Camera Link Capability Expands Choices

PPT Vision's Impact CL

Until recently, machine builders, users, and integrators who deal with machine vision systems could take advantage of Camera Link, the standard communications protocol, only in often-cumbersome frame grabber and PC-based vision platforms.

This often means the user must acquire a frame grabber, PC components, software, and cameras from multiple sources--a time-consuming and costly process.

Additionally the resulting home-brewed, PC-based vision system can be prone to bugs and communication errors, and is usually difficult to support in the field.

"There simply are not embeddable smart camera-style vision products that allow the user and integrator to select from the breadth of Camera Link-based cameras available on the market," says Joe Christenson, president of PPT Vision. "These are typically closed systems, to the extent the user can only use the camera provided by the manufacturer."

PPT Vision says it has an answer for these problems. The company introduced Impact CL, an extension to its Impact machine vision micro-system line that provides connectivity to digital cameras from all major suppliers. Impact CL combines the power of PPT's machine vision micro-system technology with Camera Link, the global standard for industrial camera communications, to eliminate the closed architecture and limited camera selection associated with smart cameras and self-contained vision systems.

"Previously, low-priced vision systems have only supported a few basic cameras," says Christenson. "With Impact CL, vision system users can leverage the Camera Link open standard to choose from a broad range of camera vendors and formats, including linescan, color, and high-resolution cameras."

With the introduction of Impact in September 2002, PPT Vision claims it created a new vision industry category with the first micro-system solutions that make high-performance inspection tools available at a much lower price. Since then, Impact has been installed in packaging, medical device, automotive, electronics, and semiconductor applications.

"Now Impact CL enhances this flexibility and performance by supporting third-party machine vision cameras from leaders in the camera industry," adds Christenson.

Camera Link is an open digital camera standard for machine vision applications, previously available only for high-cost, heavily customized, frame grabber-based applications. It's a standard communications protocol that governs how a digital camera communicates with an image-processing device.

Camera Link has been designed from the ground up as a high-speed digital camera data-transmission interface. The Automated Imaging Assn. (AIA) sponsors the Camera Link certification program including the oversight Camera Link Committee and product registry.

Most major manufacturers worldwide have participated to varying degrees in development of the standard, which is based on a chip set from National Semiconductor. Its principal appeal is high-speed data transmission rates, since it is faster than all other available camera communication protocols including Firewire, USB, and gigabit Ethernet. PPT says all major industrial camera suppliers have obtained certification for a range of digital Camera Link cameras.

Impact CL currently is in two test applications: for automotive parts inspection using a 2Kx2K digital Camera Link-enabled camera, and for medical device inspection using a 2k digital line scan Camera Link camera.

"The Impact CL is pioneering in that it provides the power and flexibility of high-end, custom, PC-based vision solutions with the ease-of use, ease-of-post-sale support, and low-price more typical of the new genre of embeddable smart cameras," claims Christenson. "This is one reason we believe it's a new category of machine vision--a machine vision micro-system."

Impact CL is configured using a PPT software product called Inspection Builder. The software includes a suite of inspection tools such as pattern matching, OCR, edge, blob, filtering, and many others.

"A powerful differentiating feature of Inspection Builder, in comparison to the more limited programming environments characteristic of low-end embeddable smart cameras, is its Control Panel Manager," says Christenson. "Control Panel Manager allows graphical user interfaces to be created easily for individual applications."

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