How Visual Inspection Reduces Equipment Malfunction
What is a visual inspection?
Visual inspection is a process of finding defects in an object or system that are visible to the naked eye. It helps ensure equipment is functioning properly and meet specific requirements.
Various industries, like manufacturing, energy, and medicine, use visual inspection techniques to maintain tools and gears.
Historically, inspectors identified defects using only their eyes and simple tools like lights and magnifying glasses. However, modern visual inspection has evolved to include digital images and videos that you can collect remotely using high-quality cameras and drones. Inspectors can review such media in real-time or later to catch defects.
In the automotive industry, AI-powered visual inspection finds defects in the production phase. It helps inspectors catch defects in hazardous areas or confined spaces like storage tanks to ensure workers’ safety.
The manufacturing sector adopts visual inspection to ensure that its product meets the required specifications before being shipped to customers. Shape, size, color, and surface finish are a few notable things that inspectors evaluate precisely. For example, automotive manufacturers employ visual inspection and deep learning to quickly and consistently identify anomalies in the production process.
On the other hand, the energy sector relies on visual inspection to ensure safe and efficient machinery operations. For example, inspectors check corrosion on wind turbines using visual inspection.
The medical industry uses visual inspection to ensure their machinery churns products with desired specifications. For example, medical professionals use visual inspection to ensure pacemakers and stents are defect free.
What are the goals of visual inspection?
Visual inspection examines objects or systems for defects, damages, and other issues. Below are some goals of visual inspection techniques.
- Identifying defects: Visual inspection helps identify any defects or abnormalities in objects or systems under inspection. It involves finding cracks, dents, scratches, or other damages affecting the performance or safety of machines.
- Assessing an object’s condition: In addition to identifying defects, visual inspection assesses the overall condition of a system or object. This can include determining wear and tear on a machine, evaluating the condition of a building's exterior, or assessing a finished product’s quality.
- Ensuring compliance with standards and regulations: Visual inspection ensures that an object or system complies with relevant standards and regulations. It involves checking if products meet safety standards, buildings comply with fire codes, etc.
- Improving quality: Visual inspection improves the quality of the equipment by identifying defects and ensuring compliance with standards. It reduces defects in a product and improves performance.
- Enhancing safety: Visual inspection enhances safety by identifying potential hazards and taking steps to mitigate them. It includes finding and repairing cracks in a building's foundation, checking for damaged electrical wiring, or identifying and replacing worn or damaged parts on a machine.
- Reducing costs: Visual inspection reduces costs by identifying and addressing issues early on before they become more serious and expensive to fix. For example, identifying and fixing a small leak before it becomes a major flood or identifying and replacing a worn machine part before it fails.
Visual inspection applications
Below are some areas where visual inspection plays a key role.
Physical asset management
Visual inspection in physical asset management helps maintenance teams identify wear and tear signs while preventing equipment failure. Cracks, scratches, misalignments, and corrosion are notable defects caught during maintenance. Visual testing is a part of routine maintenance activities.
Many organizations use CMMS and train operators to perform visual inspections to facilitate autonomous maintenance activities. Defects caught during an inspection are sometimes corrected on the spot. Otherwise, inspectors add them to the preventive maintenance plan to address them later.
Although visual testing keeps objects and systems in good condition, it increases a machine's downtime. The machine is shut down for further inspection whenever a defect arises, reducing equipment uptime. This might impact the bottom line. Many organizations use condition monitoring sensors to keep assets’ health in check.
Visual inspection is also crucial in quality control, allowing organizations to filter out items with obvious defects quickly. Many organizations perform a visual inspection for quality using methods like random sampling, full manual sampling, or using automated visual inspection systems.
Visual testing for quality control is particularly important for big brands that produce expensive products, such as automakers like Rolls-Royce, and for the F&B industry, where visual inspections ensure that products are properly sealed, labeled, and free of foreign objects.
Different visual inspection techniques
Below are some notable visual inspection techniques that organizations recognize and believe to be effective.
- Surface inspection: Examines the surface object’s surface to look for defects such as cracks, dents, or blemishes. This technique is useful in inspecting various objects, from manufactured products to buildings and structures. Technicians can manually perform the surface inspection using a magnifying glass or microscope or automate it using machine vision systems.
- Dimension inspection: Measures an object's size, shape, and other physical characteristics while ensuring it meets the required specifications. This technique is useful in inspecting manufactured products, mechanical parts, and electronic components. Technicians can manually perform it using measuring tools such as calipers or micrometers or automate the process.
