Steve Kinney & Dave Spaulding
Smart Vision Lights
When it comes to illuminating machine vision applications, customers insist on solutions that are faster, smaller, cheaper, and offer more intensity. Steve Kinney and Dave Spaulding of Smart Vision Lights share with Manufacturing Matters how their new offerings address these demands. The DoAll Light – which combines six lights in a single unit – is well suited for applications including automated work cells, where different tasks such as assembly and component verification each require a different type of lighting.
Meanwhile, the company’s new Dual OverDrive technology targets logistics and high-speed inspection applications with its intense output. (Up to 10X brighter than continuous lighting). It also allows users to attach polarizers to reduce glare when reading barcodes covered in reflective plastic, for example, without affecting the light output. Plus: See how SVL’s new facility enables quick prototyping and custom work.
Winn Hardin: [00:00:06] Hey, everybody. Thanks for joining us on Manufacturing Matters today. We’re recording live at the A3 Business Forum in Orlando, Florida. We’re checking out the latest trends in automation technology. And today I’m lucky enough to be with two of my old friends. We’ve got Steve Kinney. Steve, give me your newest title.
Steve Kinney [00:00:25] Director of training, compliance, and technical solutions for Smart Vision Lights.
Winn Hardin: [00:00:27] And then of course you’ve got Dave Spalding over here, CEO of Smart Vision Lights. Fantastic. Dave, kick us off a little bit. So I’ve known you for a long, long time, a number of years now. And actually most in the marketplace are aware of Smart Vision Lights. But for those newbies who might be coming in, tell us a little bit about what SVL does.
Dave Spaulding [00:00:49] Smart Vision Lights is celebrating our 15th year this year. We started out in the founder’s basement 15 years ago, graduated from there into the facility that we’re in today. And we’ve been building LED lighting for the machine vision industry for 15 years now.
Winn Hardin: [00:01:09] Fantastic. You said you’re in Norton Shores now. Correct?
Dave Spaulding [00:01:12] We’re in Norton Shores, Norton Shores, Michigan. Yep.
Winn Hardin: [00:01:14] Okay. And I understand that there’s been some new developments up there. Did a little bit of construction over the last couple of years I’ve heard.
Dave Spaulding [00:01:22] Yeah, we did. So a couple of years ago, just before COVID, we moved into a brand-new facility. We doubled the amount of square footage that we were in before that when we were in northern Muskegon. Six months into that, we decided it still wasn’t enough and decided to add on again and doubled the space again so we could do some vertical integration.
Winn Hardin: [00:01:47] That’s fantastic. So you want to go into some more details about what you’ve done with all that space?
Dave Spaulding [00:01:54] Sure. So we decided a couple of years ago that we didn’t want to rely so much on offshore products. We felt it would be a good idea to bring that back, a good portion of it anyway, to the States to shorten our lead times and to provide better service to our customers, faster service. We are seeing lead times creeping out and costs going up. So we decided to take that into our own hands, add it on to the facility. We now have an SMT facility. We’re populating our own circuit boards as well as machine shop, where we can manufacture our own housings and other metal components for our products.
Winn Hardin: [00:02:39] That’s some prescient timing right there. Good clean living I think that’s what that was. So that’s enabled you to keep low lead times even through the COVID pandemic. And as we’re bouncing back now, still keeping those numbers up, or down I should say.
Dave Spaulding [00:03:01]. Keeping the lead times down. In fact, we just kicked off about two months ago a Smart Ship 48 program, where we have about a dozen lights that can ship in 48 hours. That’s been good.
Winn Hardin: [00:03:15] Fantastic. So, Steve, tell us a little bit about what’s new over at SVL, as one of the geniuses behind the engineering curtain between you and Matt Pinter.
Steve Kinney [00:03:25] Well, one of our newest products is called our DoAll Light. This is a multipurpose light aimed at being used on the end of robotic end effectors and for areas where we have highly automated work cells doing assembly, electronics assembly, automotive, places like that. One of the keys to this light — it’s really kind of new and innovative — and one of the keys is that it’s really six lights into one. So when you have these automated work cells, there’s a lot of different activities going on, some assembly, some inspection component verification. Doing these and checking these with machine vision requires a precise image for each job, and that means a different type of lighting for each job in many cases, whether I have specular stuff there, whatever it is, we have a variety of lights, so there’s six lights in one here. There’s a dome light as a starting point. There’s an RGBW ring light where we can control the color and make any color we want. The ring light also doubles, it’s broken into four quadrants so we can do quadrant lighting for computational imaging such as photometric stereo and those kind of techniques. And then there are two angles of darkfield illumination. So when we’re looking at things, we want to see height variations or really reduce glare and need to do darkfield, we have not one but two angles to do that. And then there’s a NIR ring light as well for nonvisible imaging. The NIR ring light can also be substituted out for a UV ring light if we need to move to the other end of the spectrum there.
Winn Hardin: [00:05:07] Very cool. And the UVs are finally strong enough now we’ve got decent lifetimes and output, yeah?
