Issue date: 03 July 2003

ISSUE DATE: 03/07/03

Researchers from the Machine Vision Laboratory at the University of the West of England are investigating new forms of automated surface quality control systems within the stone processing industry.

Polished natural stone has become increasingly popular as a cladding material in architectural design, for use on floors and walls, and is replacing other inferior materials in applications ranging from kitchen and bathroom work-surfaces to new forms of super-thin slabs used in transport applications.

The successful grant application was written under the Fifth Framework by Drs Lyndon Smith, Sagar Midha and Melvyn Smith and has a total budget of 1.3 million Euro, with the UWE Machine Vision team receiving some 203,000 Euro.

Dr Melvyn Smith explains, “The use of polished stone offers a number of advantages over alternative materials, including a more robust and durable finish together with a more attractive aesthetic appearance. However, it is well recognised that current limitations in stone surface quality control represents a crucial obstacle in the future evolution of the stone processing industry. As such, the introduction of automated surface analysis is considered to be of pivotal importance in realising improved product quality, greater operational efficiency, and a reduction in the harmful environmental impact of stone processing. Such technological improvements are of major significance, both in enabling existing markets to be secured and also in developing new market opportunities.”

This absence of automated surface inspection may partly be attributed to specific limitations in currently available inspection technology, particularly in relation to the relatively unstructured nature of both the operating environment and the product itself. The latter being apparent in the form of the complex stochastic patterns and 3D features often present in natural stone. The VIPS project will therefore be concerned with undertaking research into new forms of surface analysis with particular application to the quality control of polished stone. An experimental prototype machine vision system is to be constructed and tested.

It is intended that the introduction of an automated objective assessment of defects in stone will enable the development of a new generation of CNC stone processing machines, incorporating automated surface inspection and process control. This in turn will allow new EU stone quality standards to be evolved that will enable stone processors to more efficiently produce various standard grades of stone according to end-user requirements. For example, stone used to clad the exterior of a building at a high level would have a markedly differing specification to stone used to produce, say, a kitchen worktop. It is envisaged that these aspects will enable European stone producers to more effectively compete with their counterparts in the developing world, where labour costs are often significantly lower.


Editor’s notes

The UWE researchers will be working with seven international partners, including the University Instituto Superior Tecnico (IST) in Portugal, D'Appolonia, an Italian engineering consultancy, António Jacinto Figueiredo (A.J.F), a Portuguese machine builder, CNI Informatica, an Italian systems integrator, White Design Associates Ltd, a UK architectural design practice, and Zunino Marmi and Maserc, Italian granite and Portuguese marble processors respectively. The UWE machine vision team acts as the lead partner in the research and development of the machine vision stone surface inspection system.

Jpeg visual available by contacting the Press Office.

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