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Letter to Vision System Owners:

I want to tell you a story and I bet there’s a good chance it’s a story that you can both relate to and indeed you may have experienced it too.

If you have continuous inspection systems on your process (and these days who doesn’t) then you will definitely be able to relate to this.

Let me share the saga of what happened to a very large consumer product company’s vision systems. 

Many years ago and over a short window of time, every asset standardized on a single, Vision System vendor. The equipment was state of the art, the service was quick to respond and the end result was a definite improvement in quality, thanks to the addition of line scan technology to the process.

Over time, the vision systems got a little older, the relationship between the original supplier and the customer started to fade, as the customer had filled every need for sheet inspection, on every single asset. The supplier, like all suppliers had turned to ‘greener pastures’ to continue to feed that never-ending desire for new business.

As the vision systems started to get a little older, many things changed and none of these changes helped the performance of the systems.

The first thing that happened was, older operators retired and new operators joined the team. Eventually there was none of the original crew left from when the original systems were installed. 

This meant that no one really understood how the vision system worked and what exactly was its primary function? Was it just to tell them when they had defects or was it really a ‘process improvement tool?’ or is this just a fancy way of describing the Vision System to management?

The next thing to happen was, circuit boards would fail, cameras would fail, recipes would not work quite as well as they once worked. It took some time, but eventually people stopped trusting the vision system and some assets would even run without the vision system, because they really didn’t think it was giving them information they could use. 

Something had to change with how vision systems were being maintained. It represented a lot of investment and more importantly, the customer base had grown to expect fewer defects and better quality. But now the material was slipping back to the lesser quality of ‘pre-Vision System days.

A decision to appoint an overall ‘champion’ of vision systems seemed like a good idea. This champion took some time to review each of the systems. It turned out that there was little consistency in how the systems were set up and there was even less consistency in how the information from the systems was being used at each asset.

Stepping back and looking at the corporate’s vision systems from a global perspective it became obvious that the vision systems needed someone who could be dedicated to this one discipline. Someone who could develop best practices for every aspect of Vision Systems and consistently introduce these practices to every asset.

But it couldn’t end there! The other big gap that developed was in how operators interacted with the Vision System. Class room training has not worked too well. People would attend but then never apply what they learned and shortly after the training, most people went back to the way thing were and it looked like no progress had been made. 

So training had to become an integral part of an on-going process of keeping each Vision System performing at their very best level of performance.

This approach to Vision System Optimization because known as the Dedicated Engineer Program. It was initially funded for one single year. At the end of the year the improvement in every aspect of Vision had improved so significantly, the program was extended for an additional two years. At the end of the third year, the benefits made justifying the support indefinitely a reality. (more on that later) 

How do you know if you really have this need?

Are your vision systems more than 3 years old and not quite performing like they were when they were installed?

• Are you concerned that they may not be performing like they used to, when they were new systems, but just cant put your finger on why? (is it lighting or is it camera alignment, or something more serious?)

• Are you no longer on your vendor’s ‘speed dial’ and response to service calls don’t get an immediate ‘call to action’ response that you were getting when you were still buying systems?

• Have you introduced new grades, or changed how you make your material and are not sure that the vision system is optimized for these grades?

• Have you had a turnover of the operator team and no longer have people who understand what Vision adds to your process?

• Would you like to repurpose your vision system, look at the sheet in a different location or different view, but don’t know where to start?

• Do you see a need for standardization across the whole company, but really don’t know which standards are the best standards?

• Are you worried that you might not be inspecting ‘all’ of your sheet? Or that the edge tracking isn’t seeing the same edge that you see?

• Do you lack the proper job aids and training material, so training for Vision doesn’t have any structure?

What can we offer you?

We would like to help you audit your system. We won’t ask for anything other than an hour of your time, so that we can look at one or more of your systems. 

In that hour we can point out areas of concern, or if indeed your systems are performing well, we will be delighted to share the good news about what is right and identify any gaps that we see between where you are and where you should be, for optimal inspection.

We can then give you an assessment of the kind of support you need and what outcome you can expect, if you decide to adopt this support. 

This support will always be backed up with a financial justification, so that there’s a metric to show that a support system is working and has tangible justification.

As a side note, the original Dedicated Engineer program concept was justified with a target of reducing vision related issues that appeared in the process for a length of time (as distinct from a single, discrete defect) The first goal was to bring these vision events down from an average of three to no more than a single event each year. By simply maintaining this goal, the program could have been justified, but the additional benefits gave it even more financial justification. 

Some of these benefits were:

Supporting new product trails:

The first time a new trial was supported by a vision expert, a massive defect in the material was identified. Had this defect not been identified, several days’ worth of material might have been shipped to a customer, with disastrous consequences. Vision Support is now an integral part of any new trail grade and has had many, previously overlooked benefits to improved trial results.

Supporting Retrofit Activities:

While gearing up for an upgrade on an asset (for instance, adding film to a non-woven grade) a vision expert was able to advise on the best location for a vision system. This small adjustment to a CAD drawing avoided a major redesign of a final build, allowing for the best possible location for the best vision system solution, while the upgrade was still in a concept phase. This has now become a integral part of all design reviews.

Creating Training Techniques Beyond a Classroom:

Quarterly and annual training has transformed some of the biggest skeptical operators into enthusiastic fans of (as they described it) this ‘Process Improvement’ Tool

A Final Word about Vision Systems and Your Operation

One of the best compliments were ever received about our Vision System support program was being told by a machine superintendent that “we don’t ship by vision, but we do indeed ship by vision” meaning that while it might not be formally written into the decision making process, ultimately it’s the piece of the puzzle that gives the final approval to ship material. 

If someone is putting that much trust into the vision system, doesn’t it make sense to know that every Vision System is always performing at the best possible level of performance that they can return.

Sincerely yours,


Consultant at Barnstorm Quality Consulting LLC


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