Lithium Ion Battery Manufacturing – RFID is on a Roll

By Max Baker

With more and more consumers setting their sights on ‘Drive Electric,’ manufacturers must prepare themselves for alternative solutions to combustion engines. This change will no doubt require an alternative automation strategy for our electric futures.

The battery

The driving force behind these new electric vehicles is, of course, the battery. With this new wave of electric vehicles, the lithium ion battery manufacturing sector is growing exponentially, creating a significant need for traceability and tracking throughout the manufacturing processes.

Battery manufacturing is classified into three major production areas:

    1. Electrode manufacturing
    2. Cell assembly
    3. Finishing formation, aging and testing

These processes require flexible and efficient automation solutions to produce high quality batteries effectively. As such, there are numerous areas that can benefit from RFID and/or code reading solutions. One of the biggest of these is the electrode manufacturing process, specifically on the individual mother and daughter electrode rolls. This is a great application for UHF (Ultra-High Frequency) RFID.

The Need for RFID

The electrode formation process involves numerous production steps, including mixing, coating, calendaring, drying, slitting and vacuum drying. Each machine process generally begins with unwinding turrets and ends with winding ones. A roll-to-roll process.

Two of the three primary components of the lithium ion battery, both the anode and cathode electrode, are produced on rolls and require identification, process step validation and full traceability all the way through the plant.

During the slitting process both larger mother rolls are unwound and sliced into multiple, smaller daughter rolls. These mother and daughter rolls must also be tracked and traced through the remaining processes, into storage and ultimately, into a battery cell.

Solution

Working with our battery customers and understanding their process needs, a UHF RFID tag was developed specifically to withstand the electrode production environment. Having a tag that can withstand a high temperature range is crucial, particularly in the vacuum drying lines. This tag is capable of surviving cycling applications with temperatures up to 235 °C. Its small form factor is ideal for recess mounting in the anode and cathode roll cores with an operating range reaching 4 meters.

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The tag embedded in the roll core paired with an RFID processor and UHF antenna provides all the necessary hardware in supporting battery plants to achieve their desired objective of tracking all production steps. Customers not only have the option of obtaining read/writes, via fixed antennas at the turrets, but also handheld ones for all storage locations — from goods receiving to daughter coil storage racks within a plant.

This UHF RFID system allows for tracking from the initial electrode coils from goods received in the warehouse, through the multiple machines in the electrode manufacturing process, into the storage areas, and to the battery cell assembly going in the electric vehicle — ultimately linking all battery cells back to a particular daughter roll, and back to its initial mother roll. RFID is on a Roll!

RFID Basics – Gain Key Knowledge to Select the Best Fit System

As digitalization evolves, industrial companies are automating more and more manual processes. Consequently, they transfer paper-based tasks in the field of identification  to digital solutions. One important enabling technology is radio frequency identification (RFID), which uses radio frequency to exchange data between two different entities for the purpose of identification. Since this technology is mature, many companies now trust it to improve their efficiency. Strong arguments for RFID technology include its contactless reading, which makes it wear-free. Plus, it’s maintenance-free and insensitive to dirt.

RFID basics for selecting the best fit system

There are myriad applications for RFID in the manufacturing process, which can be clustered into the following areas:

    • Asset management e.g. tool identification on machine tools or mold management on injection molding machines in plastic processing companies
    • Traceability for work piece tracking in production
    • Access control for safety and security purposes by instructed and authorized experts to ensure that only the right people can access the machine and change parameters, etc.

But not all RFID is the same. It is important to select the system type and components that are best suited for your application.

Frequencies and their best applications

RFID runs on three different frequency bands, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages.

Low Frequency (LF)
LF systems are in the range of 30…300 kHz and are best suited for close range and for difficult conditions, such as metallic surroundings. Therefore, they fit perfectly in tool identification applications, such as in machine tools, Additionally, they are used in livestock and other animal tracking. The semiconductor industry (front end) relies on this frequency (134kHz) as well.

High Frequency (HF)
HF in the range of 3…30 MHz is ideal for parts tracking at close range up to 400 mm. With HF you can process and store larger quantities of data, which is helpful for tracking and tracing workpieces in industrial applications. But companies also use it for production control. It comes along with high data transmission speeds. Accordingly, it accelerates identification processes.

