Machine Vision

Hey, buddy. Here's a tip: Machine vision is a hot automation investment. Among Control Engineering subscriber survey respondents, 64% expect to increase machine vision purchases in the next 12 months; 29% will invest as much as they did this past year. Last year, 35% expected to increase their spending in 2006 and 54% expected to spend the same.


Hey, buddy. Here's a tip: Machine vision is a hot automation investment. Among Control Engineering subscriber survey respondents, 64% expect to increase machine vision purchases in the next 12 months; 29% will invest as much as they did this past year. Last year, 35% expected to increase their spending in 2006 and 54% expected to spend the same.

The leading factor holding back investment remains the amount of available capital budget at 32% (down from 39% in 2005 and 46% in 2004). Other impediments to investing more in machine vision in the coming year are: 22% 'priority relative to other automation projects,' 19% 'engineering resources,' and just 10% 'understanding vision technology,' suggesting that the old days of complex, high-priced vision systems are over.

These are among findings from a recent Control Engineering and Reed Corporate Research report on CE subscribers' use of and plans for machine vision products. Survey results were taken from those involved in specifying, recommending, and/ or buying machine vision; among those, 46% do that for in-plant requirements, 20% for OEM (resale), and 10% for both.

Micro technology, micro price

Several familiar with machine vision technologies didn't seem surprised at the trends. Jeff Schmitz, corporate business manager for vision sensors, Banner Engineering Corp., says 'advances in micro technology during the past decade have driven down the price of machine vision to a far more affordable point. A basic vision sensor now starts in the $1,000 range, while a full-featured one starts around $3,000. That's a far cry from the $30,000 companies were paying 10 or 15 years ago for a multi-component system that required a specialist to set up and maintain.

'Those same micro-technological advances— as well as an overall increase in people's technical savvy—means that with a little technical support, someone from the shop floor can learn to set up inspections. It helps that software interfaces have become user-friendly and are based on widely known formats, such as [Microsoft] Windows wizards,' Schmitz says.

The survey found that machine vision continues gaining favor for user-friendliness and lower cost. Just 37% of respondents said machine vision technology was too complex or costly to implement, down from 45% in 2004.

Ben Dawson, director of strategic development, ipd, a Dalsa Digital Imaging group, says as technologies are easier to use, more customers are discovering (or rediscovering) the competitive advantage of quality. 'A few years ago, installing a machine vision system was a major undertaking that usually required the services of an expert in machine vision. Easy-to-use machine vision systems have made installation a snap.' Their innovations, he says 'put the machine vision expert's knowledge into the machine and make the vision system's interface simple and familiar to a process or control engineer.'

Machine vision is applied to a diverse array of applications. Inspection at 67% remains the two-to-one winner over all the next most common uses: diagnostics, testing, and maintenance at 33%. In descending order, other popular areas are packaging machines; bar-code reading; gauging; and motion control—all listed by more than 25% of respondents as primary applications.

Leading means of machine-vision-related communication, respondents said, are Ethernet TCP/IP; 4-20 mA; 0-10 V; DeviceNet; and RS-485. These also are the top five ranking of plan-to-use communication for machine vision in the next 12 months.

Smart sensors, integrators

Among the 45% of respondents using smart vision sensors, 81% said such sensors met their requirements.

Dawson notes that ipd makes the 'intelligence' in a machine vision system, processors, and software. 'Our parent company makes cameras, and we resell cameras, lighting, and optics (lenses) from qualified vendors. Motion control is typically provided by a distributor or integrator,' he adds.

Those using or planning to use an automation system integrator for vision systems remained about the same, 25% and 17% respectively, compared to last year.

'Integrators are certainly helpful,' adds Banner's Schmitz, 'for optimally positioning the vision sensor and light(s) and are recommended for an initial vision sensor installation in a plant. Vision-specialty integrators, however, are not required for programming basic vision sensors.'

The main present challenge, says Schmitz, is to 'select and place lighting that brings out the key features and to avoid the temptation to allow the scope of the inspection to keep expanding until it is beyond the vision sensor's capabilities.'

See survey results for more detail at under 'Research.'

Machine vision products

For more manufacturers, visit . Vendors named in the survey included Cognex (DVT), Banner Engineering, Keyence, National Instruments, Omron Electronics, Matrox Imaging, Coreco Imaging (ipd, Dalsa), Jai Pulnix, PPT Vision, Siemens (RVSI Acuity CiMatrix), and Toshiba Teli. For systems integrators, visit . Also visit company Websites listed.

Where are primary machine vision applications?



