Camera Innovations Spur Uptake-and Vice Versa

E-mail Ray Peacock

Video cameras seem to be everywhere, and the uptake is being spurred by innovations in hardware, software, and communications. The reverse is happening, too: More applications create more impetus to innovate.

The most recent issue of Sensors' Industrial Automation newsletter covered camera technologies and applications, explaining that implementation isn't necessarily straightforward. I'll present some highlights here; if you'd like help to understand and apply the technologies, see the Help and Why You Need It section of my essay there.

Automation Applications
Cameras and their software play significant roles in both industrial automation and quality assurance. It's relatively inexpensive to use such systems to perform 100% part inspection when hundreds and even millions of pieces fly past the camera. National Instruments' Web site demonstrates applications of both visual and IR imaging.

A feature role of video technology in automation is remote monitoring of a process area and process line (See Data-Link Group and MOBOTIX). If something goes awry, a smart camera system can automatically activate an alarm or phone or page a maintenance alert to the proper person from thousands of miles away.

FLIR Systems recently began selling a battery-powered system that uses a specially filtered mid-wave IR camera for preventive maintenance in petroleum and chemical processing plants and natural gas distribution centers. Called ThermaCAM GasFindIR, it can detect methane and other hydrocarbon-gas leaks at a distance.

A technical presentation at the Machine Vision Web site describes the use of a near-IR imager to detect the presence of methanol flames, while another shows that similar technology can detect the presence of lubricant residues on metal surfaces.

The Technologies
The CMOS chip, when paired with an anti-blooming filter, provides images free of the saturation seen whenever a camera views a very bright light source in an otherwise-moderately illuminated scene. While the CID camera has been around for many years, its use has been limited, mostly because customers had to work so hard justify its higher price. Then, too, there was only one vendor; now there are many more choices.

Cameras equipped with wireless modems can be placed almost anywhere and send video signals to a processing unit. Some intelligent cameras, like Cognex's new Checker, can perform some or all processing internally and just send back accept/reject signals.

No longer do you need to ask whether a technology is available; if you need it, it exists-even if you don't know what you need.