June 23rd, 2011

Vision Gets a Speed Boost

Higher Processing and Transmission Speeds Help Machine Vision Grow


By Aaron Hand, Managing Editor
Control Design | Industrial Networking



Machine vision sales continue to grow, with system builders and integrators reporting strong interest in vision solutions, according to the Automated Imaging Association (http://www.machinevisiononline.org/). The organization's latest report recorded solid growth in all major machine vision supplier markets in 2010 (overall growth was 54%), with high hopes for 2011.


Improved computer processing power has been a major factor in the growth of the machine vision inspection market, according to Vijay Mathew, program manager, measurement and instrumentation, for Frost & Sullivan (http://www.frost.com/). "It has not only benefited existing application areas, but the increase in processing speed has opened the door to new applications, with algorithms getting more complex and camera capabilities improving," he says. "Web/inline inspection for high-throughput applications, where quality is of the highest importance, in industries ranging from automotive, aerospace, food and beverage, and pharmaceutical have benefited from advancement in computing technology. 100% inspection at production line speeds is becoming a reality. It has also opened the door to the 3D-based machine vision systems market."


The majority of cameras being introduced today have built-in FPGAs, which enables onboard image processing capabilities that improve processing speeds. Various technologies-sensors, FPGAs, DSPs, microprocessors, robotics and software advancements-combine to revolutionize machine vision systems and also make them more affordable, Mathew says. High-end applications in such fields as military or medical use complex algorithms and require high-speed computational capabilities.


It is such high-end applications that will benefit most from a relatively new interface standard called CoaXPress, which enables the transmission of data from a device to host at speeds of up to 6.25 Gbps over a single coax cable. Originally developed by Adimec, Active Silicon and Components Express and introduced in late 2009, CoaXPress now is hosted by the Japan Industrial Imaging Assn. (JIIA, http://www.jiia.org/) and more recently supported by AIA and the European Machine Vision Assn. (EMVA, http://www.emva.org/).


"The machine vision industry benefits from this new standard because of the advancement of new CMOS sensor-based cameras that are able to combine large pixel arrays (>4 Mpixel) at very high speeds (>100 fps) for area-scan cameras," says Joost van Kuijk, vice president of marketing and technology at Adimec (http://www.adimec.com/), which recently released the first production-ready camera for use with the new interface standard. "Another big driver for the CoaXPress technology is the need for high-speed data rates for line-scan cameras."


In high-end applications, it is not just the higher speeds that are attractive, but the combination of high speed, flexible cabling and long transmission distances, van Kuijk says. "We already see two main categories of customers for our CoaXPress solutions. The first are the high-data-rate customers that would otherwise require multiple (up to four) CameraLink cables to transport the data from the camera to the frame grabber," he says. "At these higher data rates the travel distance will be short-less than 10-15 m-and the cables become very costly. A single or dual flexible coax cable reduces the overall system cost." The second type of customer is upgrading existing, often analog, systems with coax cable installed, he adds.


Overall, the adoption and application of Ethernet for connecting cameras continues to grow. "The buzz around GigE continues, strengthened by updates to the GigE Vision standard and the easy availability of components with a GigE interface (cameras, switches, etc.)," Mathew says. "This trend was particularly strong in 2009 and 2010, with reports indicating that sales of cameras with GigE interfaces overtook other popular interfaces for the first time. The benefits include lower costs, easy cabling, scalability and simpler integration."


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