Why 3D Sensors are a Critical Component in Factory Automation

Factory automation is a broad term representing the technology used in automating manufacturing processes to produce parts. These parts typically involve an assembly of numerous individual components made from many different materials.

Surface Textures of Manufactured Parts

From Assembly to Finished Product

Manufactured components are ultimately brought together in an assembly, requiring perfect fit and finish, labeling, and packaging to create a final product. Effective quality control and process monitoring requires measurement and/or inspection for each of these phases.

Many parts made by processes such as stamping, casting, CNC machining and even 3D printing have complex geometries, requiring 3D sensing to generate full surface point clouds for geometric analysis and pass/fail decision-making. 3D sensors are particularly valuable for parts that are contrast invariant or present low contrast, since 3D features are based on shape and not color

For applications requiring volumetric measurement and control, 3D sensing is the only practical non-contact approach. Typical examples are protein (chicken, pork, beef, fish, cheese) portioning, engine cylinder displacement verification, and potato sorting.

3D Sensors and Surface Finishing

Surface finishing is a broad range of industrial processes that alter the surface of a manufactured item to achieve a certain property.

Finishing processes are used to improve appearance, adhesion or wettability, solderability, corrosion resistance, tarnish resistance, chemical resistance, wear resistance, hardness, modify electrical conductivity, remove surface flaws and control surface friction.

These surface finishes have to be inspected in order to meet specific expectations.

For surface finishing, the best of today’s 3D smart sensors are capable of delivering micron-level precision to characterize surface quality. Using 3D smart sensors, finishes are digitized into high definition point clouds that are analyzed  for roughness, flatness, waviness, and scratches.

3D Sensing in Robotic Guidance Applications

Robotic measurement cells, with sensors mounted on an end effector, have the dynamic capability to measure products of significantly different geometries on a part by part basis. While many types of sensors can be implemented in these applications, 3D sensing provides significant advantages including the ability to measure multiple features in a single field of view without concern for orientation or scale variation that would otherwise be a problem for 2D only solutions.

In general 3D sensing is a required enabler for almost all robot guidance applications. With 3D sensing, robots can be used to assemble products that are not precisely fixtured or located. Also, 3D sensors can determine the pose of parts on a surface, guiding the robot to grasp objects that are not precisely located.

With robot guidance, users can avoid expensive and high maintenance precision fixtures and part positioning devices. Cost savings are particularly significant for flexible production lines capable of manufacturing a variety of part geometries.

Robotic Guidance Systems


3D sensors play an integral role in the highly complex factory automation process. From inspecting individual manufactured components created by techniques such as stamping, CNC machining and injection molding, to finished part assemblies, surface finishing and packaging, 3D sensors provide rich, high-speed 3D point-cloud data for every phase of the modern manufacturing chain. They also integrate easily with robotic guidance applications to perform part inspection and product assembly.