Advanced Imaging


Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: January 12th, 2011 10:01 AM CDT

Lights! Camera! Action!

Illumination better come first when planning machine vision system
microscopic illumination
© Courtesy Volpi
Illumination is one of the most crucial aspects of any application. New users need to allot plenty of planning time.
lighting equipment
© Courtesy Mercron
Engineers have to make sure of the details. Figuring out lighting needs is one of their most difficult tasks.
Monster backlight from Spectrum
© Courtesy Spectrum Illumination
Pick the proper lighting before getting too far into the project. This is a Monster backlight from Spectrum.

By Barry Hochfelder

Two decades ago, when he founded Mercron, Ken Zeiler learned that his machine vision customers were searching for answers to their illumination needs. Most of the time, they didn't know the questions. Literally and figuratively, it was his job to shine a light on their applications. Today, the job is a little easier because of experience and the existence of knowledge-packed data bases.

"One of the biggest problems is the fact that commercial lamp literature is written for commercial and industrial uses," Zeiler says. "Take those same parameters to machine vision and they don't fit. Industrial light is based on the human eye. With a camera, it won't be as good. These are the kinds of details engineers have to make sure of. The hardest thing for an engineer is to figure out the light needs."

Too many machine vision systems developers don't spend enough time planning their lighting needs, says William Biederman of Vision Light Technologies, the U.S. representative for France-based Phlox. "People who are informed figure out lighting and presentation of the object before picking a machine," he says. "You should spend 80 percent of the time on lighting before you can use your application. I've seen people pick out their camera, lens and software, but hadn't figured out how to light the thing."

Andy Falconer, director of V Cubed in the U.K., agrees. "If you get the illumination right it simplifies it and makes sure you get the right information. Illumination highlights what you want and makes it work for you."


"Illumination is a crucial aspect of any application. New users need to spend time selecting illumination. It can be the cheapest and simplest, but not always. How many people make penny decisions on dollar machines?" asks Patrick Varley of Volpi.

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