Ultra High Frequency (UHF)
UHF systems in the range of  300 MHz…3 GHz are widely used in intralogistics applications and typically communicate at a range of up to 6 m distance. Importantly, they allow bulk reading of tags.

RFID key components

Every RFID system consists of three components.

    1. RFID tag (data carrier). The data carrier stores all kinds of information. It can be read and/or changed (write) by computers or automation systems. Read/write versions are available in various memory capacities and with various storage mechanisms. RFID tags are usually classified based on their modes of power supply, including:

– Passive data carriers: without power supply
– Active data carriers: with power supply

2. Antenna or Read/Write head. The antenna supplies the RFID tag with power and reads the data. If desired, it can also write new data on it.

3. Processing unit. The processing unit is used for signal processing and preparation. It typically includes an integrated interface for connecting to the controller or the PC system.

RFID systems are designed for some of the toughest environments and address just most identification applications in the plants. To learn more about industrial RFID applications and components visit www.balluff.us/rifd.

Automation is “Rolling Out” in the Tire Industry

Automation is everywhere in a tire plant – from the old manual plants and mid-hybrid automated plants to the newest plants with the latest automation technology all over the world.

Industry challenges

Some tire industry automation challenges are opportunities for automation suppliers and machine builders. These can vary from retrofitting old machines and designing new machines to including smarter components to bring their production into the IIoT.

Plants want to save CapX dollars on new machines, so they are looking to upgrade old ones. Tire plants are learning from the past. They are limited by their older technology, but it has been hard to upgrade and integrate new technology, so there are long-term needs for adding flexible automation on machines. This requires new processes and recommissioning machines quickly. A good example of this is the addition of a vision system to improve quality inspections.

More automation is also needed due to a lack of skilled labor in the industry combined with the desire for higher throughout. The addition of robots on the line can aid with this. Plants can also simplify their wiring by migrating away from control panel i/o/analog to an IP67 network and IO-Link master and hubs.

The use of IO-Link also allows for more continuous condition monitoring. There is an increased need for quality inspections and process improvements. Plants are collecting more data and learning how to use it and analytics (Industry 4.0, IIoT) to achieve operational excellence. Plants need more technology that supports preventive and predictive failure solutions.

Additionally, there are automation needs on new machinery as tire designs are in an evolutional growth/change period – in the electric vehicle (EV) market, for example, where rapid change is happening across all vehicle manufacturing. Smart tires are being designed using RFID and sensors embedded in the tire ply.

Successfully matching up automation products to meet plant needs first requires understanding the plant’s main processes, each with millions of dollars of automation needs.

How tires are made

    1. Raw materials logistics – raw materials are transported to the mixing and extrusion areas for processing.
    2. Mixing and extrusions – up to 30 ingredients are mixed together for a rubber blend tire.
    3. Tire components – extruded rubber ply is measured and cut to size to meet the needs of the specific tire and then loaded onto reels feeding the tire building machines.
    4. Tire build machines – tires are built in stages from the inside out. They are crated without tread and transferred to the curing press machines.
    5. Tire curing press machines – here, the “green” tires are vulcanized, a chemical process that makes the tire more durable. Tire parts are then compressed together into the final shape and tread pattern.
    6. Inspection and test machines – tires are quality tested and undergo visual, balance, force, and X-ray inspections.
    7. Logistics material handling, conveyor, ASRS, AGV – finished tires are taken to the warehouse for sorting and shipping.

In the past, not many people outside the tire industry understood the complexity and automation needs of these high volume, high quality, highly technical plants. Tires are so valuable to the safety of people using them that manufacturers must be held to the highest standards of quality. Automation and data collection help ensure this.

In the meantime, check out these futuristic tires and imagine all the automation to manufacture them.

Controls Architectures Enable Condition Monitoring Throughout the Production Floor

In a previous blog post we covered some basics about condition monitoring and the capability of smart IO-Link end-devices to provide details about the health of the system. For example, a change in vibration level could mean a failure is near.

This post will detail three different architecture choices that enable condition monitoring to add efficiency to machines, processes, and systems: in-process, stand-alone, and hybrid models.

IO-Link is the technology that enables all three of these architectures. As a quick introduction, IO-Link is a data communications technology at the device level, instead of a traditional signal communication. Because it communicates using data instead of signals, it provides richer details from sensors and other end devices. (For more on IO-Link, search the blog.)

