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Updated: January 12th, 2011 09:49 AM CDT

Component Integration: Moving Vision to 64 Bits

Rapidly expanding machine vision data requirements necessitate pushing past 32-bit ceiling
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By Yvon Bouchard

A nearly geometric growth in the data requirements for many machine vision applications is pushing 32-bit processing to its limits. The challenge is not in processing power, however, but in addressing memory buffers as systems fill them with ever-increasing volumes of data. Moving vision systems to 64-bit operation can solve the data challenge, but will require fully updated hardware and software support.

Not long ago the electronics industry thought “who would ever need more than four Gbytes of memory in a PC?” Yet that ceiling, set by the 32-bit limit that many operating systems set on the address space they will handle, is rapidly becoming an impediment to machine vision applications. Several factors are pushing machine vision data requirements against that ceiling, including image size, throughput demands, and increasing use of color.

The image sizes needed for machine vision applications—in terms of memory requirement—are increasing for several reasons. One is simply larger objects to be inspected. Another is the need for multiple cameras and images. An inspection system that must examine a populated printed circuit board (PCB), for instance, may require thousands of images taken from different angles and different positions to inspect different aspects of the board, such as chip lead positions, printing and other markings, solder joint quality, and the like.

Size increases also stem from increasing demands for higher image resolution. Inspection of a flat-panel display, for instance, must be able to resolve objects that continue to shrink as panels evolve toward high definition. This requires more camera pixels per image inch, which compounds the image size growth that stems from increasing display panel sizes. Compounding also is at work in inspection systems that must work with three-dimensional measurements such as solder paste applied to a PCB. The thickness of paste on a PCB depends on the type of component to be mounted and so varies across the board. To make accurate depth measurements, the image must have a resolution 10 to 100 times greater than the required measurement accuracy.

Along with increasing image size the machine vision industry must address continual demands for faster inspection throughput. Thus, continuous inspection systems using line cameras must not only provide more pixels per line and more lines per inch, they must scan more inches per second—filling memory very quickly. Area cameras also need to capture larger images more quickly and rapidly move them into storage for processing.

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