Machine builders in this day and age are part of a fast-growing and rapidly changing industry sector. With vast improvements in commercial off-the-shelf products for measurement and control, as well as falling prices, machine builders can now take advantage of an assortment of powerful tools when implementing their designs, rather than rely on the age-old method of making a custom design for every application.

Machine vision can be used to verify placement of microchips on a PCB, or to verify the seal on a bag of potato chips.
Engineers looking to add machine vision to their industrial applications should find smart cameras a powerful addition to their toolboxes. Smart cameras combine high performance and powerful real-time processing, along with the I/O needed to easily integrate them into a new or existing design.

Machine vision software has become a powerful, easy-to-use piece of a machine builder’s toolbox.
A smart camera combines an image sensor with a built-in processor, which allows inspections to run directly on the camera. Instead of returning images like a traditional camera, a smart camera returns results of inspections. This type of system, which can help lower overall system complexity, is typically easy to configure or program.

Machine designers are looking for a way to cut cost, complexity, and development time in their new designs. Smart cameras can fulfill these demands. Smart cameras eliminate the need for an external lighting controller that is typically seen in machine vision applications because the controller is built directly into the smart camera. This allows direct connectivity with current-driven light heads to help smart cameras source up to 500 mA of continuous DC current and up to 1 A strobed current. In addition to reducing the wiring needed, this cuts the cost of an additional piece of hardware. It also decreases development time because the application programming interface (API) for the lighting controller is built into the image acquisition API for the smart camera.

Smart cameras are designed to perform many advanced functions as well as the basics that anyone in the machine vision field has grown to know and love (or lament, depending on the experiences with them). These include edge detection, geometric pattern matching, optical character recognition, and 2D barcode reading. This means that instead of integrating a sensor for a 2D code reading, and another sensor for object detection, and yet another sensor for optical character recognition, engineers can do everything on one smart camera, lowering the cost and complexity of the finished product.

Building a Machine Vision System

While some machine builders may be completely comfortable with programming their machine vision applications, others simply don’t have the time or desire to learn a programming language just for the machine vision aspect of their applications. With vision hardware and software, there are options for setting up an inspection.

The first option is to configure the inspection using software such as NI Vision Builder for Automated Inspection (AI), a no-programming, menu-driven machine vision package. This application gives those with little or no machine vision experience the ability to configure an inspection in a number of days, not weeks. This software is shipped with each NI Smart Camera.

The second option is to program the application using NI LabVIEW Real-Time and the NI Vision Development Module. This option is available for engineers who are familiar with the Lab-VIEW graphical programming language, or those who need more flexibility in a configurable environment.