In-process condition monitoring architecture

In some systems, the PLC or machine controller is the central unit for processing data from all of the devices associated with the machine or system, synthesizing the data with the context, and then communicating information to higher-level systems, such as SCADA systems.

The data collected from devices is used primarily for controls purposes and secondarily to collect contextual information about the health of the system/machine and of the process. For example, on an assembly line, an IO-Link photo-eye sensor provides parts presence detection for process control, as well as vibration and inclination change detection information for condition monitoring.

With an in-process architecture, you can add dedicated condition monitoring sensors. For example, a vibration sensor or pressure sensor that does not have any bearings on the process can be connected and made part of the same architecture.

The advantage of an in-process architecture for condition monitoring is that both pieces of information (process information and condition monitoring information) can be collected at the same time and conveyed through a uniform messaging schema to higher-level SCADA systems to keep temporal data together. If properly stored, this information could be used later for machine improvements or machine learning purposes.

There are two key disadvantages with this type of architecture.

First, you can’t easily scale this system up. To add additional sensors for condition monitoring, you also need to alter and validate the machine controller program to incorporate changes in the controls architecture. This programming could become time consuming and costly due to the downtime related to the upgrades.

Second, machine controllers or PLCs are primarily designed for the purposes of machine control. Burdening these devices with data collection and dissemination could increase overall cost of the machine/system. If you are working with machine builders, you would need to validate their ability to offer systems that are capable of communicating with higher-level systems and Information Technology systems.

Stand-alone condition monitoring architecture

Stand-alone architectures, also known as add-on systems for condition monitoring, do not require a controller. In their simplest form, an IO-Link master, power supply, and appropriate condition monitoring sensors are all that you need. This approach is most prevalent at manufacturing plants that do not want to disturb the existing controls systems but want to add the ability to monitor key system parameters. To collect data, this architecture relies on Edge gateways, local storage, or remote (cloud) storage systems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The biggest advantage of this system is that it is separate from the controls system and is scalable and modular, so it is not confined by the capabilities of the PLC or the machine controller.

This architecture uses industrial-grade gateways to interface directly with information technology systems. As needs differ from machine to machine and from company to company as to what rate to collect the data, where to store the data, and when to issue alerts, the biggest challenge is to find the right partner who can integrate IT/OT systems. They also need to maintain your IT data-handling policies.

This stand-alone approach allows you to create various dashboards and alerting mechanisms that offer flexibility and increased productivity. For example, based on certain configurable conditions, the system can send email or text messages to defined groups, such as maintenance or line supervisors. You can set up priorities and manage severities, using concise, modular dashboards to give you visibility of the entire plant. Scaling up the system by adding gateways and sensors, if it is designed properly, could be easy to do.

Since this architecture is independent of the machine controls, and typically not all machines in the plant come from the same machine builders, this architecture allows you to collect uniform condition monitoring data from various systems throughout the plant. This is the main reason that stand-alone architecture is more sought after than in-process architecture.

It is important to mention here that not all of the IO-Link gateways (masters) available in the market are capable of communicating directly with the higher-level IT system.

Hybrid architectures for condition monitoring

As the name suggests, this approach offers a combination of in-process and stand-alone approaches. It uses IO-Link gateways in the PLC or machine controller-based controls architecture to communicate directly with higher-level systems to collect data for condition monitoring. Again, as in stand-alone systems, not all IO-Link gateways are capable of communicating directly with higher-level systems for data collection.

The biggest advantage of this system is that it does not burden PLCs or machine controllers with data collection. It creates a parallel path for health monitoring while devices are being used for process control. This could help you avoid duplication of devices.

When the devices are used in the controls loop for machine control, scalability is limited. By specifying IO-Link gateways and devices that can support higher-level communication abilities, you can add out-of-process condition monitoring and achieve uniformity in data collection throughout the plant even though the machines are from various machine builders.

Overall, no matter what approach is the best fit for your situation, condition monitoring can provide many efficiencies in the plant.

Flush, Non-Flush, or Factor 1? Which Inductive is Best for Your Application?

Ever feel like your proximity application isn’t working just right? Maybe it’s the inductive sensor selection.

Understanding the following three inductive mounting principles is key to selecting the ideal sensor for your application and/or figuring out why the one you have isn’t working correctly. So which inductive is best for your application?

