Light

Light Focuses on the Details with Instrumental

Light uses the Instrumental System to deliver exceptional quality on their flagship L16 camera, despite a factory shakeup.

During the development and production of its L16 camera, Light, a company building compact computational photography systems that rival large DSLR’s, leveraged Instrumental’s technology to closely monitor their complex product and ensure stringent quality. When a factory location change was needed halfway through a build, Light used their Instrumental System to prevent losing development progress.

Light’s L16 is an extraordinary camera: within its compact frame lie 16 camera modules, 3 custom ASICs chips, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, dual LEDs, a class 1 laser, proximity sensors, and an HD touchscreen. The engineering team at Light iterated from a “lunch-box” sized, manually-focused prototype, to the production L16 that we know today, which automatically coordinates and synchronizes multiple camera modules in a handheld form factor.

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The L16 DVT prototype assembly line. Instrumental’s station is visible on the right. Photo Credit: Light. Captured by the L16.

The Problem

The L16 camera’s design presents a classic manufacturing challenge: packaging a high number of complex components into a small form factor. Take screws for example: there are 119 in the L16. With a traditional manual assembly line, it’s simply not practical for an engineering team to monitor every unit down to the screw — instead, they must rely on more general quality tests to screen units, with close inspection reserved for intermittent spot checks.

Light’s Senior Director of Hardware Engineering, Brian Gilbert, was well aware of the challenge: “Assembly of the L16 is a tightly controlled, complex process done in a clean room. Anyone who’s ever done a hardware product knows that even with all the manufacturing quality controls and best practices in places at the best facilities in the world, things still sometimes slip through. Missing fasteners, adhesives, screws — basically anything that’s applied manually is a risk.” 

To complicate matters further, the team at Light faced a hurdle midway through their development cycle: Light had to pick up and move their assembly line to a different factory site an hour away. A new location meant new operators and potentially a restart of the validation process that would delay the product by months.

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A prototype L16 inside an Instrumental station. Photo Credit: Light. Captured by the L16.

The Solution

Instrumental was introduced to Light during planning for the factory change. The Light team had finished validating the design of the L16 and was entering production readiness, but the change needed to go smoothly to avoid putting their timeline into question. The team at Instrumental had a solution: combine a detailed, searchable visual record of every unit made on the new line with powerful machine learning tools that would empower the team at Light to catch issues right away. 

Instrumental worked with Light to analyze the assembly processes and to determine the optimal deployment of Instrumental equipment — four stations capturing a total of six images of every unit. Brian was impressed with the Instrumental team throughout the setup: “Instrumental was very hands-on early in the process, getting us set up and training our entire team on how to leverage the data tools. They went through and picked out some areas of interest for us after we started having data come in, and that really demonstrated the value of Instrumental’s approach.”

The Light team was able to use Instrumental’s anomaly detection tools to quickly find issues they didn’t know about yet, perform failure analysis, and then monitor all subsequent units to ensure the corrective action worked: “The Instrumental system was especially helpful in failure analyses of early prototypes; being able to find anomalies with screws, gaskets, and insulating structures, where before there was no automated test to be able to catch that kind of thing. Instrumental allowed us to quickly identify the issues early on, prescribe corrective action, and then actually monitor that corrective action on the assembly line,” said Brian.

“One of the most interesting capabilities of the system is to virtually see inside of components, and pinpoint areas where something doesn’t look right.” — Brian Gilbert, Senior Director of Hardware Engineering, Light

John Tong, Senior Mechanical Engineer, found the system particularly useful for isolating the source of problems: “On several occasions we were having hardware issues and we referred back to the Instrumental pictures to prove it wasn’t from the line. For example, we had some cosmetic damage on some packaged devices and we went back to the system to check and confirm that the damage didn’t come from the line but from a later process… I'm able to look at a device, see if a certain problem exists, and then explore images from different steps of the assembly process to confirm exactly what stage the problem appeared in.”  

The team at Light also used the Instrumental System to “virtually disassemble units” — accessing the historical record to look into assembled units remotely without having to take them apart. “Usually once a unit is buttoned up, we aren’t able to get that data anymore without having to go back and physically take the individual units apart.” said Brian. “One of the most interesting capabilities of the system is to virtually see inside of components, and pinpoint areas where something doesn’t look right.”

The Results

With the introduction of all the new variables that come from a factory change, the team at Light faced a big risk of having new problems show up on their assembly line. But thanks to Instrumental, the team was able to closely monitor their new line to ensure quality, to quickly identify mistakes, and to help get the new operators up to speed. Brian explained: “The factory switch was a big hurdle — hopefully something that most other people won’t have to endure. Even when I was there on the ground, I felt better with Instrumental on our line, knowing we had extra ‘eyes’ in the factory.”

The larger team at Light was also able to save critical time and to gain additional insight by being able to access the data record remotely. “Our supply chain quality folks were able to minimize some emergency travel since they could review data and see what was going on remotely using Instrumental’s tools,” said Brian.

When the L16 was ready to head into production, the team at Light decided to keep Instrumental on the line. Brian explained: “After working with Instrumental through development, I imagine it was an easy decision for the company to deploy Instrumental into production. One of the things we are really passionate about is making sure we send every customer their L16 in impeccable, perfect working condition. Having Instrumental’s eyes on the line to monitor every L16 being made, as well as that historical record of the inside of every single unit, is a big thing. Working with Instrumental really gives us that extra confidence that we are delivering the best product and customer experience possible here at Light.”

Instrumental was deployed to great effect during the L16’s development, and continues to be a powerful quality tool for the team at Light.