Steve Kinney [00:05:11] Yeah, we’re seeing UV lighting come a long ways, driven by developments in the LEDs there. So the products available to us to do these are much better. So UV still has to catch up to visible, but the output of the light is coming up, the heat reduction is going down, and it’s becoming a very useful imaging area for us.
Winn Hardin: [00:05:34] You know when I first heard about the DoAll Light, I remember thinking: This is what happens when you give an engineer pretty much unlimited budget, a brand-new building, a beautiful new lab, and then you say, okay, go innovate, right? I don’t know what’s going to come out of there, but make it special. Absolutely.
Steve Kinney [00:05:48] Well I think more purpose, multipurpose, streamlining things, doing more to just develop them and integrate things together is a natural trend. So as you see the robotics and automation coming together and again these work cells, often your phone that we all like is not touched by human hands when they’re assembled, and these kind of highly automated work cells require this kind of stuff. It’s s just the trend, and the lighting has to follow the task.
Winn Hardin: [00:06:21] Sure. And that kind of flexibility is going to translate to fewer assembly steps, fewer inspection steps, greater throughput, greater productivity, better margins for our customers.
Steve Kinney [00:06:31] Absolutely. The alternative to this is to either just try and use one kind of general lighting and catch-all, which isn’t as good as each step. And let’s face it, we want robust kind of algorithms with big windows that withstand variables here. And the other end to that or alternative, I’ve seen customers who have treated the lighting like an end effector, literally had four or five, six lights sitting there for each of the tasks. But now we’re talking about trying to keep our throughput up, and let’s stop and go grab the light for this task, image, verify it, go put it down, and go back and forth. So this allows not only to get the right light on there but to keep the speed up, the throughput and not be unnecessarily moving around with the robot.
Winn Hardin: [00:07:16] So I first saw this last summer in Detroit, I think at the Automate Show. So that was one of the very early prototypes that were coming out at that time. Really cool demo on the front of the Mustang. If you guys haven’t seen that, you got to check out the videos on their website. It’s amazing for a booth demo, next level for sure. When a lighting company, when you can’t find space inside a 20-by-20-foot booth for a lighting company, you’re doing something right. But we’re in mass production now, yeah?
Dave Spaulding [00:07:49] Yeah, absolutely. We are ready. Ready for any orders that come our way.
Winn Hardin: [00:07:55] Fantastic. So, Steve, tell us something else. What else is coming out of the pipeline this year?
Steve Kinney [00:08:00] Well, the other new technology we should bring out, which is just now coming out, we have a new technology called dual overdrive. So for a long time, Smart Vision Lights had the controller built in. And as part of having the controller built in, we’re able to then offer overdrive on many of the models, meaning that we run that light many multiples of what we can at a continuous level. You just need to strobe it and obey a duty cycle, which usually fits within your camera acquisition properties. So now with dual overdrive, there’s two steps to it, and this is machine vision. So often we’re moving very fast. We need to freeze the motion. We need short exposure times to do that anyway. And light in that time is then a problem. So the first step of dual overdrive gives us 11 times the steady state level of that light for up to a millisecond. And then if you need more lighting — and most of the time if there’s motion we don’t exceed that — but if you need it, we step down to a normal overdrive level. It’s about half of that for up to another 19 milliseconds, 20 milliseconds total. So the amount of light that’s there is just intense. And again, with motion, most people are just firing that a millisecond or less. And we have a good number of customers that do that now. And it’s just all about how many photons we get in that short period. Most of our competitors don’t overdrive or offer such convenient overdrive without a built-in controller or something there. And for sure, even those that are overdriving aren’t overdriving at these kind of levels. This is really unique. It’s something where SVL is drawing on our history, years of doing this, and this is the next iteration where we refined it to this level.
Winn Hardin: [00:09:49] So extremely high light budgets, stopping, stop motion of probably fairly fast-moving objects. What type of applications are we targeting with that?
Steve Kinney [00:10:01] Yeah, industries, applications altogether. So these kind of things are suited — logistics has been the big one. We’ve had COVID you seen the explosion of Amazon, ordering online, home delivery. But I don’t think it’s any secret. I think most people are aware now, Amazon is all automated warehouses, and part of their efficiency is moving this stuff through there in an automated way. And the throughput speeds within there are just huge. So these packages are flying by, and often they’re needing to use things like blocking filters, polarizing filters, other techniques like that. Sometimes they keep the f-stop very high to get a good depth of field. But all these things take light to do — not only light for the primary task but light to overcome and use the filters we need on top of there. So by having this amount of intensity available, it just opens the options we can do in that short amount of time to freeze the motion, but still get all the effects that we need.
Winn Hardin: [00:11:01] Plus shrink wrap and plastic, right, which is where the polarizer comes in.
Steve Kinney [00:11:04] Absolutely, the polarizer is key. It’s a very common thing now. Not only have we got to read the barcodes and read them right, but those things are sealed in plastic envelopes, whatever it is, weatherproofing, we see now a lot of times even a standard box, they put those clear films over the label to kind of weatherproof it. And all those things add glare, make the barcode reading hard, and polarization is one of the keys to being able to still read through that plastic.
Winn Hardin: [00:11:31] Fantastic. Have you some early feedback from better throughput?
