George Kotelly, Editor in Chief
Camera Link standard eases interfacing
In the 1980s, the PC high-technology market rose and fell, with different dominant companies supporting either open systems or proprietary systems. Through analyses of the market changes, most high-technology companies believed that de facto standards were more practical than standards endorsed by a consortium. The speed of product development increased substantially during the PC evolution. In the machine-vision industry, the open architecture of the PC has been applied to many assembly and manufacturing product lines and has proved beneficial by lowering cost, increasing yields, and boosting reliability.
When general-purpose frame-grabber manufacturers began to make slow-scan frame grabbers, the high-resolution digital-camera and digital-linescan-camera applications markets expanded. Then, an analog-to-digital shift started as technology pushed toward higher-resolution and higher-speed applications. Ironically, digital frame grabbers were called "slow scan" even though they were much faster in speed than analog frame grabbers.
At that time, the basic structure of digital interfacing involved RS-422 parallel data with many different connectors and cables. Eastman Kodak Co. (Rochester, NY; www.kodak.com) was one of the early digital-camera manufactures and set the industry digital interface standard. However, applications were mainly scientific, and volume usage was not high.
When digital cameras began to be used in high-volume and complicated industrial applications, serious problems were encountered trying to interface cameras and frame grabbers. In addition, the associated cables and connectors were expensive, bulky, and unavailable as off-the-shelf items. Even the configuration-file and compatibility-testing tasks incurred a great deal of time and effort during interfacing.
Also contributing to market confusion were other industry standards such as RS-644 and their interface cables. After systems integrators selected a camera, they discovered in many cases that their current frame grabber did not support it.
In 1997, Pulnix America (Sunnyvale, CA; www.pulnix.com) developed the first industrial Channel Link camera. This camera used the Base configuration technology that makes up the Camera Link standard today. Then, small and new companies in the frame-grabber industry made products that adapted the Channel Link technology from National Semiconductor Corp. (Santa Clara, CA; www.national.com). In 1999, a small number of companies in both the camera and frame-grabber industries started discussions on the use of the Channel Link interface and subsequently decided to prepare a proposal for standardization. In early 2000, some 14 company representatives gathered for the first camera-to-frame-grabber interface standard meeting. A standards committee was formed, and it selected the Camera Link name from among several other candidates.
Committee members were amazed that they were able to generate an interface standard in less than ten months. What's more, many nonmember companies are using Camera Link today and are expanding vision and imaging technology into a variety of new applications, such as captive OEM data buses, military aircraft tracking, and fiberoptic data interfacing.
The machine-vision industry is made up of many small- to mid-sized product manufacturers but they contribute significantly to the high-technology business market. Widespread Camera Link standardization is anticipated in the future to boost technical advancements and generate increased revenues in the vision and imaging industry.
President and Chief Executive Officer
Pulnix America Inc.
Sunnyvale, CA, USA
DRS Technologies Inc. (Parsippany, NJ; www.drs.com), a provider of electronics systems, has acquired Nytech Integrated Infrared Systems (Irvine, CA), a producer of uncooled thermal imaging systems.
Fiberoptics Technology Inc. (Pomfret, CT; www.fiberoptix.com), a supplier of fiberoptic products, has appointed Steven Giamundo marketing manager.
Asentics GmbH (Siegen, Germany; www.asentics.de), a supplier of smart-camera sensors, and Pulsotronic Merten GmbH & Co. KG (Wiehl, Germany; www.pulsotronic.de), a supplier of industrial image-processing systems, have merged into a new company called Asentics GmbH & Co. KG.
The 1394 Trade Association (Grapevine, TX; www.1394ta.org), an international organization dedicated to the advancement and proliferation of the IEEE 1394/FireWire multimedia standard, has announced that Maxtor Corp. (www.maxtor.com) is the first company to complete and pass the association's compliance testing program. Three Maxtor FireWire-equipped external hard drives passed the 1394 Base, Functional, and Network Test Suites.
Adimec Inc. (Eindhoven, The Netherlands; www.adimec.com), a manufacturer of CCD cameras, has closed its Arizona office and opened a new sales, marketing, and customer support office in Stoneham, MA.
North American Video (Las Vegas, NV; www.cctvproducts.com), a security-system integrator, has hired Al Croteau as vice president, western region. He was previously employed as a senior surveillance technical manager at MGM/Mirage Corp.
Camera Link impacts machine-vision-market
Recently, the machine-vision component market has been categorized into three segments based on data-transmission rates and system pricing: a low-end segment that uses analog cameras, a mid-range segment that uses cameras with low-voltage differential-signaling (LVDS) output and arrays of about 1 Mpixel, and a high-end segment that uses LVDS cameras with larger arrays and higher transmission rates. To help define the interface between cameras and frame grabbers, the Camera Link standard is being introduced just as another interface technology, IEEE 1394 (sometimes called FireWire), is coming into general use. These two new interface technologies are having dramatic effects on the three traditional market segments.
In the mid-range segment, IEEE 1394 cameras are selling well and are providing tough competition for the LVDS cameras that customarily occupied this segment. And as 1394 camera capabilities are increasing, prices are becoming attractive to low-end segment users. Therefore, the 1394 camera market segment is encroaching on the market segment traditionally occupied by analog cameras. In the near future, planned developments in 1394 cameras are anticipated to offer more features at lower cost and boost this trend.
