Cameras on the line aren’t new, but here’s why Instrumental stands out

Samuel Weiss

At Instrumental, we help our customers find and fix issues faster, saving weeks of development schedule slips or mass production delays. We do this by capturing high resolution images of every unit during assembly, and providing a seamless viewing experience from anywhere in the world. The ability to virtually tear down a unit, look through hundreds of units in minutes, or take internal measurements after a unit is built can make an engineer more productive from his or her desk than from the factory floor. It’s this seamless connection to actionable data that makes the Instrumental system more valuable than traditional factory equipment.

That being said, we’re all engineers here. And when engineers are evaluating any new solution, they want to understand their options. We know we stack up, so let’s compare:

Can’t I use my phone camera?

“The best camera is the one that’s with you.” – an old saying

“An even better camera is there without you.” – a new saying

Absolutely! As a product design engineer, I consider a digital or phone camera one of the most valuable tools to have with me on the assembly line, second only to my notebook. Being able to document a damaged component, or the errant alignment pin on the assembly jig that caused it, is critical to improving assembly line process.

If your process is similar to mine, you’ll take a photo of that unit’s serial number before (or was it after?) photographing the defect. You’ll email these photos to yourself when you get back to the hotel at night. You’ll put them into a folder somewhere on your hard drive (and the good ones into a daily report) with names like IMG_0967.jpg — never searchable or discoverable by the rest of your team

And the images you do have will be inconsistently framed and illuminated, making it difficult to compare from unit to unit, not to mention impossible to extract any accurate physical measurement. Most importantly, you’ll only end up with images of the defects that you happen notice, remove from the assembly line, and take the time to photograph. How many units escaped with the same issue? How many issues went unnoticed?

Can’t I use a digital microscope?

A digital microscope can be a great tool for measuring a few critical dimensions on a set of in-process units. But, there are three main drawbacks: cycle time, requirement of foresight, and locked-in data.

Digital microscopes can take great measurements if your operators are trained, but this process can not keep pace with a typical assembly line and is not appropriate for 100% inspection.

Secondly, these measurements require foresight. In order to test whether a gap between two assembled parts correlated with drop-test performance failures, I’ve had to kick off an experiment that required building and measuring dozens of new units. If I could have gone back in time to measure the original units I had built, the entire experiment could have been avoided — saving time and money.

Finally, the digital microscope only has the capability to store files locally. Most factories have rules against thumb drives on shop floors for data security reasons, so if I wanted to save the data for a report or send it to someone else, I was often left taking a photo of the screen with my camera. That works fine for single digit units, but is definitely not scaleable.

This doesn’t sound too hard—can’t we home brew?

We’re glad to hear that you think our technology sounds simple — we’ve designed it that way on purpose! Growing up as an engineer at Apple, the customer experience was always front of mind, and Anna and I have brought that to Instrumental. We’ve taken a complicated bundle of hardware, lighting, networking, databasing, UI design, math, and algorithms to create a simple experience that you won’t get from home-brewing point-and-shoot cameras on the line and uploading SD cards of data every night. How do we know? Because that was our first prototype — and we’ve seen the difference firsthand.

You’ve got a smart team, who could engineer anything that they put their minds to. But you’ve also got a product to design and deadlines to hit. At Instrumental, we spend 100% of our time working on new features and automated functionality to make this system even more powerful. These features work retroactively with older data, but only if that data is available and collected by our system.

Why Instrumental makes quality easy

The Instrumental system is purpose built for issue discovery and root cause analysis. In review, our customers get:

  • 100% unit coverage
  • Fast inspection with consistent positioning and lighting
  • Seamless data export from your factory into the Instrumental application, viewable from anywhere
  • Records searchable by date, serial number, config, etc.
  • Calibrated measurements hours, days, or weeks later — without physical access to units
  • Easy comparison of units while zoomed in to a region of interest

Want to see for yourself? Request a demo.

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