Creating a machine to quality check 3D artwork was a new challenge for automation scientists
At a glance
How do you automate a process for checking images of Star Wars and Marvel characters?
It was a new one on Callaghan Innovation’s Robotics and Automation team.
“We had obviously done automation of processes, but for plants such as meat works,” Senior Research Scientist Kit Wong says. “This was for high quality, really nice lenticular prints.”
The challenge laid down by art licensing business Artgame had the scientists rubbing their hands, he says. The company wanted to automate the highly subjective process of checking that its printed 3D imagery was up to scratch.
Lenticular printing gives images the illusion of depth or the ability to change or move as they are viewed from different angles. Artgame uses the technology to print 3D images on products such as bookmarks, cards and coasters.
Most of its manufacturing is done in China, and while factory staff were able to look for defects such as cuts and misprints by hand, it wasn’t possible to check the lenticular imagery manually.
“It couldn’t be done by hand because it was too many and subjective to the individual,” Project Manager Cody McClure says. “One person might pass it when another person would fail it.”
Automating the quality control process would allow for a direct yes or no, and without having to train people.
Cody was fairly sure it could be done: He’d researched the problem, and believed the answer lay in automating the existing algorithms behind the cameras which create the lenticular technology.
Tauranga-based Artgame was connected to Callaghan Innovation via its local business growth advisor operating through the Regional Business Partnership, and Kit’s team got to work.
Artgame was founded by Cody’s father, artist Royce McClure, who began by licensing his own work for commercial purposes under the Royceart brand.
About 10 years ago the company moved into lenticular, as well as doing the manufacturing and distribution itself. It also began to pick up licensing work for brands such as Disney, Marvel and Star Wars. It is now a leader in the field, producing premium lenticular products.
“We saw an opportunity and found better ways of doing it,” Cody says. “The only way we could really produce it to the high standards we wanted was to do the manufacturing ourselves, as well as all the art work and processing.
“It just made sense, to take on that vertical integration.”
Artgame now has sales staff in Australia and the US as well as its Tauranga base, and more projects on the go than it can deal with, Cody says.
As time goes on the company is finding its competitors are improving and getting closer to its quality, so it needs to keep one step ahead.
Algorithms and automation
While Artgame knew about algorithms and lenticular lenses it needed assistance in automating the QC process, and it gave the Robotics and Automation team free rein to develop the solution, Kit says.
Kit’s team did the concept design for the quality control (QC) machine, built a prototype, and performance-tested it in the lab. “We have various robots we can use to test different concepts, so we don’t have to do down the path of not knowing whether it will work or not,” he says.
The resulting machine has an infeed that can hold up to 100 bookmarks or postcards at a time. The products are fed into a scanner which rotates the prints and captures pictures of them. These pictures are analysed by the image processing algorithm which decides whether the item is up to standard.
The items are automatically sorted into pass or fail piles.
The QC machine has now arrived in China and is being put through its paces, so they will soon know how well it works in the factory, Cody says.
Getting Callaghan Innovation on board enabled Artgame to conduct a project it had talked about for a long time, and it required minimal oversight, he says. “They kept us in touch, it didn’t feel like we had to talk to them every week.”
Kit says the Artgame project has been satisfying for his team. “We could take the concept and play with it and take it all the way to building a full machine, and now going into the factory.
“We always learn something new on every project, and that’s one of the beauties of working here,” he says.
Updated: 18 January 2019