CLEVELAND—A Canadian data analysis firm has been enjoying increasing success marketing a vision system to producers of synthetic rubber that it claims will greatly reduce the amount of off-specification materials SR firms are sending to customers.
Burlington, Ontario-based ProSensus Inc. exhibited at the ACS Rubber Division's Rubber Expo in Cleveland to showcase its BaleGuard quality control system, which uses cameras and other data tools to detect surface defects on synthetic rubber bales and automatically reject product that doesn't meet specs.
"We help manufacturers improve quality," Jamal Alli, sales and marketing manager, said at the Rubber Expo. "One of the ways we do that is analyzing image data."
ProSensus was formed in 2004 by John MacGregor, a faculty member at McMaster University in Canada who has facilitated a number of academic/industrial collaborations. Alli said MacGregor helped pioneer multi-variable data statistical analysis. That includes looking at and analyzing information from historical data, and also utilizing image data.
The company was introduced into the rubber industry in 2009 when a global SR producer contacted the firm to help address quality control issues when its manual inspectors and two-camera inspection systems weren't successful enough in stopping defective material from being sent to customers. "They approached us to see if we could apply the multi-variant image analysis technology to see if it could classify these kinds of defects and accept or reject the rubber bales," Alli said.
The result was BaleGuard, a system that includes six cameras in industrial enclosures; nine machine vision lights and shrouding; touchscreen display; a photo-eye sensor; and electrical panel with powerful PC. The software classifies defects according to type and can have its rejection settings configured to producer requirements.
"It offers 360-degree surface inspection for synthetic rubber bales," he said. "The motivation for it is if producers just have humans inspecting the quality of the rubber bales, it's a six-sided bale that's coming in fairly quickly, and they can often miss surface defects."
Alli said BaleGuard handles multiple product grades, it looks at each side of the bale and classifies the defects. It can be looking for darker spots, which could indicate burnt crumb going into the bale, or lighter spots, sometimes an indication of excessive moisture. The system also can be equipped with a thermal camera to make sure heat dispersion is uniform, with an absence of hot or cold spots.
The initial customer, who Alli didn't name, was pleased with the results and has contracted with ProSensus to install systems at its SR operations around the world. "One of the things they actually did was because the information was being stored, they were able to look at the final product quality data stored by Bale Guard," he said. "They then related it upstream to the process conditions and changed the conditions to make the process run more optimally.
"Now that's not the primary reason someone would get BaleGuard; that's just a benefit down the road."
ProSensus now is working with about a half-dozen other SR producers, some in the earlier stages evaluating the technology, according to Alli. He said it's a long sales cycle that normally begins with the Canadian firm bringing in a one-camera evaluation system.
"We put it at a line and see if we can pick up surface defects," he said. "What's great about that is that all the stakeholders are in one room evaluating the technology, and they can see the benefits then and there."
Alli claimed the system will pay for itself within a couple of years after installation, but the benefits of BaleGuard reach beyond quantifiable savings to more intangible items. "You also have to think about protecting your brand and your quality," he said. "If an operator misses something when they're doing manual inspection, how does that hurt your brand?"
Information collected by the quality system goes back to the client, but ProSensus also can set up remote access to evaluate the data and provide monthly reports.
Exhibiting at the International Elastomer Conference has been helping the firm gain traction for the BaleGuard system, Alli said. ProSensus, which employs about 15, now generates roughly 40 percent of its revenue in rubber, 40 percent in food applications and the remaining 20 percent in specialty chemicals.
The company builds the camera systems at its facility in Burlington, does testing there, then ships it to the customer's facility for installation. They ensure it performs to customer specifications, and then provides documentation and training, he said.
In addition, ProSensus now offers a CrumbGuard monitoring system to detect defective rubber crumb before it is incorporated into a bale.