Source: Control Engineering, Reed Corporate Research, August 2006


Diagnostics, testing, maintenance


Packaging machines


Bar-code reading




Motion control


Printing equipment, web processes


Continuous and batch processing


Machine control, CNC equipment


Robotic equipment


Supervisory control and data acquisition




Discrete product manufacturing


Optical character recognition


Pump, fan, blower applications


Continuous processing


Materials handling equipment (elevators, cranes, hoists)



Most important machine vision features (rank)



Source: Control Engineering, Reed Corporate Research, August 2006


Ease of use


Ease of set up


Complete solutions (including software)






Technical support


Customization ability




Full tool set


Integration expertise

Full-featured vision sensors, low prices

Discrete Control

Cognex Corp. announced the DVT 515 and DVT 535 as 'the most affordable, capable, and easy-to-use vision sensors in their class. With the most complete suite of vision tools at their price point, the DVT 515 and 535 set a new cost/performance standard for entry-level vision sensors,' the company says. The sensors are said to 'handle a much broader range of applications than similarly-priced vision sensors,' according to Kris Nelson, Cognex senior vice president, vision sensors. He added that it's very easy for users to combine vision tools to inspect, measure, count, find features and compare patterns to automate inspection and ensure quality in a variety of applications and industries. The sensors are the lowest-cost models in the DVT vision sensor family, operate with easy-to-use Intellect software that facilitates setup, integration, and maintenance, and are backward compatible with FrameWork, Nelson says. Ethernet connections for linking to factory networks and software are said to make setup of communications with other vision systems, PLCs, SCADA systems, PCs, and databases fast and easy. Cognex

Read dot-peen bar codes

PresencePlus P4 Omni with bar code and P4 BCR from Banner Engineering now reads dot-peen bar codes. Made by creating a permanent indent, or dot, in the surface of any malleable material, dot-peen bar codes are frequently used in the automotive and aerospace industries and for government applications. Dot-peened data cannot fall off like a paper label. The sensors, including standard and high-resolution 1.3 megapixel models, also read partially damaged bar codes and read virtually any surface with appropriate lighting. Starting at only $1,995, they are priced at almost half the cost of comparable stationary bar code readers, company says. Banner Engineering

Easy vision 'appliances'

Discrete Control

VA20 machine vision appliance from ipd, housed in a DIN-mountable enclosure, provides user setup, wiring and support for one or two cameras with a choice of sensor resolution. VA20 comes with iNspect software, while the VA21 version additionally includes Sherlock machine vision software. (For more about Sherlock 7 next-generation machine-vision software, see 'Product Exclusive,' p. 10, in this issue.) VA20 includes intelligence inside the camera controller, allowing users to position it alongside other automation controllers for interfacing. It has a Gigabit-compliant network connection that allows a real-time image feed to the Web browser. Resolutions are 640 x 480 pixels and 1,024 x 768 with higher resolutions of 1,600 x 1,200 possible. ipd

Gigabit Ethernet camera has wide dynamic range

Discrete Control

Jai Pulnix offers the TM-1327GE, a compact progressive scan CCD camera, featuring a 2/3-in. image sensor (Sony ICX285) and ability to capture 30 frames/s at 1.4-megapixel resolution (1,392 x 1,040 pixels). In a 50.8 x 50.8 x 84.8 mm housing, the camera offers a wide dynamic range with high sensitivity in visible and near-IR portions of the spectrum, good for widely varying light conditions, specialized targeting, or inspection of blemishes or defects not easily observed in the visible spectrum. Interline transfer CCD permits full vertical and horizontal resolution with shutter speeds up to 1/21,000 s. Asynchronous reset, combined with a no-delay, pulse-width controlled shutter, provides flexible triggering and exposure control required for machine vision applications. GigE interface offers 100-m cables with standard ports and is easy to use. Its patented look-up table (LUT) allows full dynamic range control of the CCD by externally selectable knee slopes. An extensive software kit, provided with the camera, includes a user-friendly graphical user interface (GUI) for controlling LUT settings and other camera functions, as well as an integrated API and a set of C++ classes for controlling the grabbing of images, and configuring local I/O connections. Jai Pulnix

GB Ethernet color camera uses 'super sensor'

Discrete Control

Toshiba Teli America Inc., North American subsidiary of Toshiba Teli Corp., offers the CS6910G, which was, upon introduction this spring, the world's only Gigabit Ethernet industrial camera to incorporate the Super CCD Honeycomb color sensor. It conforms to the AIA GigE Vision protocol, so is compatible with standard Gigabit Ethernet hardware, ports and cables, eliminating expense of specialized interface cards or frame grabbers. It delivers bandwidth to stream non-compressed RGB 24-bit color video at up to 30 frames-per-second at 1,280 x 960 resolution (SXGA) over CAT5e cabling to a host PC positioned up to 300 ft away. It offers progressive scanning, random trigger, electronic shutter (1/15000 to 8s), and external trigger in a 54(W) x 43(H) x 44.5(D) mm casing that weighs just 200g. Toshiba Teli

