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Vision industry now ready for lighting standard

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Having been talked about for many years, a standard for machine vision lighting is once again on the agenda. Peter Bhagat of Gardasoft Vision explains why the signs are good for it to now come to fruition

Ultimately, any standard will only effectively come about if there is sufficient demand from the market – with suitable technology and the collaboration of technology providers then being key enablers for standardisation to become a reality. This is starting to happen with lighting standards for machine vision systems from two perspectives: optical parameters, and command and control. This article will concentrate on the latter of these two categories.

In a highly software and network reliant sector such as machine vision, it’s a significant omission that lighting is not integrated into vision systems, but it’s also a key opportunity for this market. I see lighting command and control within a classic ‘development cycle’ as follows: market demand, available technology, customer uptake, and finally a call for standardisation.

So, if a call for standardisation is made before either of the other elements of the cycle is in place, then the momentum is never really created. This is what we have experienced to date with standardisation for lighting, where truly integrated networking technology for lighting has not been prevalent. This is now being addressed, and coupled with user demand, this is why lighting standards now have the best chance to succeed.

The momentum referred to is critical, because as with any move of this type, there will be obstacles – some perceived, some real, and some that are even put in place to create a drag on standardisation from vendors who are not ready with the technology at this stage.

Market demand

In terms of networked and intelligent lighting, where is the market demand? End users are one source of demand. They are particularly looking for increased throughout process times, but also incrementally improving their quality levels. This leads to them continuously demanding faster and more accurate inspection; conventionally this means placing the entire onus on camera technology, but integrating advanced lighting control enables suitable performance increase in the overall vision system. Examples include multiple inspections of single products, where intelligent lighting is better suited for control of multiple lights, or differing intensity for single lights; another example is applications where communications within factory automation networks is becoming increasingly important.

High-function OEMs are also a key focus; they are demanding increased machine vision performance, because if their suppliers provide suitable advances in technology then their machines have differentiation in the market. This is especially true in sectors such as semiconductor and electronic manufacturing where OEM Inspection machines are contributing to important fractional percentage improvement efficiency and quality levels for their end users because of closer camera and light functionality alignment.

System integrators are also in the category of pioneering intelligent lighting. Here the market is already seeing current uptake of comprehensive communications capability – this helps SIs both with on-site commissioning but also remote diagnostics for after-sales support. There is also a growing trend in the market for ‘complete solutions’, and system integrators need to effectively respond to this. In doing so, they need advanced technology, but in an easy to use format as they need to handle multiple technology disciplines.

Available technology

To a degree, communications has been available for lighting control for some time. As an example, Gardasoft lighting controllers have been fitted with Ethernet as standard for many years, but communications has recently been added to the market demand agenda with users asking for seamless access and control of their lighting into their image processing environment. Gardasoft is responding with GigE Vision and GenICam compliant products, with our own Triniti Intelligent Lighting platform development fitting into this scenario. Triniti provides expert control, operational intelligence and full integration of machine vision lighting within an environment designed to be plug-and-play. Gardasoft’s aim was to make complex control techniques very easy to implement, and information about system lighting to be available across industry standard networks, protocols and image processing software packages.

Customer uptake

Will everybody convert to intelligent lighting today? New technology uptake doesn’t happen this way, but there will be enough demand from users to justify the cycle to begin with. It will be the case that in the initial launching of intelligent lighting some will see it as a cost, some an opportunity. There will be those who want to pioneer with the new technology, and those who will benefit when it inevitably becomes a standard function of lighting products in the near future. It’s a typical new technology cycle with a pioneering phase which includes early adopters, moving to the stage where technology eventually becomes the norm, and a new cycle begins. At this early stage users have a choice as manufacturers will produce both standard and intelligent versions of their light models. We’ve seen the same scenario with machine vision camera technology.

The move to standardisation

Today, Gardasoft has implemented GigE Vision on a lighting controller series. Software companies have shown their willingness to extend their implementations to cover this non-camera device, and there are now a number of packages which provide support or those who have it planned for their next release.

Historically, lighting controller networks have operated with different protocols on Ethernet, RS232 and USB with no standardisation. In Gardasoft’s case we have a simple communications standard which we use across our products, and this is fairly specific. There have been various working groups on the subject, the latest of which earlier this year concluded that tangible actions could now be taken. For example, GenICam was agreed to be the standard to which lighting communication should adhere to, useful factors being that GenICam has SFNC which provides standard naming, essentially making GenICam products more interchangeable. SNFC also has extensions for IO devices, which fits controllers.

Sometimes a new technology development from a product vendor will provide the catalyst for the removal of a barrier to standardisation, and Gardasoft has experienced this by creating the Triniti lighting platform. It has pioneered GigE Vision for non-imaging devices as our LED controllers are the first non-streaming devices available. During our development phase, client software generally didn’t work at first as no one had a device to test; but these client companies have been very keen to cooperate with us because they have seen the general long term potential. Many have worked with us and have made their software compatible, to the point where many of the leading players’ products are either compatible now or due to be so in the coming weeks.

In conclusion, there are important steps now being taken to create an effective standard for control and communication for lighting. There will continue to be challenges, but I’ll mention momentum again – I believe this has been created by the positive response from involved parties and I predict tangible results by the end of 2015.

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Peter Bhagat is CEO Gardasoft Vision, setting up the company in 1999. Triniti was shortlisted for the Vision Award at the 2014 Vision trade fair Stuttgart, Germany. To find out more about Bhagat, read his Q&A column he wrote for Imaging and Machine Vision Europe here.

Further information:

Gardasoft Vision

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