Steve Kinney [00:11:38] Yeah, absolutely. And the other area I should mention in this is canning, food and beverage kind of thing. So one of the best examples we have of that, EAM Incorporated showed a demo using our lighting here at Pack Expo, and they had a big wheel with cans going by, inspecting the label, four cameras and four quadrants so they could do 360 inspection. They were doing 100 cans a second through there. That thing was just flying. And while they’re doing it, they’re unwrapping the label, doing OCR on the label, looking for debris, checking color, all those kinds of things at that rate. And they started with a competitor’s light and started out in the 40, 50 microsecond type of exposure range and still could not get the exposure down to where they needed to be. They wanted to go faster but didn’t have enough light. They had 12 times gain set up in the camera, so the image was noisy. They put some of our new lights with dual overdrive in there, and they just simply replaced the lights. And they got down to 12 microseconds of exposure time with no gain and beautiful images.
Winn Hardin: [00:12:48] Noisy images are the bugaboo of any good algorithm, right?
Steve Kinney [00:12:50] Absolutely. Every algorithm, everyone goes, “Well, it kind of works,” but every algorithm has some kind of limit and it’s dictated by the signal to noise. If you’re starting with noise, your ability to approach those thresholds, get the kind of windows you want, you’re just at a disadvantage.
Winn Hardin: [00:13:05] Trash in, trash out. Okay, so most of the folks here at the A3 Business Forum and who are members of, longtime members like you’ll of the A3 Association come from industrial automation, come from the machine vision market. But you guys have talked about warehousing. You guys have talked about food and beverage. It sounds like you’ve kind of expanded beyond the traditional factory floor.
Dave Spaulding [00:13:27] Yeah, we’ve been in the logistics business probably for about nine years now, in the warehousing space with some large OEM customers. And that’s been really, really good for us. But that, along with typical machine vision, the changes are the higher speeds and that sort of thing. With lighting, it’s always more intensity. Faster and more intensity. Preferably for cheaper too.
Winn Hardin: [00:14:02] Don’t forget the cheaper.
Dave Spaulding [00:14:03] Our customers always tell us that: faster, smaller package, and cheaper.
Winn Hardin: [00:14:09] Cheaper by photon. That’s what we’re talking about. Fantastic. So being at the center of so many different markets, David, can you give us a little bit of insight? We’ve heard at the show here, we’ve been listening for 18, 24 months about potential recessions in North America, around the world. European markets have struggled more so recently. But if you’re looking into your crystal ball, what are you seeing?
Dave Spaulding [00:14:31] Yeah, I see a lot of opportunities. I think there’s some slowdowns because people are a little bit nervous. But I think overall, it’s going to be a really good year. I think we’ve got a couple of good years ahead of us, especially if you’re willing to do some customization for customers and that sort of thing, and I think again back to our abilities to be able to do that with our SMT line, machine shop. Somebody needs a prototype for something that’s a little bit different. It’s not just a standard product. We can do customization work and prototyping fairly quickly. So I think being able to do that is going to be one of the keys to success as we move forward, as some of the sectors do slow down a little bit. As Alan said this morning, there’s going to be some areas that are slower, but there’s also some industries that are going to do very well.
Steve Kinney [00:15:32] Yeah, I think both Alan for economics this morning and our venture capitalist has spoken in the afternoon here at the forum, I think both of them mentioned how wide of a market space that automation is becoming, is going in nontraditional places and places we’ve never seen before. Even as they slow down, there’s a certain robustness against that just by the sheer size of the emerging market as people apply automation in nontraditional spaces.
Winn Hardin: [00:16:04] That’s really cool. If anyone would like to hear more about what’s going on in key markets or see what innovations are coming out of Norton Shores, I would encourage you to make the trip a little bit north of Grand Rapids. They’ve got a beautiful campus up there. Look at the manufacturing lines. See the CNC machines working and the assembly and design elements. And be sure to check out the golf simulator. I’ve heard a lot about Matt’s golf simulator.
Dave Spaulding [00:16:29] We do have one of those.
Steve Kinney [00:16:31] We have a beautiful facility, and I think we shouldn’t bypass the chance to mention the training room and the facilities. We offer free two day, and we’ll be expanding that to include some product training in three days in the middle of the year here. Those courses are free. You can go to our website online, sign up, come in, and just attend and we’ll give you a little bit on the lighting, light theory, roll in some optics and cameras, and hopefully when you leave, you have a better idea. We have five robotics demos in there as well. So hopefully you leave with a better idea about imaging, what you need to do, and maybe a little better at it.
Winn Hardin: [00:17:07] That’s fantastic. I’m flashing back to the summit you guys did a number of years ago.
Dave Spaulding [00:17:12] We’d like to bring that back someday.
Winn Hardin: [00:17:14] SVL has been a leader when it comes to outreach and community building and spreading the knowledge. So we really appreciate it here at Manufacturing Matters. Thanks for joining me today, guys. Really, it’s been a pleasure. And until we get to see each other again, probably at Automate, if not sooner, everyone take care. For Manufacturing Matters, thank you.