Quality Magazine

Smart Cameras Do More With Less

April 29, 2009
Practical applications provide lower cost and greater flexibility.

The smart camera processes the images to determine the vehicle’s coordinate system. Source: Vision Solutions International


In a traditional vision system, a camera acquires an image and transfers it to a host computer for processing and analysis. A smart camera has its own processor so it performs both acquisition and processing tasks. Smart cameras have made their way into mainstream imaging applications. Applications from a range of industries use the smart camera platform because of cost, flexibility and software support.

A smart camera is a compact, self-contained device that can be installed anywhere. In an industrial environment that lacks the space for a PC and its components, a smart camera is a good alternative. In addition to saving space, smart cameras can lower the overall cost of a system. Consider the shopping list for a traditional system: camera, PC, imaging hardware, cables, lens, software and light source.

Order a smart camera and that list is short; the camera, PC, imaging hardware and software are in one box. In addition, dealing with a single supplier ensures hardware and software integrity and interoperability.



A camera takes pictures of a bottle’s opening to check for defects from the glass process. From left to right: a bottle that passes inspection, an over-pressed bottle opening and the binary image of the over-pressed bottle with the defect highlighted. Source: Spectral Process

Flexibility

Because a smart camera is a programmable device, software support has a significant role to play. Many applications have unique software requirements, and software allows the smart camera to process multiple code types simultaneously. The smart camera’s flexibility means scalability; for higher throughput, an engineer simply adds more cameras to the existing inspection line.

For other applications, flexibility means support for custom algorithms. For many tasks, coordinates are needed. The 3-D algorithms determine those coordinates with the position data calibrated for the robot’s coordinate frame. After the robot has the coordinates, it does the assigned task. A large part of the application uses custom algorithms, and the company needed a platform that would support them. With a smart camera integrated into the platform, the application gets a processing boost from parallelization. The result is a dramatic increase in efficiency. Before use of the smart camera, creating 2-D and 3-D vision models could take as long as several hours. After system implementation, the task can be performed in minutes.



The imaging software allows the smart camera to read multiple data types simultaneously. In this case, the application reads a bar code and numerals. Source: Microview Lingzhi

Why Consider a Smart Camera?

Some applications will perform better on a traditional PC/frame grabber imaging system. There are limits to what a smart camera can do, and that depends on the power of the camera’s central processing unit (CPU) and the volume of data generated by the application. Web inspection, for example, creates vast amounts of data-all of which need to be processed. For many applications, though, smart cameras offer benefits including ease of integration, lower cost and software.

Smart cameras offer fewer components to integrate. This means that operators will deal with a single supplier and avoid connectivity, chipset compatibility and driver installation issues. The cameras also can provide lower cost, including lower engineering costs as well as the overall product cost, and scalability and flexible software options.