Flush (shielded) sensor

Typically having the shortest sensing range, a flush (shielded) sensor has a flush mount sensor illustration sensing field that will only sense objects that approach it from the face of the sensor. The entire face of the sensor can be surrounded by metal and the sensor face sits flush with the mounting surface. It is designed specifically to send the sensing field out the front of the sensor. We see this a lot in metal stamping dies because the flush mounting protects the sensor from the often-destructive atmosphere of the press.

Non-Flush (non-shielded) sensornon-flush sensor illustration

A non-flush (non-shielded) sensor has a sensing field that comes out the side of the front of the sensor, allowing it to sense objects from the side and giving it a greater or longer sensing range. But you can’t have metal around the face of the sensor. Otherwise it might accidentally detect the environment rather than a specific target.

Factor 1 or multi-metal sensor

A Factor 1 or multi-metal sensor adjusts the sensing range for all types of metals, most importantly those that are not steel. An inductive sensor has a correction factor. Based upon the type of metal, the sensing range is reduced. They are specially designed to trigger for most any metal target at the same sensing distance. This is important as many hybrid/electric automotive and consumer goods applications are using more aluminum and custom metals today.

More to consider

When choosing an inductive sensor, think about what you’re trying to detect. For example, if it’s not steel or is iron-based, a factor 1 or a multi-metal inductive sensor that is a special inductive technology will allow you to see all metals, basically at the same distance.

Traditional inductive proxes are designed for steel/ferrous targets. When presented with a metal like aluminum or copper there is a correction factor to reduce the sensing distance. This can cause problems in sensing applications.

Virtually every inductive proximity sensor vendor offers these three modes to allow for adaption to your specific application and target.

Each metal that you’re trying to detect has a different correction factor for an inductive sensor. So if you’re working with aluminum, for example, you’ll want to look for something that has Factor 1 or multi-metal sensing. If you’re trying to detect copper, Factor 1 has the most value.

Many industries – traditional automotive and electric vehicles, appliance, metalworking, forming, bending and even food and beverage industries – rely on inductive sensors in their automation applications. They sense objects without any physical contact with the target or the object being sensed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORQ2n0_CPAo

What is IO-Link? A Simple Explanation of the Universal Networking Standard

Famed physicist Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” When the topic of IO-Link comes up, whether a salesperson or technical expert is doing the explaining, I always find it’s too much for the layman without a technical background to understand. To simplify this complex idea, I’ve created an analogy to something we use in our everyday lives: highways.  

Prior to the Federal Highway Act of 1956, each individual state, determined the rules of its state highway routes. This included everything from the width of the roads to the speed limits and the height of bridge underpasses — every aspect of the highways that were around at the time. This made long-distance travel and interstate commerce very difficult. It wasn’t until 1956 and the passage of President Eisenhower’s Federal Highway Act, that the rules became standard across the entire United States. Today, whether you’re in Houston, Boston or St. Louis, everything from the signage on the road to the speed limits and road markings are all the same. 

Like the standardization of national highway system, the IO-Link Consortium standardized the rules by which devices in automation communicate. Imagine your home as a controller, for example, the roads are cables, and your destination is a sensor. Driving your car to the store is analogous to a data packet traveling between the sensor and the controller.  

You follow the rules of the road, driving with a license and abiding by the speed limits, etc. Whether you’re driving a sedan, an SUV or a semitruck, you know you can reach your destination regardless of the state it’s in. IO-Link allows you to have different automation components from different suppliers, all communicating in sync unlike before, following a standard set of rules. This empowers the end user to craft a solution that fits his or her needs using sensors that communicate using the protocols set by the IO-Link Consortium. 

How Industrial RFID Can Reduce Downtime in Your Stamping Department

The appliance industry is growing at record rates. The increase in consumer demand for new appliances is at an all-time high and is outpacing current supply. Appliance manufacturers are increasing production to catch up with this demand. This makes the costs associated with downtime even higher than normal. But using industrial RFID can allow you to reduce downtime in your stamping departments and keep production moving.

