensor app development

The SICK AppSpace eco-system approach is to integrate your ideas and implement customer-specific requirements efficiently and made-to-measure as sensor apps. The platform is split into three areas. Programmable sensors, such as the vision sensors from the Inspector P63x, P64x, and P65x product families, are used as sensor hardware. Another part of the SICK AppSpace hardware is the SIM4000 Sensor Integration Machine – a high-performance multi-camera and sensor processor for multi-technology image processing, sensor fusion, and data collection. On the software side, the eco-system offers both the SICK AppStudio module for application development and the SICK AppManager for implementing and managing apps in the field. The SICK AppSpace community forms the third pillar of the SICK AppSpace concept. This is where developers from SICK and our customers exchange information and define further development steps for the eco-system.

SICK AppSpace is currently the only eco-system in this form on the market. It allows application programmers to design easy-to-use solutions with user interfaces, regardless of the different sensor and image processing technologies in the SICK product range. Whether it’s being used for 3D triangulation, a stereo camera, ToF sensor, ranging scanner, or conventional 2D vision sensor, the main thing is that the application can be implemented promptly within the known eco-system and the end user benefits from the resulting simple sensor app. App developers can get help directly from the Internet. They can also expect a suitable development environment – SICK AppStudio – as well as a community of like-minded people, which is what they get with the SICK AppSpace Developers Club. And it’s not just virtual – they can meet in person at the annual SICK Developers Club Conference.

The SICK AppSpace eco-system, therefore, creates scope for individual solutions and ideas in an up-to-date and future-proof way – most notably, the embedded operating system, a variety of hardware functions, and the powerful SICK and Halcon image processing algorithms, which function as basic firmware via extensive APIs, can be addressed. This encourages industrial application developers to think outside the box and inspires them to create their own added value, stretching beyond the sensor hardware in question.

Image processing and Industry 4.0: Entering unchartered territories and exploring opportunities together

The idea of thinking regarding eco-systems for industrial image processing makes it easier to implement disruptive and radical solutions and concepts in the form of new services and business models. The number of app developers within the SICK AppSpace eco-system will grow considerably because everyone has the chance to design and offer their solutions on hardware from technological leader SICK which has been tried and tested on the market, This makes it possible to advance industrial image processing and make it a key technology in Industry 4.0.

The SICK AppSpace is a huge change for SICK itself, not just for users and competitors – and it can be classed as disruptive at the very least. Up until now, only application solutions developed in-house were offered on SICK sensors. In parallel with this, there is now also an eco-system for application solutions by OEMs and integrators. The first early adopters and entrepreneurs have already jumped on the bandwagon and are encouraging SICK to extend the sensor app world that it has created and offered more sensors which are compatible with SICK AppSpace.