Advanced Imaging

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Advanced Imaging Magazine

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

Is a Smart Camera Right for You?

Our experts discuss the pros and cons of their growing popularity
JAI smart camera
© JAI
A JAI smart camera in an all-weather housing, overlooks a European transponderless toll area. A built-in power PC processor is used to isolate the license plate area in the image and extract the plate data which is then output to a back-office system for toll collection.
5mm metal molding
© Vision Components
An automotive plant uses smart cameras from Vision Components to inspect 5mm metal moldings on the line.
magnified view of the tip of a glass pipette
© DALSA
A magnified view of the tip of a glass pipette using a DALSA VA30 vision system. It is looking for cracks in the pipette.
Basler's Excite smart camera
© Basler
Basler's Excite smart camera.
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By Barry Hochfelder

It also can save time, Perelli adds. "An automation or manufacturing engineer can set up a complete inspection system—one that uses complex image-processing algorithms—without writing a line of code. A smart camera, then, can shorten development time."

And, says Steve Kinney, Director of Technical Pre-Sales and Support at JAI (San Jose, Calif.), cost also is a consideration. "The basic advantages of smart cameras originates in a concept of not providing or paying for more than you need [for example, a PC often has more processing, I/O and networking, disk drives, memory, high-end processor etc...than is required for many basic machine vision tasks]. Most of the time, cost is a driving factor. While full-blown smart cameras are usually not cheap, the expectation is that they are cheaper than a solution that includes a PC, monitor, vision software or custom algorithm and camera. This is true in some cases, but with the constantly driven, consumer-based PC cost/performance ratio, and looking at total system/installation costs, it often is not true."

DISADVANTAGES

Smart cameras may not be flexible enough to meet a customer's long-term hardware requirements, Basler's Schwaer says. "A PC-based system may be better able to adapt to an increase in the hardware required for the processing task. For example, a PC-based solution can often be extended easily if there is a need for a more powerful processing unit."

In that vein, agrees Matrox's Perelli, a smart camera is limited by the power of its CPU and how much data must be collected. "As the required data increases, the processor's performance also increases," he explains. "This is why heat dissipation around the processor can be a problem." Intel, he says, is working on methods of reducing power consumption, which will alleviate the heat problem.

JAI's Kinney points to limited video formats, saying smart cameras offer only a few choices of images. "It's silly to think that you can cover even a portion of the machine vision market with a few imager choices integrated into a camera body." He also says performance and functionality must be carefully considered.



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