Dan McCarthy, contributing editor to AIA, explores the continued impact of smart cameras
Smart cameras continue to be a major growth engine for the machine vision industry, contributing a compound annual growth rate of 10.5 per cent since 2010 — nearly twice that of the overall market — according to AIA market research.
Compact, highly integrated, and easily programmed, smart cameras offer an attractive alternative to more complex PC-based vision systems. While these qualities help to define and differentiate smart cameras, their growing adoption of late is due more to steady advances in the size, resolution, and sensitivity of imaging sensors.
Within the realm of industrial machine vision, embedded vision systems are often conflated with smart cameras, as both essential package sensor, sensor interface, and some level of processing in a self-contained unit. Smart cameras have traditionally offered more robust processing, but embedded systems are blurring the line with the emergence of highly functional embedded cameras with MIPI interfaces, image pre-processing, and even IP cores for decoding video streams in an onboard FPGA.
Smart cameras still pack more processing power as a rule and are further distinguished by incorporating system storage, digital I/O, and common industrial communication interfaces within an often rugged stand-alone housing.
As self-contained vision solutions, smart cameras offer speedier integration and simpler programming than PC-based systems. They also tend to offer a lower price point, though there are occasions when the latter might provide a more cost-effective solution.
“Smart cameras are a good choice for applications that require point inspection, as they are easy to set up and easy to maintain,” said Steve Geraghty, general manager at Teledyne DALSA Industrial Products. “Multiple smart cameras can coexist on the same production line, inspecting different features.”
However, Geraghty adds, conventional vision systems tend to be favoured for applications that require faster processing speeds, broader flexibility over sensor choice, or multiple camera inputs.
“While the performance gap between smart cameras and vision systems is closing fast, there may still be a cost and integration benefit for using vision systems in multi-camera applications,” he explains.
The rugged enclosures that house all-in-one smart camera systems also make them better suited for harsh industrial environments, said Fabio Perelli, product manager of smart cameras and vision controllers at Matrox Imaging.
“Any industry with messy factory floors, regularly sanitized workspaces, or typified by a dirty, dusty environment is a natural fit for a smart camera,” he adds. “Pharmaceutical manufacturing and food and beverage production were early industry adopters of smart camera technologies. As the range of available IP67-rated smart cameras continues to grow, we are seeing much more adoption within these same industries.”
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