It would be fair to say that the lighting sector has come of age. No longer is lighting control just an unplanned afterthought at the end of a project. The company which has led this change is Gardasoft Vision, based in Cambridge, UK. Gardasoft, which has a long history of solving lighting problems, has won many fans in the machine vision industry. Jools Hudson, the company’s Head of Marketing, tells us how the company enhanced the capabilities of lighting over the last 20 years.
It was back in 1999 when Gardasoft was founded by Peter Bhagat and he’s still around, as CTO of Gardasoft. Peter remembers their early days: “I set up Gardasoft with a colleague to carry out machine vision system integration. However, even back then it was clear that controlling machine vision lighting is much trickier than people think. At that time, systems integrators never formally funded or planned lighting control but it always ended up taking a lot of time. They often used a simple power potentiometer in box.”
The very first lighting controller was designed by Gardasoft for their own use. The turning point came in 2000 when a company in Ireland asked to buy Gardasoft’s controller. This was a total light-bulb moment for the team who realised there was a general need, throughout the machine vision industry, for reliable lighting controllers . They quickly created the 2-channel PP600 lighting controller to be user-friendly and compatible with nearly any LED lighting assembly available. And, 20 years later, the PP600 is still in use.
Gardasoft, the machine vision control company was born.
Gardasoft Vision began as a consultancy and this ethos of working closely with customers has stayed with the company to guide its technology innovation. Before Gardasoft, lights were rarely overdriven because of worries about damaging the light. Gardasoft’s SafeSenseTM technology enables LEDs to be safely overdriven to achieve maximum possible light output without risk of damage. The PP600 lighting controller was considerably ahead of its time, capable of delivering 10A in pulse mode at a time when most LEDs could operate with only 2-3 A pulses. Because of the power and versatility of the Gardasoft PP series, they quickly became an industry standard for lighting control. When LEDs eventually ‘caught up’ and even higher power was needed, the HT series was developed to deliver 50A pulses.
Further innovation yielded the RT, RC and HT series of lighting controllers with to 16 channels. These products offer capabilities including precise timing control for sub-microsecond control and very high current pulsing. The RT series of controllers include SafePower™ which was a unique technology to enable any light to be operated from a standard 24v dc power supply. This removes the need to dissipate large amounts of power through the controller. The firmware base of SafePowerTM technology provides huge flexibility in the operating mode to suit almost every application. Over 100 different sequencing modes have been developed for the RT series of lighting controllers.
Gardasoft has been responsible for many technology innovations. The company included Ethernet connectivity in its controllers two years before the introduction of the GigE Vision standard and then went on to pioneer GigE for non-imaging devices. Gardasoft proposed the SFNC naming convention for lighting controllers within GenICam which was ratified 2 years ago. Prior to the introduction of GigE Vision, triggering was usually handled by the system frame grabber. However, as GigE Vision doesn’t require a frame grabber, alternative local triggering options were needed, so Gardasoft developed the CC320 Trigger Timing Controller can be installed near the production line to unite lighting, cameras, proximity sensors and encoders in an automated sequencing solutionProduct innovation continued and the recent demand for very fast encoders, particularly for linescan applications, was satisfied by new variants of the CC320 which can operate at up to 200kHz.
Intelligent control technology
Peter Bhagat realised that the future of machine vision lies in the close integration of lighting, camera and imaging software. Gardasoft worked closely with lighting manufacturers software companies to bring the trinitiTM intelligent lighting technology to market in 2014. This provides the user with one single graphical interface to control and interface with lighting, camera and imaging software. Since then, Gardasoft have extended their control capabilities to cover liquid lens control, motorised lens control and embedded lighting control.
In 2009 the company licensed a range of high-power line lights and traffic strobes. Developments since then include increasing the number of LEDs and integrating control technology into the light – the only company to offer this capability.
Taking the next step
By 2013 the company had grown significantly and in 2016 it became part of the multi-national OPTEX Group. This important development phase for the company provided the opportunity to develop relationships and ideas with other OPTEX Group members such as the lighting manufacturers CCS Inc, Raytec and Effilux. These partnerships are certain to result in enhanced component connectivity and capability.
Looking to the future
Gardasoft is benefiting from working closely with partners, both within OPTEX and beyond, to further enhance the capabilities of its products. The new CEO, Hiroshi Miyazawa, who previously worked for CCS, joined the company at the beginning of 2019 and is ideally placed to foster this cooperation. Earlier in 2019, Gardasoft’s was delighted to announce its award-winning OLED panel controller which was designed specifically for the new CCS OLED lights.
Looking to the future, the company continues to innovate and has recently launched a new series of high-frequency, high-power LED controllers which also has outstanding low-current performance: the FP series. Looking forward, factors such as ease of use, built-in controllers and enhanced connectivity will be driving forces in moving towards systems where users will have the flexibility to use their own software.