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Machine vision use grows on Napa Valley's vines

Software ensures wine label integrity

A recent study on the California wine industry reported that 2.7 billion 750 ml-bottles of wine were produced in 2005. Indeed, California is the world's fourth largest wine-producing region, behind France, Italy, and Spain. Given that the Californian wine industry plays such a significant role in the state's economy, there is a lot of pressure: not only pressure to produce quality products, but to operate efficient production facilities. In many cases this quest for efficiency translates into opportunities for machine vision technologies.

The Kendall-Jackson winery (Fulton, CA) is one site that depends on machine vision to increase efficiency in areas such as bottle inspection. More recently, they were faced with a challenge at the labeling stage. They realized they needed to inspect the labels on bottles after they pass through the labeling machine, but the bottles emerge in a random position and orientation. Essentially, the winery required a solution that was flexible enough to inspect the labels independently of the bottle's orientation on the conveyor.

The development and installation of the 360 Full View by CI Vision (Aurora, Illinois), has generated a buzz throughout Napa Valley's vineyards. The 360 Full View is a wine bottle inspection system that checks the labels after they have been placed on the bottle. Like all of CI Vision's product offerings, the 360 Full View has an aluminum enclosure around a conveyor that features a touch-screen operator interface on a side panel. As a bottle passes through the enclosure, it triggers four cameras to capture images of the bottle simultaneously. The analysis software, based on the Matrox Imaging Library (MIL), performs the routines that calculate the bottle's coordinates, and determine whether the bottle's label is the correct one and has been affixed properly.

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Fluorescent lighting illuminates the 360 FullView's custom-designed enclosure.

Because the winery needed to perform several inspections at once, CI Vision decided to use multiple cameras to capture images of the bottle's entire surface. The 360 Full View system features 8 fluorescent tubes mounted in a custom-designed fixture, four Basler GigE Scout cameras, each with a 120º field-of-view, a custom PC with an Intel motherboard, and MIL. In the near future, the system will also use the MIL GigE Vision driver.

"Since the bottle is unoriented when it leaves the labeling machine, capturing the bottle's entire surface was the best way to perform the label verification and bottle localization," explains Rick Koval, Lead Software Engineer at CI Vision. These two tasks involve several steps, and they all rely on MIL's image processing functions. A bottle's presence triggers the cameras, each acquiring a single image. Then MIL's Measurement module determines the bottle's location in space. When the bottle's position is known, the system's next task is to detect the locations of the front and back labels; the back label must be directly behind the front in order to pass the inspection. Warping functions and custom LUTs 'unwrap' the label image from the bottle, converting it to a 2-D equivalent. With the flat images of the bottle, MIL's Registration module detects the common areas in those images (the overlapping sections of the images), and locates the edges of the labels with precision, and arranges them into a composite. The composite image is arranged so that the front label appears first, then the back label, and finally, another portion of the front label; this way the user can see the entire surface of the wine bottle in a discreet image. The labels' positions can be verified by their coordinates in the composite image, in other words, if the labels are placed at the correct height, their y coordinates are equal. Likewise, if the distance between the labels in the composite are equal, then they are indeed directly opposite from each other. Furthermore, the composite image allows the user to perform other inspection tasks, such as checking for skewed alignment, and the correct label. If for any reason a bottle fails inspection, it is tracked and diverted through a reject mechanism.

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Matrox Imaging Library (MIL)'s Registration module assembles the individual images into the composite image.

ACI Vision has a long history with Matrox Imaging; indeed, all of their systems use Matrox Imaging hardware, software, or both. "We like the Matrox Imaging Library because, frankly, it's easy to use. Its C interface provides good low level interaction with our own front-end software. And there's a strong support team behind MIL that is very proactive and reactive to our needs," says Koval. Acknowledging that CI Vision's success is built on MIL's strength, Director of Marketing Scott Stone adds, "Using MIL allows us to strategically price our products in the market."

The major challenge Stone and Koval faced was the development of the mathematical model for the 'unwrapped' label in conjunction with applying the vision tools that take into account the random nature of consumer products. Glass containers often have slight aberrations and variations in the shape that affect the way the light refracts, or the way the labels are located on the bottle. And though the variability of the bottle's initial position challenged one aspect, it facilitated another. "Building a system that followed an existing process meant that we could use the existing conveyors, equipment that we were already familiar with," explains Koval. "Flexibility and usability were key factors for us," adds Stone. "We had to integrate very complex procedures into a system interface that allowed our customers to make changes very easily."

CI Vision's inspection systems have been in deployment since 1979. In fact, the 360 Full View is just one of a suite of products that Kendall Jackson uses on its production lines. Stone believes CI Vision's main advantage is the training offered to their customers. "We give them step by step instructions, how to view the images on the screen, how to interpret the results, how to change the piece being inspected."

Stone sees a number of food-industry applications where the 360 Full View will fit in. Baby food jars, distillery products, and pharmaceuticals are all potential candidates. He also foresees the day when automated systems inspect bottles from the empty glass bottle phase to the shipping-in-crates phase. And while the first 360 Full View systems were installed at the Kendall-Jackson and Hacienda (Sonoma, CA) wineries, Stone says "half of Napa Valley saw them. There's definitely a great interest in this technology out there ." Koval adds, "The Napa Valley winemakers are all very friendly with each other. They believe their competitors are the other wine-production countries, not their neighbor down the road!"

All images courtesy of CI Vision.

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