PCI Express frame grabber has security

American Eltec's new frame grabber PC Eye/Sec is designed to meet the highest standards of security and monitoring tasks. The image data-recording card offers JPEG compression hardware for 16 channels, MPEG-4 on-board compression, on-board scaling (1:1 to 1:8) and fast PCI Express Bus with a bandwidth of 250 MB/s. The frame grabber records analog color camera data via 16 parallel inputs—all contain a separate fast A/D converter. As a result, images can be recorded in real time and archived in the PC's central memory; 40 DMA controllers ensure quick data flow processing (4 for video, 16 for JPEG, 4 for MPEG, and 16 for audio input data). Design is FPGA-based. Converter settings, such as image size, brightness and contrast, can be adjusted individually. Available software includes a security library, optimized for fast switch and multiple camera operation, for Linux and Microsoft Windows 2000/XP. American Eltec Inc.

Fiber-based machine vision light

Discrete Control

Dolan-Jenner Industries introduces the Fiber-Lite DC950 Machine Vision Fiber Optic Illuminator for machine vision integrators. The 150-W quartz halogen regulated illuminator has dc-regulated output, fast lamp response, and a 0-5 V dc remote intensity control interface with linear voltage adjustment (8 bit D/A module available). It can be operated remotely, offers remote notification of lamp failure to decrease downtime, and is made of stackable heavy-duty steel housing with a mounting capability. Front panel can be accessed easily for fast lamp changes. Illuminating options include color filtering, manual iris (for intensity adjustment at a constant color temperature), and analog or digital remote interface. Dolan-Jenner

Machine vision sensor has more pixels

Kodak ISS recently introduced the KAC-00400 machine vision sensor for a number of applications. Designed in a wide-VGA format (768 x 488 pixels) that offers 20% more pixels than a standard VGA sensor, the expanded field of view of the KAC-00400 provides additional data for pattern recognition and object detection algorithms. Kodak also doubled the frame rate of the sensor from 30 to 60 fps, allowing capture of rapid movements. A more light-sensitive pixel and a lower noise design improve imaging performance in low-light conditions. Kodak

Single-board smart camera for automated ID

Discrete Control

Value Engineering Alliance, a provider of machine vision, added the Piati SBC to its family of ECC200 Data Matrix decoder solutions. The software and a small single board smart camera can be packaged or integrated into an existing enclosure. Applications include reading direct-marked codes or coded labels on slowly moving items, or items that are sequentially transported or indexed (so stationary at decode time). Easily configured using a PC-based program that features a graphical user interface (GUI), it facilitates identification and selection of parameters and options to optimize performance for each application. Available are supplementary automatic identification tools for addressing certain trainable optical character recognition (OCR) and interleaved 2 of 5 bar-code reading applications. The medium-resolution CCD (640 x 480 pixel) sensor provides progressive scan capability. It's 60 x 60 x 10 mm (excluding a lens holder and optics) and has two digital inputs, four digital outputs, and an RS-232 serial communications interface. Value Engineering Alliance

Online Extra

More machine vision research

Control Engineering / Reed Corporate Research on machine vision, August 2006, found that among respondents, 80% were in manufacturing; 20% in non-manufacturing applications. Among states, Ohio, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Missouri accounted for more than 55% of respondents.

Vendors named in the survey included Cognex (DVT), Banner Engineering, Keyence, National Instruments, Omron Electronics, Matrox Imaging, Coreco Imaging (ipd, Dalsa), Jai Pulnix, PPT Vision, Siemens (RVSI Acuity CiMatrix), and Toshiba Teli.

The email survey was completed in July for this August article.
Full survey results

Register at the Control Engineering Resource Center (now free) and look under Research, Monthly Product Focus, for more research results on a variety of topics.

Related machine vision articles

Watch for the September 2006 cover story for help with machine vision gauging applications.
Wider vision discussion

Ben Dawson, director of strategic development, ipd, a Dalsa Digital Imaging group, says ipd makes compact, easy-to-use vision systems that can be applied to almost any application for machine vision. That might exclude very high-speed applications, such as weapons testing. Products from ipd support TCP/IP over Ethernet, serial and parallel protocols, Modbus, and other network protocols. Ease of use was why ipd was formed, he says: “In many cases ipd’s Vision Appliance products can solve machine vision application in minutes.”

Smart sensors vary in “intelligence” and ease-of-use, Dawson says; “some simply do not have the‘brains’ to keep up with the inspection task or have an obscure and difficult set-up procedure.” The company aims to “match the vision system intelligence to the task, while keeping a simple set-up procedure.”

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