Saturday, May 9, 2015

Who’s got RealSense?

Raise your hands please if you’ve played with this new Intel camera technology.

Like a Kinect on steroids, the RealSense promises to make 3D imaging easy. Apparently it came out at the beginning of the year, but between doing my day job and dealing with illness it passed me by. It was only Vision Systems Design’s interview with Arnaud Darmont that alerted me to the fact that this is something new.

I may have several applications, but I’d like to learn more about how it works. I can’t find any details on the Intel website, although a post on the Image Sensors World blog, “Intel Releases More Details on its F200 RealSense Camera” suggested it’s an IR light pattern projection system.

However, commenters in a discussion forum argued that it’s actually a Time-of-Flight system. I’m not sure about that, but I can’t find anything definitive. So, can anyone share links to definitive info about how the RealSense F200 camera works?

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Machine Vision Business Must be Good

Some companies are clearly so busy they don’t want to sell me anything. Let me explain.

I recently needed a fiber-optic light guide. (Yes, I still use that technology on occasion.) So I went to the websites of two companies I know who sell that kind of thing. Both showed what I wanted but neither mentioned the price. So I used the ‘Contact Us’ function to submit an inquiry.

One website let me send an email. I got a reply back an hour or so later. The other website popped up an inquiry form. I dutifully filled it in and clicked to submit. I received an automated reply immediately. That seemed encouraging, but five days later I’m still waiting for the pricing info I requested.

Guess which company got my business?

I know business is good, because the AIA keeps telling me that sales are growing. But if you want to grow, might I suggest you reply to each and every enquiry you receive? You never know where it will lead.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Vision network tip

If you don’t already have your smart cameras on a separate network, you may be doing it soon. With growing demand for all images to be saved, plus track-and-trace data, the volume of vision data being sent around many plants is expanding beyond the ability of the regular IT network to handle.

One tool to help might be the “managed switch.” I didn’t know anything about these, but a Hank Hogan article in Control Design (Jan 15, 2015,) provided some illumination. If you’re getting beat up over hogging all the bandwidth, take a look at “How Valuable is Your Network.” It might help soothe the tension with your IT people.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Summarizing your 3D options

One of my takeaways from Automate was that 3D is no longer a novelty, at least not as regards robot guidance. Pretty much every robot integrator with a Fanuc on their stand also had 3D system in place. These all used the same DLP approach where a series of lines are projected in quick succession onto the target surface.

Andy Wilson summarizes this, and all the other options, in “Choosing a 3D vision system for automated robotics applications” which was published on the Vision Systems Design website back in December 2014. It’s a very comprehensive and I don’t think he omits a single camera-based method. (He doesn’t mention LIDAR or time-of-flight methods.)

If you have any interest in robot guidance I’d encourage you to read his article. Even if you’re more interested in part inspection, as I am, it’s an excellent primer. Ever helpful, Andy includes links to the many camera and illumination companies with something to offer the 3D imaging world. It’s something you might want to bookmark.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Trade Show Etiquette

Companies spend a lot of money on their trade show displays. I wonder why they don’t invest a little in teaching their staff how to behave.

Slouching on a chair in the corner, checking email or texts on phones, and even chewing gum. I think I saw it all as I prowled the aisles at Automate, and it was not a pretty sight. The worst offender though was a robot company who’d crammed their stand with white-shirted salesmen. I got the impression they hadn’t met up in some time because all the while I was on there they were huddled in groups talking to each other. I do have a photo, if anyone’s interested.

So here’s my proposal: before the next big show, ask me to educate your sales ‘professionals’ in how to behave professionally at a trade show. It might do wonders for the return on show investment!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Halcon for dummies?

Power, or so we are told, is an aphrodisiac. If so, that would explain why many machine vision professionals are so drawn to Halcon. While some, (mostly those in Natick,) will argue VisionPro is at least comparable, there’s no dispute that Halcon is one of the most powerful vision tool libraries.

It’s also rather hard to use. It needs C programming skills combined with a deep understanding of machine vision algorithms, and that puts it out of reach for many of us. And then, late in 2014 MVTec started promoting a product called Merlic.

While it’s a simplification to call it ‘programming-free Halcon’ it is built on a subset of the underlying tools. That should, in principle anyway, make it rather attractive for those of us not so skilled in advanced coding, which is why I was eager to take a look.

I think pretty much everyone treated to a preview came to the same conclusion: like a High School football player, it had potential, but really needed development.

Well it seems MVTec listened to the feedback and are making changes. The official launch is now planned for June 1st 2015 (so they still have time to test and implement bug-fixes.) There’s no word on pricing, but I figure if I can save $1,500 a month between now and then I should have enough in my piggybank to buy a copy.

There is however one claim in the press release that grates. “users will be able to create machine vision solutions quickly without any knowledge of imaging technology…”.

I’m sorry but I find that hard to believe. Surely any user needs to know how to get an image. Isn’t that one of the most basic skills?

But that gripe aside (and I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t gripe,) Merlic promises to be one of the most interesting new products of 2015. Join me in taking a look when it goes on sale.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Observations from the Automate Show

It looked like a successful show. The aisles were crowded, many times I had to wait in line to speak to a salesperson (and once I ended up chasing one around a stand. So why did people I spoke with seem despondent?

Here are a few thoughts.

This used to be a Vision show. The AIA still runs a ‘conference’, (though now it’s mostly just CVP training classes,) but it’s become very much an automation hardware show. That means lots of robots, grippers, guarding and so on and less machine vision, at least as a percentage of the stands filling the hall.

Most of the machine vision lighting guys were there, as were a good few camera makers.  AVT, JAI, and Baumer all caught my eye. Optics was covered by Edmunds and Opto-Engineering, and it was good to see a Midwest Optical Filters presence, (filters are still so under-appreciated!).

Keyence had a big stand with attractive ladies eager to scan every badge, (I assume they’re just trying to grow their list of people to pester,) and SICK had a good-sized display. National Instruments showed up but I missed Matrox entirely. I did however stumble across the MVTec guys and Kithara (a somewhat new name in vision software.) Cognex were absent of course – it seems it’s beneath them to attend these shows - and I have a feeling Microscan were lurking somewhere, maybe close to Matrox.

So what really caught my eye?

Well there were lots of robots, lot’s and lots of ‘em, mostly Fanucs. And many had Fanuc’s 3D vision incorporated, a light-stripe projector with two cameras. It seemed to work pretty well, although there was one bin-picking application that I saw struggling.

In fact it was about the only bin-picking application, a notable difference from two years ago when everyone wanted to show it off.

3D though was everywhere, mostly for robot guidance, although it was good to see Canadian company Hermary with their log scanning technology.

But back to my opening comment; why so many long faces?

My belief is:

a)     The big players, notably Keyence, are now so dominant they just suck in all the attendees. I’d bet that many of the people attending didn’t have a clue who MVTec are.

b)    Likewise, Edmunds can afford a big, sexy display so they get lots of traffic. CCS and Opto-Engineering don’t have such deep pockets and again, they get overlooked.

c)     Robots are just so dammed cool, with all those arms waving about, that boring little cameras don’t get much of a look-in.

d)    The AIA, under it’s ‘A3Automate’ guise, is following the money. I’m just guessing, but I imagine it’s much more profitable to draw in a few companies with big marketing budgets than many small fish who can’t really afford the rental on the card scanning equipment.

Bottom line? If you’re exhibiting at this show, you’ve gotta go big or go home.