- Structural inspection: Examines an object’s internal structure to ensure it’s properly assembled and functioning. This technique is useful in inspecting buildings, bridges, mechanical systems, and electronic devices.
- Functional inspection: Tests an object’s performance to ensure operations as intended. This technique is useful in inspecting mechanical systems and electronic devices to software and applications.
- Statistical process control: Uses statistical methods to monitor and control a product's quality or identify trends or patterns that may indicate problems. This technique helps inspect various objects, from manufactured products to software and applications.
- Non-destructive testing: Using techniques such as ultrasonic testing, radiographic inspection, and magnetic particle inspection to examine an object’s internal structure without damaging it. This technique can be used to inspect a wide range of objects, from manufactured products to buildings and structures.
Pros and cons of visual inspections
Visual inspection comes with its advantages and challenges. Below are some notable pros and cons that professionals observe in visual testing.
Let’s take a deep dive into visual inspection benefits.
- Cost-effective: Visual inspections are relatively inexpensive, especially compared to X-ray or ultrasonic tether inspection.
- Flexible: Visual inspections cover a wide range of objects, including manufactured products, buildings, and structures, and can be used to identify various defects, from surface blemishes to internal structural issues.
- Accessible: Visual inspections can be performed by a wide range of personnel, including maintenance technicians, machine operators, and quality control personnel, making it a versatile method for identifying defects and issues.
- Non-destructive: Visual inspections don’t damage the object under inspection, making it a preferred method for inspecting valuable or delicate objects.
Below are some common cons professionals iterate regarding visual inspection challenges.
- Limited detection capabilities. Visual inspections can only detect surface-level defects and may not be able to identify internal issues or problems that are not visible to the naked eye.
- Limited accuracy. Visual inspection accuracy can be questionable sometimes. It depends on the skill and experience of the inspector and on lighting and other environmental factors.
- Time-consuming. Visual inspections can be time-consuming, especially if they involve disassembling or dismantling an object or system.
- Dependent on a human observer. Visual inspections rely on human observation, which can be affected by fatigue, stress, or distractions.
How to create a visual inspection strategy
An effective visual inspection strategy assures a product or system’s quality and safety. The following are some key steps for creating a visual inspection strategy to help ensure your inspections are focused, efficient, and effective.
- Define the inspection’s scope. Clearly define the inspection’s purpose and determine what needs to be examined and how. It ensures you examine objects and systems efficiently while identifying the most crucial defects and issues.
- Identify potential defects or issues to be inspected. Consider types of defects or issues present. Develop a list of items to be examined. This list can include cracks, dents, scratches, misalignments, corrosion, or other physical defects, as well as issues related to performance or compliance with standards or regulations.
- Set an inspection technique. Select an appropriate visual testing method based on the object, potential defects or issues, and available resources. You can inspect the system manually or take the automation route based on the system’s complexity and defect type.
- Establish inspection criteria. Set clear and measurable criteria for determining whether an object or system meets required specifications and delivers the intended purpose. This includes size, shape, functionality, and compliance with standards or regulations.
- Develop the inspection procedure. Create a detailed step-by-step inspection procedure, including guidelines for recording and documenting observations and findings. Ensure this process is easy to follow and maintains effective communication among inspection team members.
- Train the inspection team. Check if your team has the knowledge, skills, and resources to conduct the inspection effectively. You can provide training on the inspection method, tools, and procedures and access to any specialized equipment or software useful in the process.
- Review and update the inspection strategy: Regularly review and update your inspection strategy, ensuring it remains effective and meets the organization's changing needs. This might include incorporating new technologies, updating inspection criteria, or adjusting the inspection procedure to reflect changes to the organization's operations or products.
Ensure your inspections are focused, effective and efficient by following these steps and updating the strategy regularly.
How to standardize visual inspections with a CMMS solution
Standardizing visual inspections can be challenging because a large part of the work is subjective and difficult to package as a checklist. However, it is still possible to standardize visual inspections to some degree.
Maintain a record of all assets that go through visual inspection and map concerning areas to be kept in check. When you find any defect, make a note of it. You can start creating a flow chart based on the information above. The next step is to create a maintenance checklist of specific cues that are a part of the visual inspection process.
You should onboard a CMMS solution like Facilio and incorporate the flowchart and checklist to make it easily accessible to maintenance technicians and quality control personnel. This can help to streamline the inspection process and increase efficiency. Make sure you regularly review and update the flowchart and checklist.
Provide clear guidelines on what is considered a defect, what to do with a defective product, when and how to use special visual inspection tools, and how to note novel anomalies. While some level of inconsistency is unavoidable, standardization efforts can help to minimize it.
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