In the high-end market segment, user requirements for ever-higher data rates are expanding this portion of the market without serious encroachment on the other two segments. In this segment, users are less sensitive to price. They often require cameras with high frame rates and a range of camera features, and they are willing to pay a premium for cameras with higher performance. Camera Link, with its abilities to handle high data rates and to ease system integration, is starting to emerge as the interface of choice for cameras filling the high-end segment.
Camera Link devices are filling the bottom of the high-end segment and the top of the mid-range segment is increasingly being occupied by 1394 devices. However, these two areas do not appear to be encroaching each other. Instead, the choice of interfaces is leading systems designers to apply vision technology to a larger array of industrial applications, and the total use of vision components in this overlapping area is expanding.
In the past, each camera manufacturer and each frame-grabber manufacturer was at liberty to define a proprietary interface for its device. Interfacing a particular camera with a particular frame grabber was a difficult, time-consuming, and expensive design process. Once system designers successfully mated a camera with a frame grabber and integrated the combination into their system, they tended to become wedded to that particular camera and frame grabber. Designers were often reluctant to even test components from other manufacturers, much less adopt them.
Camera Link makes it easier to mate cameras and frame grabbers. All Camera Link cameras and frame grabbers use standard connectors, pinouts, and cables for data transmission and camera control. This commonality solves many of the integration problems system designers found to be nightmarish. It also encourages them to test components from a broader range of suppliers. This trend benefits Camera Link camera manufacturers, such as Basler (Ahrensburg, Germany), because it allows more opportunities to compete and more users to see product capabilities. This trend benefits users because it permits them to test a wider range of components, therefore offering them the opportunity to pick the best components for their application.
A primary benefit of Camera Link is that it can handle high data-transmission rates between the camera and the frame grabber. As the standard is currently written, Camera Link can handle up to eight taps and can transmit image data at a rate of up to approximately 648 Mbytes/s. Actually, the hardware currently specified in the standard is capable of handling 10 taps with a maximum image data rate of approximately 810 Mbytes/s. In fact, Basler will shortly introduce a 500-frame/s, megapixel, area-scan camera with a CMOS sensor that will require a 10-tap/high data rate capacity. To meet these requirements, Basler is encouraging the Camera Link committee to revise the current standard.
The market demand for higher frame rates and larger pixel arrays is expected to continue to advance steadily. In the foreseeable future, these demands will be met with the introduction of affordable CMOS sensors with larger arrays capable of much higher frame rates. To handle the greatly increased amount of data generated by cameras built around these sensors, the standard must be expanded. The Camera Link committee has recognized this market pressure and is discussing extensions to the standard that will accommodate these increasing needs.
Head of product management for vision components
Basler Vision Technologies
Gartner Dataquest Inc. (San Jose, CA; www.gartner.com) forecasts that the worldwide semiconductor market will achieve 12.1% growth in 2003, with revenues totaling $171.8 billion. In 2002, this market is projected to reach revenues of $152.5 billion, a 0.5% increase over 2001.
According to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA; San Jose, CA: www.sia-online.org), worldwide sales of semiconductors are expected to rise 1.8% in 2002, 19.8% in 2003, and 21.7% in 2004. In 2002, the Americas market will decline 12% to $31 billion; the European market will decline 9% to $27 billion; the Japanese market will decrease 7.5% to $31 billion; and the Asia-Pacific market will soar 30% to $52 billion.
DisplaySearch (Austin, TX; www.displaysearch.com), a flat-panel-display market-research and consulting company, in its 2002 LCD Monitor Strategy Report, estimates that LCD monitor shipments will increase at a 49% rate from 2001 to 2006, totaling 113 million units, and an 82% share of the desktop monitor market. LCD monitors are expected to overtake CRT monitors on a revenue basis in 2002, on a unit basis in 2004, and on a selling basis by more than 5:1 in 2006.
ISS Group Services Ltd. (Manchester, UK; www.ISS-group.co.uk) is offering the Optronics Microfire digital imaging camera for microscopy applications. The camera provides 2-Mpixel image capture, video-rate color imaging to 66 frames/s, and an image-processing toolbox.
Optronics (Goleta, CA; www.optronics.com), a developer of digital cameras for the microscopy market, has entered into a reciprocal distribution and development agreement with Jenoptik Laser Optik Systeme GmbH (Eching,Germany; www.eyelike.com). Via its ImagingPlanet distribution channel, Optronics will distribute select Jenoptik imaging products in the United States and Canada. Jenoptik will become the exclusive distributor for Optronics products in Europe. Development efforts will include sharing hardware, software, and technology resources to broaden product lines for both companies.
The MathWorks Inc. (Natick, MA; www.mathworks.com) is providing direct access to its MathLab analysis, visualization, and modeling algorithms and applications within Tektronix Inc. (Beaverton, OR; www.tektronix.com) Open Windows oscilloscopes.
ipd (Billerica, MA; www.goipd.com), a supplier of machine-vision products, and Micron PharmaWorks (Tampa, FL; www.pharmaworks.us), an integrator of electronic inspection systems, have developed an on-line reduced-space symbology, high-density barcode-inspection system for single-dose pharmaceutical packages.