Case Study: Vision Systems

3-D Vision System Enables Automotive Manufacturer to Greatly Improve Safety on Engine Block Machine Line

The Challenge

Our customer — a major automotive manufacturer — was manually loading four-cylinder engine blocks onto machine lines. There were two people on the lines at all times, and the operation posed a great deal of safety risks. Because they were working on platforms and manually lifting heavy, sharp parts from pallets stacked on carts, the workers had to take many safety precautions. Even so, there were many injuries, and in addition to safety, our customer also wanted to improve efficiency.

Our Approach

We worked with our customer’s engineering and development teams to create a system that would work within their facility. Many pre-existing constraints informed our approach — for example, we had to accommodate our customer’s carts, which had a two-inch wheel displacement variance. In addition, the pallets and plastic trays that the engine blocks were stacked on endured a great deal of wear and tear. This meant that they didn’t always stack flush.

These variances — as well as the fact that our customer was unloading six types of engine blocks — showed us that a 3-D vision system was the best solution for their needs. Traditional robotic solutions work well when the parts are highly predictable and uniform, but in this case, they weren’t.


After complete design and runoff at our Creative Automation, we were able to have the system up and running within three days at our customer’s facility. Now, the work is completely automated:

  • Customer can load four carts into the bay at one time (96 engine blocks total)
  • 3-D vision-powered robot automatically depalletizes engine blocks and places them onto machine lines
  • Robot accounts for variance, so the pallets and trays do not have to be stacked perfectly
  • Error proofing is built in, so it is impossible to load the wrong type of engine block
  • Robot places all empty pallets and trays back onto cart for easy hauling
  • Customer has the ability to load a new cart into the bay without shutting down the line; the dual-check safety software on the Fanuc robot enables an employee to safely enter the area without concern
  • Safety was greatly improved
  • Because the line is automated, it runs more efficiently with fewer resources

After the system was implemented, we provided two weeks of on-site training at our customer’s facility. Because our systems are highly specialized, our customers are always trained directly by our engineers. The line has been in successful production since January 2012.

Can a 3-D vision system improve your safety and workflow? Contact us today to discuss a project.

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