Seeing More With Machine Vision

The performance and sophistication gap between low-cost vision sensors and high-end vision systems is closing.

Expect more from machine vision, whether in providing the eyes for robot systems or as high performance ID readers.

In robotic applications one example is the seamless integration of vision and robot controls by FANUC Robotics America. The iRVision System is the company's first built-in vision package that is available on all R-J3iC Controllers, providing customers a single source for robot guidance or process feedback. FANUC's iRVision system is a ready-to-use robotic vision package, requiring only a camera and cable and no additional processing hardware. It has a 2-D robot guidance tool to accomplish part location, error proofing and other operations that normally require special sensors or custom fixtures.

"The new iRVision system raises the bar for the integration of machine vision to robotics, providing a new level of robot intelligence with significant cost reductions and quality benefits," says Edward Roney, FANUC Robotics' manager of vision product development. "We've taken the complexity out of robot vision, eliminating the need to combine a separate vision system with the robot controller. Now a customer plugs in a camera and cable to a dedicated vision port on the robot's main CPU and the system is ready to go to work."

In February, new performance and sophistication for bar code readers was introduced by Cognex Corp., a supplier of machine vision systems. The DataMan 100 offers performance in a package smaller than cellular flip phones. Justin Testa, Cognex's senior vice president for ID products, says the reader uses IDQuick software, a new Cognex decoding tool for well-formed codes. IDMax software is available for reading the most-challenging direct part mark (DPM) codes, adds Testa.

Conceived in the 1950s and introduced in the early 1980s, machine vision has become a rapidly growing, important manufacturing solution to problems in major industrial sectors. New analysis from Frost & Sullivan reveals that revenue of the vision inspection equipment market reached $2.32 billion in 2006, with growth to $3.70 billion anticipated by 2013.

10 Questions To Ask When Buying A Vision Sensor

  1. What is the importance of part location tools, and how can I assess their performance?
  2. What role do built-in network communications play, and what capabilities should I look for?
  3. Does the vision sensor make it easy to set up applications, create custom operator interfaces and administer vision sensor networks?
  4. Does the sensor have sufficient image preprocessing tools?
  5. What should I look for in character reading and verification capabilities?
  6. How can I determine the repeatability of a vision sensor's gauging tools?
  7. How do I evaluate industrial code reading tools and what are some specific features to look for?
  8. What should I know about vision sensor accessories?
  9. Does the vision sensor require a PC?
  10. What types of product support services are offered?

Source: Cognex Corp.

Additionally, Frost & Sullivan reports that the X-ray inspection equipment market reached revenues of $1.56 billion in 2006, with predictions for $2.66 billion in 2013. Factors feeding that growth: new technology, improved performance, and easier and lower cost ways of applying the advantages of the technology to industrial tasks.

Once considered as only a beneficial and desired option, machine vision is now a competitive requirement for categories of problems that can't be solved any other way. Even greater acceptance awaits if the industry can resolve some nagging problems, says Frost & Sullivan research analyst Juan Rosales.

He notes that while many machine vision and X-ray equipment manufacturers have leveraged their R&D expertise to successfully adapt to the shift toward digital systems, some vendors have yet to embrace this movement. The slow adoption of emerging digital technology may ultimately hinder the overall revenues for both the machine vision and X-ray inspection markets.

"The inadequate revenues generated by the more reluctant market participants may reduce the overall market revenues and hinder market growth," adds Rosales. "For these vendors to contribute to the success of the marketplace and to ensure that they maintain a stable customer base, they must determine the types of unique advantages that can be offered to clients, whether such advantages are financial or service-based."

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