Most major household appliance manufacturers have large stamping departments as part of their manufacturing process. I like to think of the stamping department as the heart of the manufacturing plant. If you have ever been in a stamping department while they are stamping out metal parts, then you understand. The thumping and vibration of the press at work is what feeds the rest of the plant.  I was in a plant a few weeks ago meeting with an engineer in the final assembly area. It was oddly quiet in that area, so I asked what was going on. He said they’d sent everyone home early because one of their major press lines went down unexpectedly. Every department got sent home because they did not have the pieces and parts needed to make the final product. That is how critical the stamping departments are at these facilities.

In past years, this wasn’t as critical, because they had an inventory of parts and finished product. But the increase in demand over the last two years depleted that inventory. They need ways to modernize the press shop, including implementing smarter products like devices with Industry 4.0 capabilities to get real-time data on the equipment for things like analytics, OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness), preventative maintenance, downtime, and more error proofing applications.

Implementing Industrial RFID

One of the first solutions many appliance manufacturers implement in the press department is traceability using industrial RFID technology. Traceability is typically used to document and track different steps in a process chain to help reduce the costs associated with non-conformance issues. This information is critical when a company needs to provide information for proactive product recalls, regulatory compliance, and quality standards. In stamping departments, industrial RFID is often used for applications like asset tracking, machine access control, and die identification. Die ID is not only used to identify which die is present, but it can also be tied back to the main press control system to make sure the correct job is loaded.

need for RFID in appliance stamping
This shows an outdated manual method using papers that are easily lost or destroyed.
appliance stamping can be improved by RFID
This image shows an identification painted on a die, which can be easily destroyed.

Traditionally, most companies have a die number either painted on the die or they have a piece of paper with the job set up attached to the die. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen these pieces of paper on the floor. Press departments are pretty nasty environments, so these pieces of paper get messed up pretty quickly. And the dies take a beating, so painted numbers can easily get rubbed or scratched off.

Implementing RFID for die ID is a simple and affordable solution to this problem. First, you would attach an RFID tag with all of the information about the job to each die. You could also write maintenance information about the die to this tag, such as when the die was last worked on, who last worked on it, or process information like how many parts have been made on this die.
Next, you need to place an antenna. Most people mount the antenna to one of the columns of the press where the tag would pass in front of it as it is getting loaded into the die. The antenna would be tied back to a processor or IO-Link master if using IO-Link. The processor or IO-Link master would communicate with the main press control system. As the die is set in the press, the antenna reads the tag and tells the main control system which die is in place and what job to load.

In a stamping department you might find several large presses. Each press will have multiple dies that are associated with each press. Each die is set up to form a particular part. It is unique to the part it is forming and has its own job, or recipe, programmed in the main press control system. Many major stamping departments still use manual operator entry for set up and to identify which tools are in the press. But operators are human, so it is very easy to punch in the wrong number, which is why RFID is a good, automated solution.

In conclusion

When I talk with people in stamping departments, they tell me one of the main reasons a crash occurs is because information was entered incorrectly by the operator during set up. Crashes can be expensive to repair because of the damage to the tooling or press, but also because of the downtime associated. Establishing a good die setup process is critical to a stamping department’s success and implementing RFID can eliminate many of these issues.

UHF RFID: Driving Efficiency in Automotive Production

Manufactured in batch size 1, bumper to bumper on modular production lines, with the support of collaborative robots –  this is the reality in modern automotive production. Without transparent and continuous processes, production would come to a standstill. Therefore, it is important to have reliable technology in use. For many car manufacturers, UHF RFID is not only used to control manufacturing within a plant but recently more and more also to track new vehicles in the finishing and even shipping processes. And many manufacturers have already started using UHF across production plants and even across companies with their suppliers because it makes just-in-time and just-in-sequence production a lot easier. This blog post gives an insight into why UHF could be the technology of the future for automotive production.

What is UHF?

UHF stands for ultra-high frequency and is the frequency band of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) from 300 MHz to 3 GHz. UHF with the EPC global Gen2 UHF standard typically in the frequency range of 860 – 960 MHz, with regional differences. Besides UHF other popular RFID frequency bands used in production are LF (low frequency) – operating typically at 125 kHz – and HF (high frequency) – operating typically at 13.56 MHz worldwide. LF is used mainly for Tool ID and HF for ticketing, payment, and production and access control.

