Asian vendors lower camera costs
As the cost for machine-vision integrated circuits (ICs) continues to decrease, developing camera subsystems also mirror dramatic cost reductions. For instance, offshore vendors, especially in Asia, are lowering costs even further by using inexpensive labor.
As the cost for machine-vision integrated circuits (ICs) continues to decrease, developing camera subsystems also mirror dramatic cost reductions. For instance, offshore vendors, especially in Asia, are lowering costs even further by using inexpensive labor. Nowhere is this more evident than in the production of board-level camera subsystems.
Used in a variety of systems from machine-vision systems, security cameras, Internet cameras, and embedded automotive systems, board cameras are about 1-in.-long digital cameras that are installed vertically on small circuit boards. Shipped without housings, these cameras can then be incorporated into nearly any type of equipment.
With board dimensions that generally range from 32 x 32 mm to 42 x 42 mm, these cameras can be supplied with both standard and pinhole lenses and can often be battery operated. To gain a foothold in the American marketplace, many Asian manufacturers are using distributors or manufacturers' sales representatives to distribute their products. Accordingly, it is often difficult for systems integrators to discern the manufacturer of these components. This problem is compounded by the fact that these manufacturers do not list any American sources for these products on their Web sites.
Despite these difficulties, the large embedded market for such camera products is proving attractive for Asian vendors. For example, GKB CCTV (Taichung Hsien, Taiwan) estimates sales of about $5 million for its products, with between 95% and 99% being shipped overseas.
To drive this market into a commodity status requires the manufacturing of these camera modules at highly competitive prices. To do so, many Asian vendors will only quote quantities of 1000 or more of each of their products at prices often less than $50 for both monochrome and color camera-module configurations.
Typical of these modules is the SM-686H, a 1/3-in. monochrome module from C-Pro Electronic (Kyungki-Do, South Korea). Measuring 32 x 32 mm, the 570-TV-line camera module is supplied with mounting holes on the PCB that permit mounting to most types of casings. Available with both C- and CS-mount lenses, the camera module operates at 5 Vdc provided by four AA, 1.25-V batteries.
Although numerous types of camera modules are available from Asian vendors, they are also available from several Japanese and US vendors. In its line of GP-CX161 color board cameras, Panasonic (Secaucus, NJ) has chosen to mount an interline CCD on a 22 x 26-mm module. Available in both NTSC and PAL versions, these modules operate at 5 Vdc and offer a 330-TV-line resolution.
Videology Imaging Solutions (Greenville, RI) also offers a number of monochrome and color camera modules based on 1/3-in.-format CCDs. The company's latest product, the 20D339 is based on a 1/3-in. CCD sensor and offers more than 570 TV lines of resolution and a sensitivity of less than 0.05 lux. The camera module is also priced competitively with those from Asian vendors.
"Many Far East suppliers have multiple substitute components they draw from in case of availability issues," says Carol Ethier, Videology director of OEM sales and marketing. "Since they sell mostly to security markets, they deal with a paper specification and rarely need to deal with intangibles that can have so much bearing on an OEM industrial design," she adds. "In industrial designs it is critical that product specifications are never changed without consulting the customer to be certain there is no effect on the final system," she insists. "More important, being US-based allows us to interact with designers at the initial stages of product design and show how products can be altered to attain the desired results."