The past year has seen important developments in 3D sensors for inspection and automated quality control. Here is a discussion of some of the emerging trends and technologies that promise to shape the industry in 2017.
Higher Resolution Rules in Electronics Inspection
The need for higher resolution to measure the small gaps and step heights in today’s cellphone assemblies is the driving force behind much of the innovation in today’s 3D sensor market.
Measurement accuracy is now required under 10 microns with repeatability under 1 micron. LMI developed next generation laser line profilers based on 2 megapixel cameras in 2016. These 3D sensors also deliver wider fields of view at industry leading resolutions down to 6um to meet customer requirements in consumer electronics.
2D Is Not A Substitute for 3D
3D inspection is growing as the need for shape information is increasingly required in today’s quality control programs. Today’s system integrators and contract manufacturers realize that 2D technology is slower to implement and less reliable as a metrology solution. 3D is able to deliver repeatable results with challenging surface materials while requiring less setup time. Precalibrated optics and embedded lighting in 3D sensors simplify overall installation and maintenance.
Addressing Specific Industry Needs
To compete, it is important to identify growth markets where 3D is a necessity, then find the key customers and their pain points with existing approaches. Designing models specifically to address these market opportunities greatly increases the product’s effectiveness. The Gocator 2410 and 2420 models, for example, are the first 2 megapixel line profilers LMI developed for use in consumer electronic markets where high resolution is a critical requirement.
Notable Industry Applications
Aerospace companies use Gocator 3109 for countersunk hole inspection on carbon fibre airframes.
Cellphone companies use Gocator 2410 for detection of gaps between the front glass and metal enclosure.
Component-Based Systems vs. 3D Smart Sensors
The amount of engineering effort it takes to combine components like cameras, lenses, lighting, software, and so on to build a precise metrology sensor is a significant undertaking and certainly not for the uninitiated engineer.
Then there are the business realities of long term service and support, obsolescence, maintenance, reliability, and so on beyond the initial few units that may be rolled out. A component approach may work for a one off project, but is not a replacement or even a competitive direction to supply a volume need for the many jobs in factory automation.
Factories and system integrators require off-the-shelf pre-calibrated sensors with the flexibility and readiness for a variety of fast-paced projects that need a quick ROI (like identifying and removing non-conforming features on a product in an assembly line).
State of Machine Vision
Although the technologies fueling machine vision are moving along at a steady pace (megapixel cameras, embedded controllers, LEDs, etc), the software environments are still not delivering at a sufficiently high enough user experience to solve many vision applications today.
Part of that is the continued use of 2D where solutions are simpler using 3D. That is why LMI is focused on its Gocator platform that combines both 2D and 3D imaging in a single device, with a point and click inspection experience suitable for process engineers. The major players aren’t using their tremendous R&D spend toward this goal, therefore, it is not surprising that this area of the market is slow to change.
Embedded Vision: What It Means to Be Smart
There is a lot of interest in embedded vision today. Embedded vision has been a cornerstone of LMI’s smart sensor technology position since the beginning. This trend toward “smart” means embedding more and more functionality into sensor products so that decision making can take place inside the sensor, allowing such decisions to be communicated directly to a factory.
Today, smart sensors are the key to industry 4.0 delivering actionable data to drive deep learning systems for dynamic manufacturing processes.
We plan to release several exciting new products in 2017 based on faster structured light and line profiler technologies. Stay tuned!