From a start-up company to a leading systems provider: Image processing for the quality control of carbon fiber fabrics used in lightweight automotive construction
At Vision 2014, Pixargus will present its latest development in image processing technology: integrated measurement solutions for inline quality control of carbon fiber fabrics used to make car body components for a new generation of electric vehicles made by a leading German premium car producer.
In the production of carbon fiber fabrics, the new WebControl Carbon Fiber Systems, developed by Pixargus and arranged downstream of the weaving units and the automatic tying machines, check the quality of the fabric from powder coating down to the reeling process. The systems operate with sensors that measure and inspect the product as it is being powder-coated and sintered. They check the product for missing bundles and provide information for the analysis of material defects. All measurements – with the exception of the weight per area measurement – and all the inspections are based on optical systems.
As a general contractor, Pixargus supplies several measuring systems, interlinks them in a network and combines the data measured by the various sensors into a global data map, allowing the customer to analyze the results within a context, not isolated from one another. The systems decide autonomously whether a product should be shipped or not … and, as a last consequence, they will even decide on the stoppage of production.
Dr.-Ing. Jürgen Philipps, one of the founders and managing directors of Pixargus: „One of the challenges in image processing today is to compile the results from different inspection systems and sensors in an easy-to-comprehend form on the screens or in quality reports. Therefore, also image processing software must be designed to be able to handle distributed computer systems. And what is more, the systems are used in the industry. Therefore, the performance of the systems no longer exclusively depends on the underlying algorithms, but also on their robustness in field use. They must be able to cope not only with natural process variations, but also with the typical operating conditions prevailing in industrial plants – 24 hours a day for 360 days a year.“
From a start-up company to a general contractor for total quality control systems
In only 15 years, Pixargus has evolved from a three-man start-up company into a leading technology provider, whose image processing systems have become indispensable assets at the world“s leading manufacturers of high-tech components.
Already during their assignments at the Institute of Plastics Processing (Institut für Kunststoffverarbeitung IKV) of the Technical University RWTH of Aachen/Germany, Rene Beaujean, Björn Lindner and Jürgen Philipps had concentrated on the development of systems for the surface inspection and measurement of plastic profiles. In 1999, they established Pixargus as a spin-off of the Institute.
Since then, the company has evolved in a way characteristic of successful, medium-sized companies specialized in image processing technology: from single unit to series production, from single sensors to integrated quality assurance solutions, from the evaluation of isolated measured data to automated „ship-or-block“ decisions …. and eventually „start-and-stop“ decisions for the production machines.
With its very first product, ProfilControl, Pixargus soon became the leading provider of optical surface inspection systems for rubber profiles in the automotive industry. Worldwide almost all major manufacturers of rubber profiles for the automotive industry use Pixargus systems to control the surface quality and the dimensional accuracy of their products.
Shortly afterwards, Pixargus introduced its ProfilControl Dimension (PCDX) systems for profile measurements, immediately followed by the Dual Head solution, which combines the measurement and the surface inspection of profiles in one unit. As a next step, in order to assure the quality of extruded rubber profiles as early as possible in the production chain, Pixargus took product control „upstream“ by introducing ProfilControlRoughness (PCR) 20/40, a system capable of checking the quality of the compounds in an automated procedure.
Over time, the service and product portfolio has been further diversified. In addition to the market leadership Pixargus gained with its ProfilControl systems, the company has become increasingly renowned as specialists in providing solutions for highly complex inspection tasks. Jürgen Philipps: „Pixargus“ specialty is that we can provide complete, integrated solutions even for most challenging out-of-the-ordinary requirements. In other words: Pixargus starts where others stop. We started to acquire our extensive image processing know-how long before we founded Pixargus. Therefore, our technological lead is backed by two decades of active research and development.“
Based on its initial products, the company developed systems for cables, for tubing – first for the automotive industry, later also for medical applications – and for pipes, as well as for windshield wipers, profiles for window frames and precision profiles made of metal.
Another development milestone was the transition from circular, 360-degree measurements of profiles to the inspection of sophisticated, highly textured web material, such as woven and non-woven fabrics, foils and plates. The image processing algorithms developed by Pixargus are capable of detecting defects concealed in highly textured structures.
2014: Image processing technology conquers the football field
The same technology as used by Pixargus for the measurement of defects in moving profiles forms the basis of the goal-line technology for football fields developed by the Pixargus subsidiary GoalControl. Based on images sent by up to 14 cameras installed around the pitch, this image processing system instantly detects whether the ball has passed over the goal line and sends a message to a watch worn by the referee. The system enjoyed a successful premiere at the 2014 FIFA World CupTM in Brazil. GoalControl performed excellently during all 64 games. In many critical situations, the system helped the match officials make the correct decision, especially for Bryan Ruiz“ goal for Costa Rica against Italy and in the match between France against Honduras, when the referee decided on a goal after having received the confirmation from the goal-line system.
Pixargus develops and produces systems for optical inline measurement and inspection of continuously produced long products such as profiles, tubing, tubes, webs and cables made of a great variety of materials. Established in 1999 as a spin-off of the Institute of Plastics Processing (Institut für Kunststoffverarbeitung IKV) of the Technical University RWTH of Aachen/Germany, Pixargus has specialized in optical quality control of extruded products made of plastics and rubber.
Pixargus systems inspect sealing profiles – for example, for the automotive industry – and tubing, catheters, cables or window seals as well as raw material (compounds) made of thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) and rubber. Additionally, Pixargus offers systems for the inspection of – textured, woven or non-woven – web material.
Worldwide almost all major manufacturers of automotive rubber and TPE profiles use Pixargus systems for surface inspection and profile measurements. Also in medical engineering Pixargus has set new standards with its inline surface inspection systems for medical tubing.
In the production chain for CFRP, Pixargus systems detect weaving and material defects, inspect the gap width, measure and check whether the powder has been properly deposited, measure the degree of sintering, and so on. To allow a comprehensive data analysis, the data measured by the various sensors are interlinked and integrated into a “global data map”. This makes it possible to optimize production processes and guarantees 100 percent flawless products.
The company, based in Würselen near Aachen/Germany, is active worldwide through its US branch and various international technical agencies.
52146 Würselen / Germany
52072 Aachen / Germany