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Feature Articles

Machine Vision Software Responds to Vision Sensors, Customer Diversity

by Winn Hardin, Contributing Editor - AIA

The vision sensor and smart camera product segments have made it easier for new customers in every industry segment to adopt machine vision solutions for manufacturing and quality control. As a result, machine vision software and image processing library suppliers are offering new software environments designed to further simplify machine vision system integration for newcomers while continuing to refine and enhance the natives and algorithms that are the true power behind the new object-based programming environments.

“We have HALCON for skilled vision programmers and engineers, but we were wondering what we can offer to customers that don’t do machine vision every day,” says Dr. Wolfgang Eckstein, managing director of image processing software stalwart MVTec (München, Germany).

MVTec started a three-and-a-half year journey by asking all its customer segments — from large companies with in-house machine vision development departments to integrators and newcomers interested in low-cost smart camera or vision sensor solutions — what they wanted in a new image processing program.

“A typical answer from integrators is they need to quickly determine if a new project is feasible, what kind of computer processing they need, and what kind of camera, without a big investment in time.” Eckstein says. “Large companies with specialized machine vision development departments also wanted to know what systems they needed to build and what systems they could give to plant engineering. All customers wanted to easily be able to develop custom interfaces for specific applications and a way to easily integrate with hardware, and not just machine vision hardware but I/O and PLCs. They wanted remote access so you could technically support the application from anywhere in the world.”

In June, MVTec launched MERLIC in the U.S., Canada, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Germany, and France in response to these customer requests.

MERLIC is an all-in-one software product for quickly building machine vision applications by configuring the applications instead of programming it — similar to a how a vision sensor is configured. To configure MERLIC, the customer takes an image of the part and uses the easyTouch feature. To find a defect, simply click on the defect in the image, and MERLIC decides which parameters to use and the region of interest. Click on two edges to make a linear measurement. Want to string together two tools? Hold down the Control key as if you were selecting two files on a PC, and MERLIC strings them together. Need to change camera gain, windowing, or other settings? Send reject signals to a PLC? Develop a custom user interface that can appear in both Chinese and Japanese so a Japanese integrator can support a Chinese application? A couple more clicks on the image interface, and MERLIC does all that, too.

“The latest developments in machine vision standards really help this too,” Eckstein says. “MERLIC offers a universal interface to all kind of GigE Vision and USB3 Vision compliant cameras.”

Like MVTec’s flagship machine vision application development environment HALCON, which is designed for vision experts, Matrox (Dorval, Quebec, Canada) offers its own high-level, well-known Matrox Imaging Library (MIL). To make all of MIL’s features available to non-programming experts, Matrox began offering Design Assistant several years ago. This flow chart-based programming environment gives the designer access to the majority of MIL tools and all major PLC, industrial network protocol, and robot controllers without the need to code each step. It also allows users to create a web-based operator interface within the same integrated development environment.

In fall 2015, Matrox released a major revision to Design Assistant, making version 4 usable with any GigE Vision or USB3 Vision camera and PC-host instead of just Matrox smart cameras, according to Matrox Imaging product line manager Pierantonio Boriero.

“Since Design Assistant is based on MIL, the customer will also get our latest optimizations for multicore architectures, including the new Intel AVX2 instruction set,” says Boriero. Released in fall 2015, MIL 10 simplifies the calibration of multiple 3D image-acquisition systems for either large-area 3D profiling in applications such as automotive and aerospace, or for very-high-resolution 3D profiles of electronic circuit boards, for example. To enhance color applications, MIL 10 includes a relative calibration tool for adjusting color profiles to account for aging lights as well as other environmental- and hardware-related factors that can adversely affect color imaging applications.

Matrox intends to have a new minor release of Design Assistant in early 2016 to account for a new smart camera, Boriero says. Additionally, the company plans to release a new interactive tool for its OEM MIL customers that will help expert programmers to be more productive.

A big part of Datalogic’s (Telford, Pennsylvania) latest IMPACT 11.5 release is support for the new MXU processing unit with quad-core i7 Intel co-developed with Austria-based B&R Automation and additional APIs for Baumer (Southington, Connecticut) industrial cameras.

At the same time, Datalogic offers either IMPACT LITE, a cost-effective image processing library that makes 30 of the most commonly used image processing tools available to customers of its new P-Series smart camera. “Since the release last fall, the P-series has been well-received,” says Bradley Weber, director of application engineering for Datalogic’s Machine Vision Business Unit. “After many customers’ requests, we’ve also made software licenses available for P-series customers so they can choose any of the 120 image processing tools available under the full version of IMPACT. When you combine that with our Control Program Manager interface builder, we’ve allowed our OEM and volume customers to create application-specific smart cameras of their own designed to tackle very specific tasks.”

Datalogic recently released the company’s first application-specific P-series smart camera, the P-OCR camera, which is specifically designed for optical character recognition. Primarily known for its line of handheld machine code readers, Datalogic upgraded its code-reading algorithms across all its automated data capture and industrial automation product lines to make integration easier for any 1D, 2D, OCR, and OCV application.

As vision sensors and smart cameras continue to bring new customers to machine vision technology, image processing software providers are finding new ways to leverage the most powerful algorithms with the simplest of interfaces. This combination of power and simplicity is expected to continue to drive machine vision expansion into smaller operations, as well as help solve the most challenging inspection applications for global corporations around the world.

 

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