Machine vision has historically been used as a quality audit tool in the automotive industry. New generation vision hardware offers the potential for integrating machine vision into the manufacturing process as an interactive process control tool. This paper is a case study in the application of machine vision integrated into a production line to feed process control data to a system controller in addition to performing statistical process control functions on a real time basis.The paper describes the initial application of the concept referred to as Flexible Inspection, *, , and an example inspection algorithm for determining the presence/absence of components on a printed circuit board. The production activity chosen for the study is a printed circuit assembly line in an automotive electronics assembly plant. The potential impact of this type of system on automotive manufacturing is assessed through empirical data. Flexible inspection will reduce process variability while achieving optimum quality levels.