UHF RFID used to ensure the proper headrest is placed on automotive seats.
An RFID sensor scans a tag on a car headset during production

UHF systems have the longest read range with up to a few meters and a faster data transfer rate than LF or HF. Therefore, it’s used in a wide variety of applications and the fastest growing segment of the RFID market. Tracking goods or car parts in the supply chain, inventorying assets, and authenticating car parts are just some examples for the automotive industry.

And this is how it works: A UHF reader emits a signal and energy to its environment via an antenna. If a UHF data carrier can be activated by this energy, a data exchange can take place. The data carrier or tag backscatters the reader signal and modulates it according to its specific data content.

UHF vs. Optical systems

Intelligent data generated by intelligent RFID solutions is a crucial part of efficient and transparent processes. To achieve this, the use of innovative UHF technology is essential. Because in the long-term UHF could replace existing HF or LF RFID applications as well as optical systems. Due to its wider range of functions and performance, UHF has the potential to enable a cross-enterprise data flow.

This table shows that UHF can offer a performance and interaction that optical formats can’t:

 

  UHF Systems Optical Systems
Automation Automated process reduces or eliminates manual scanning Manual scanning or low-level automation
Speed 20,000 units per hour (ms/read) 450 units per hour (s/read)
Convenience Can scan items even when they are hidden from view or inside a package Can scan only what it can see
Efficiency Scanning many at once is possible Scans one at a time
Intelligence Chip memory, which can be updated or rewritten to create a more dynamic and responsive process Static data on the label
Security Security features, such as authentication, can be offered on the item level Security features not available or even possible

Sometimes short range is required

Although the UHF technology can read up to a few meters – which is perfect and even required for (intra)logistic processes – this can also be a challenge, especially in some manufacturing areas. Within part production it is often necessary that the detection range is limited and only one part is detected at a time. In these cases, it’s important that the power is either turned down so far that only one part is detected at a time or a special short-range UHF reader resp. special short-range antenna are used.

The technology’s potential can only be fully exploited if every stage of production is supported by UHF. The use of UHF is versatile and can either be used as closed-loop where the UHF tag stays in the production process or as open-loop with UHF labels that are glued onto or into parts like car bodies, bumpers, head rests, tires etc. where they will remain and possibly be used during the subsequent logistics applications.

Besides eliminating manual processes, UHF RFID delivers full visibility of your inventory (automated!) at any time which helps you to reduce shrinkage and prevent stock losses. This improves your overall business operations. Additionally, you can secure access to certain areas.

Another reason to rely up on UHF is the consistently high standard of data quality. When you acquire the same data type from all areas you can generate trend analysis as the readings can be compared with one another. So, you can obtain extensive information on the entire production process – something that isn’t possible when mixing different technologies. This gives you the opportunity to utilize preventive measures.

 

5 Manufacturing Trends to Consider as You Plan for 2022

It’s that time of year again where we all start to forget the current year (maybe that’s OK) and start thinking of plans for the next — strategy and budget season! 2022 is only a few weeks away!

I thought I’d share 5 insights I’ve had about 2022 that you might benefit from as you start planning for next year.

    1. Electric Vehicles

      The electric vehicles manufacturing market is receiving major investments, machine builders are building up expertise, and consumers are trending towards more electric vehicles. According to PEW research, 7% of US adults say they currently own a hybrid or electric vehicle, but 39% say the next time they purchase a vehicle they are at least somewhat likely to seriously consider electric. Traditional automotive won’t go away any time soon, but I see this as a growth generator.

    1. Automation in Agriculture & Food

      Automation in the agriculture, food, beverage and packaging markets is also growing strong with more demand for packaged goods and more SKUs than ever before. Urbanization and shortages in agriculture labor markets are driving investments in automation technologies in manufacturing and on the farm. Robotic agriculture startups seem to be growing faster than weeds and are providing real value for those who are struggling to get product from the field to the factory.

    1. Supply Chain Disruption

      Several economists have said the chip shortage will be with us well into 2023, and now I hear rumors of plastics or other materials having disruptions. Disruption might be the new normal for the short to mid-term. I flew out of LAX a few weeks ago and there were dozens of container ships parked outside the port. We are also seeing a major breakdown of our “over-land” logistics infrastructure. Investment in automation and labor for this market will be vital to a strong recovery. Plan for these things and be willing to have open and honest discussions with your vendors and your customers. Untruths might get you by in the short term but could permanently damage your business relationships for years.

