FlashBack high-speed video analysis system helps quickly identify the root cause of a production problem so it can be fixed.

We may not have Star Trek’s Holodeck yet but we’re getting closer. Several technologies shown at Pack Expo 2008 come close to telepresence. Cameras and bandwidth continue to decline in price, making these applications more attractive than ever before. The great thing from a machinery standpoint is that remote assistance no longer needs to rely on verbal descriptions of machine problems for troubleshooting. Now the technician at the vendor can see exactly what the technician on the plant floor is seeing. As the title says, what you see is what they get. An additional benefit is that in many cases this will eliminate the need to dispatch a technician. This will result in getting back up and running more quickly, as well as eliminating travel costs.

PolyPack exhibited a video camera permanently installed on their shrink wrapping system. It is hard to imagine a much simpler system and one wonders why nobody else thought of it. It consists of a video camera installed inside the machine cabinet facing the collation/wrapping area. The camera can be zoomed in and out, tilted and panned remotely. How remotely? Anywhere there is an internet connection.

Another system from Marlen Research Corp. incorporates a video camera, microphone, earphones and laser pointer on a hardhat. The camera feeds to a remote location over the internet via a Panasonic Toughbook PC and Skype, an internet-based telecommunications service. The local technician puts on this magic hat and dials up the remote location. The camera and audio system allow both parties to see, hear and discuss the same thing. A nifty innovation is the laser pointer which is aligned with the camera. This simplifies aiming the camera and eliminates the need to monitor a screen to capture the video of interest.

The adage that nothing ever happens while being watched seems especially true with packaging machinery. One can sit and stare for hours but look away for 30 seconds and the problem being watched for will occur.

The FlashBack video system from Hartness Int’l improves on high-speed motion analysis because it eliminates having to scroll through long video segments to find the fault. Although the camera is continuously recording, the system “flashes back” and only saves a video clip of up to four minutes prior to the event and up to 1,140 minutes after it. The entire portable system weighs just 23 pounds and can also be used for training operators and maintenance technicians.

Finally, the coolest application I saw at the show was from Oystar Jones. The technology was pretty standard, it was the application that caught my imagination. The iPod Touch video/MP3 player is designed to play video and sound files. Oystar Jones loaded it with a video showing how to change over a cartoner. Technicians wear the player on their arm and, combined with audio through a wireless headset, are walked step-by-step through the process. This is a great tool for training, as well as daily use. I love seeing standard technology put to unexpected uses. As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

A picture may be worth a thousand words but a video is worth a thousand pictures.   F&BP