Wires, pipes, and metal rails are produced at incredibly high speeds in factories. Often as fast as 33 feet per second, which makes doing detailed inspections as the materials are produced almost impossible. But researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM in Freiburg, Germany, have found a way using high-speed cameras and LED flashes brighter than the sun.

The WIRE-AOI inspection system actually uses four cameras surrounding the material as it's produced. They each snap 10,000 photos every single second, for a total of 40,000 images that are analyzed in real-time for defects and problems as thin as a human hair. Images of problematic areas are catalogued and saved so that workers can discard those parts, but also so the factory itself can work towards eliminating manufacturing defects.

But when an object is moving as quickly as 33 feet per second, you need fast shutter speeds and enough light to freeze the action so images aren't blurred. So the Fraunhofer researchers had to also develop an LED-based light source that flashes 10,000 times per second at a duration of just five millionths of a second each time. Despite being so fleeting, the LEDs are actually as bright as 100 suns when they fire, but surprisingly they're not instantly blinding if you happened to glance over when the machine was running at full capacity.


The system is expensive to implement, but in the long run it eliminates the need for time-consuming inspections after the materials have already been produced. And since it provides detailed statistics on when and where defects are happening, it means a factory can improve its workflow and minimize the number of finished parts that have to be scrapped. [Fraunhofer]