Nestled in the farmlands of London, Ontario sits an unassuming industrial park. Behind the seemingly calm façade, there’s innovation in every building. One facility produces insect-based protein to improve sustainability in food manufacturing. Another tests drones for use in coal mining to scan for dangerous conditions and improve safety. Then there’s BOS Innovations.
BOS Innovations develops turnkey solutions that allow large-scale manufacturers to solve sophisticated applications, most often complex inspections and defect detection. BOS Innovations automates these processes using Cognex machine vision and other advanced technologies, empowering their customers to meet higher quality standards, shorten cycle times, address labor shortages, increase ROI, and meet other productivity goals.
Traditionally, the company has served automotive manufacturers; recently they’ve expanded into defense, metal, mining, and nuclear industries. For one new customer in the nuclear space, BOS Innovations uniquely applied machine vision to automate bin picking in the production of zirconium rods.
From robots to reactors: using 3D machine vision to solve nuclear bin-picking
Zirconium fuel rods are used as structural components in nuclear reactors due to their ductility and resistance to corrosion and high temperatures. These properties are essential for the chain reaction to run effectively inside the reactor’s core and to sustain the production of energy. In addition, zirconium provides the structural materials to support three key safety functions – controlling the nuclear reaction, cooling the nuclear fuel, and containing the byproducts of the fission reaction.
Production of zirconium rods includes several steps, including picking loose rods in a bin and loading them into a tray for end cap welding and further assembly. Adding to the complexity of this step is the randomized location of the rods and the reflectivity of the parts, which makes the process difficult to automate. For this reason, the bin picking is usually completed manually. One manufacturer in the nuclear field worked with BOS Innovations to solve this longstanding problem.
In developing a solution for randomized bin picking, BOS Innovations started with a 2D vision camera and laser to guide the robotic arm to the correct location for picking up the zirconium rods. However, the company was not satisfied with the initial results.
“We tried solving the bin-picking application with 2D machine vision and a laser, but we did not see the level of robustness we would be proud of. We pivoted halfway through and selected the In-Sight 3D-L4000 from Cognex for accuracy and speed,” said Alex Klarenbeek, Senior Project Lead for Vision Systems at BOS Innovations.
The In-Sight 3D-L4000 combines 3D laser displacement technology with a smart camera to solve a range of inspection, guidance, and measurement tasks. A patented, speckle-free blue laser enables the In-Sight 3D-L4000 to capture higher quality images than traditional laser displacement sensors. This, coupled with high processing power and the ability to perform 3D analysis quickly, allowed BOS Innovations to build a solution that met their – and their customer’s – need for accuracy and speed.
The In-Sight 3D-L4000 addressed the challenges imposed by the randomized location and reflectivity of the zirconium rods. Generating high-resolution images and eliminating background noise caused by the specular surface, the In-Sight 3D-L4000 provided a precise target for the robot to aim. From there, the robot was able to successfully pick and place the rods for the next step in the assembly process.
Fueling greater efficiencies through vision-based automation
Backed by Cognex technology, BOS Innovations automated their customer’s material handling application and delivered the winning combination of hardware and software to get the job done. The result was more than simply automating a manual process. For BOS Innovations, it was all about earning the customer’s trust.
“By using machine vision in a unique way, we broke the ice with our customer and are growing that relationship. First, they relied on us for automated inspection, and now robotic guidance. Leveraging Cognex technology, we are helping our customers to unleash new capabilities for material handling applications,” said Andrew Perkins, Director of Technology Development at BOS Innovations.
Since deploying the solution, the customer has improved quality control and throughput. By reducing reliance on manpower, the customer can run their manufacturing longer and avoid common issues tied to manual labor, like human error and understaffing, while reassigning their workforce to more value-added tasks. Collaborating with Cognex strengthened the relationship BOS Innovations has with their new customer. The company is looking forward to the next project with the same customer, automating the next process on their line.
Making manufacturers more efficient through continual innovation From their humble beginnings operating out of a house to their recent expansion into an innovation hub in partnership with a local university, BOS Innovations has experienced impressive growth. Throughout this growth, the company remains committed to their primary objectives – keeping their customers first and continually innovating.
Innovation is not just in their name but part of the company’s culture as BOS Innovations constantly strives to build better, more practical solutions for their customers. They achieve this by designing solutions tailored to their customers’ problems, rather than simply offering something off the shelf. This customization and a collaborative approach to solution development set BOS Innovations apart from their competition.
At every turn, BOS Innovation uses technology in unique ways to serve their customer base. They seek longevity, not just in the reliability and performance of the solutions they create, but in their customer relationships. And with trusted partners like Cognex, they can achieve their primary objectives and continue to solve their customers’ toughest challenges.