Automation of various systems is increasingly becoming an important part of any manufacturing industry, especially in the area of vision inspection. The automotive industry is one that manufactures components in large numbers that need to be inspected for quality repeatedly and quickly. Such automated inspection equipment makes use of vision systems to enable high-speed and accurate inspection of parts.
Qualitas Technologies is one such start-up that is offering a high level of industrial automation to improve quality inspection in manufacturing. We met with Raghava Kashyapa, Managing Director and Founder, Qualitas Technologies, to learn of the company's offerings to the automotive industry, maturity of the industry for machine vision technology and the roadmap for Qualitas.
JOURNEY SO FAR
Over the course of the five years that Qualitas has been present in the market, Kashyapa feels that the manufacturing industry has matured for the use of solutions using machine vision technology. As a company, Qualitas has also understood the markets where its solutions will be useful, along with the kind of customers that will use its systems. He added that large companies and Tier I suppliers, who have a higher requirement in maintaining quality are the target customers for Qualitas in terms of the solutions its offers.
Kashyapa said that the decision-makers in the manufacturing industry are quite traditional and conservative in their approach, and the industry in itself is extremely cost conscious. Additionally, the level of risk taken, in terms of new technologies by medium and smaller players is lower, and hence, Qualitas is focussed more towards larger MNCs in the country. However, he noted that technology itself has evolved, which has resulted in lower costs to customers. Cost reduction has been achieved by sourcing locally-made components, developing own software and efficient engineering processes.
Additionally, Kashyapa said that the company is making different learnings, like those of making their inspection systems more robust and operator-proof. There have been instances where operators have intentionally damaged cameras or other parts of these systems due to worries of being replaced eventually by these automated systems.
AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY OFFERINGS
The automotive industry accounts for one-third of Qualitas' business. The company's value proposition lies in it automating visual inspection processes in manufacturing, using the core technology of computer image processing. It's core technology is based on computer image processing, and is proven to detect visual defects reliably. It also provides end-to-end solutions for customers, as a result of its tie-ups with various leading machine builders in India. Qualitas provides complete solutions from stand-alone inspection units to semi and fully-automated lines to check the quality of products. It also offers to integrate vision systems with existing manufacturing lines.
The usage of machine vision systems in the industry is fairly new, noted Kashyapa. While many companies are using machine vision for processes of identification and tracking, Qualitas is focussing on replacing humans for various quality inspection processes. He said that the gap in the automotive space is in the lack of system integration of such vision technologies into complete solutions. Some of the applications that Qualitas provides for in the automotive industry include dimensional measurement, assembly verification, sorting, surface defects, identification and robotic guidance.
Qualitas provides the entire solution for its quality inspection systems that use machine vision technology. It develops the entire software on which these systems work in-house, as are the control panels and integration systems. It imports the cameras for the systems from Germany, along with optics solutions from Japan. The lighting solutions are custom-made locally, as well as imported from international vendors.
DEVELOPMENT & ROADMAP
About 35 % of Qualitas' bottom line is invested back into R&D. This is because the company is building customised one-off solutions to the market. Once Qualitas begins to carry out standardised manufacturing of quality inspection systems, the investment on R&D would come down. Currently, a small R&D team works only on new projects that are not being delivered to any of its customers currently. These include development work in the areas of 3D machine regeneration, machine learning, new cameras and high-perspective imaging.
Qualitas is focussed at offering its products and solutions for the Indian automotive market at present, with no current plans to expand into other countries. Kashyapa said the company considers automotive as the best industry for such machine vision inspection technologies, since it has a combination of requirements of precision, quality and variability in parts. While the awareness levels for the use of machine vision technologies in quality inspection solution are present, customers lack the level of confidence required for this technology.
In the future, Qualitas sees that companies will begin making investments into production efficiency and increasing capacity. This leads to the pick-up of investments in quality, along with an increase in the level of automation. The second observation he made was in terms of machine vision. He said more integrators will enter the market to provide integrated solutions of quality inspection systems using this technology. Qualitas is looking at partnering with such integrators, and is developing solutions like self-learning systems and other sophisticated systems based on machine learning.
In years to come, Qualitas will invest more in material handling capabilities. It is looking at this capability, in order to be able to standardise some of the tasks of quality inspection using machine vision and build a universal inspection machine. Qualitas is aiming to build standard vision inspection systems that can be fitted onto almost any type of robot as additional equipment.
Text: Naveen Arul