An absolute first for Dutch orchid grower Piet Vijverberg, who recently launched a hybrid human-machine vision inspection system for his orchids. This revolutionary new technology is the result of the teamwork between three companies with exceptional qualifications in the world of orchid growing, horticultural automation and … postal services.
Finally justice for mankind! And I will tell you why. When comparing machine vision systems, the camera is often compared to the human eye and the computer to the human brain. The truth is, however, that the human eye/brain combination is far more sophisticated than any camera or computer, even though suppliers of these technologies would like to make us believe differently.
Let’s narrow this topic down to our industry. The Dutch nursery Piet Vijverberg from Monster, the Netherlands, is committed to meeting customer satisfaction by providing a range of Phalaenopsis of the highest quality. In order to achieve this goal, the company relies on a vision-based inspection and quality management system.
For a couple of years, machine vision assisted the orchid firm in improving product quality, lowering manufacturing costs, and exceeding consumer expectations for high quality products at an affordable price. At the 45,000m2 Vijverberg nursery, the machine vision system counts the number of buds and stems, measures and sorts the plants according to size and shape.
It all went quite smoothly until advanced breeding techniques brought beefy Phalaenopsis specimens with more than three stems and a literally countless number of buds onto the market. From that moment on, it became much more challenging for Vijverberg to accurately inspect 100% of their products as the current generation of cameras was designed to assess only single or double stemmed Phalaenopsis .
With an entirely automated method proving not accurate enough to perform checks of consistent quality, Vijverberg teamed up with WPS, a leading provider of automation solutions for the ornamental plant industry, and the Dutch postal company PostNL to develop a cutting edge-system for the orchid industry. The newly-launched hybrid human-machine vision system, where the work of both humans and machines is balanced to be as cost-effective and as accurate as possible, now bears the fruits of the teamwork.
Vijverberg’s super-sized and multiple bud Phalaenopsis, are now assessed from a distance by employees from the Philippines. Images taken of every plant (9500 plants daily) at the nursery are transmitted to Asia within just a few seconds, where an employee checks the plants for various characteristics and immediately sends back the results to the Netherlands. Based on this assessment, each plant is then optimally routed in the production process and WPS system.
Unlike the machine vision, the human (and especially the Asian eye) can perform a count that is much more accurate whereas previous camera accuracy levels were between 60 and 62% (Phalaenopsis with 3 or more stems). Postal company PostNL provided valuable input as they use this same technology to identify mail items with handwritten addresses and provide these with the appropriate address information, in order to enable automatic sorting.
Plenty of business opportunities
The hybrid human-machine vision inspection system allow orchid grower Vijverberg to differentiate himself in the marketplace by offering superior reliability and quality. Meanwhile, horticultural automation specialist, WPS Horti Systems, sees many business opportunities, not only for horticultural products that – due to pricing – require proper assessment of specific plant characteristics, but also for other cases where the human eye combined with WPS technology could add value.