    1. Real not Hyped Sustainability

      As Generation Z (18-24year old) workers increasingly enter our economy, they are pushing us to truly work towards sustainability much more than Millennials did before them. What this means is other markets that I see as growth opportunities are ones where we can have major impact on this, like mining, waste/recycling, and agriculture.

    1. Technology as an HR tool

      All manufacturers will be impacted by the skills-gap and labor shortage if you aren’t already. Part of your strategy for 2022 must include automation and robotics as part of your labor strategy. We need to consider how can we use automation and robotics to do our dull, dirty, dangerous jobs or how can we use automation and robotics to extend the careers of our long-term experienced workers. What disruptive technology could you be investing in to make a real difference in your work processes — 3D printing, machine vision, AR/VR, exoskeletons, drones, virtual twin, AI, predictive maintenance, condition monitoring, smart sensors? Pick something you will do different in 2022. You have to.

What do you see for 2022 that will have a major impact on our businesses?

How to Choose the Best 4K Camera for Your Application

I need 4K resolution USB camera, what would you recommend me?

This is a common question that I am asked by customers, unfortunately the answer is not simple.

First, a quick review on the criteria to be a 4K camera. The term “4K” comes from TV terminology and is derived from full HD resolution.

Full HD is 1920 x 1080 = 2,073,600 total pixels
4K is 3840 x 2160 = 8,294,400 total pixels.

This assumes that the minimum camera resolution must be 8.3 Mpix. It is not guaranteed that the camera reaches 4K resolution, however, it is a basic recognition. For example, a camera with an IMX546 sensor has a resolution of 2856 x 2848 pixels. While the height of the sensor richly meets the conditions of 4K, the width does not. Even so, for our comparison I will use this camera because for certain types of projects (e.g. square object observation), it is more efficient than a 10.7 Mpix camera with a resolution 3856 x 2764 pixels.

Of course, 4K resolution isn’t the only parameter to consider when you are choosing a camera. Shutter type, frame rate and sensor size are also incredibly important and dictated by your application. And, of course, you must factor price into your decision.

Basic comparison

Sensor Mpixel Shutter Size Width Height Framerate Pricing
MT9J003 10.7 Rolling Shutter / Global Reset 1/2.35 3856 2764  

7.3

 

$
IMX267 8.9 Global 1 4112 2176 31.9 $$
IMX255 8.9 Global 1 4112 2176 42.4 $$$
IMX226 12.4 Rolling Shutter / Global Reset 1/1.7

 

4064 3044 30.7 $
IMX546 8.1 Global 2/3 2856 2848 46.7 $$$
IMX545 12.4 Global 1/1.1 4128 3008 30.6 $$$$

 

Shutter
Rolling shutter and global shutter are common shutter types in CMOS cameras. A rolling shutter sensor has simpler design and can offer smaller pixel size. It means that you can use lower cost lenses, but you must have in mind that you have limited usage with moving objects. A workaround for moving objects is a rolling shutter with global reset functionality which helps eliminating the image distortion.

Frames Per Second
The newest sensors offer a higher frame rate than the USB interface can handle. Check with the manufacturer; not everyone is able to get the listed framerate because of technical limitations caused by the camera.

Sensor Size
Very important information. Other qualitative information should also be considered, not only of the camera but also of the lens used.

Price
Global shutter image sensors are more expensive than rolling shutter ones. For this reason, the prices of global shutter cameras are higher than the rolling shutter cameras. It is also no secret that the image sensor is the most expensive component, so it is understandable that the customer very often bases the decision on the sensor requirements.

Advanced comparison

Sensor Pixel size EMVA report Dynamic range SNR Preprocessing features
MT9J003 1.67 link 56.0 37.2 *
IMX267 3.45 link 71.0 40.2 **
IMX255 3.45 link 71.1 40.2 ***
IMX226 1.85 link 69.2 40.3 **
IMX546 2.74 link 70.2 40.6 ****
IMX545 2.74 link 70.1 40.3 ****

 

There are many other advanced features you can also consider based on your project, external conditions, complexity of the scene and so on. These include:

Pixel Size
Sensor size from the basic comparison is in direct correlation with the size of the pixel because the size of the pixel multiplied by the width and height gives you the size of the sensor itself.

EMVA Report
EMVA 1288 is great document comparing individual sensors and cameras. In case you want the best possible image quality and functionality of the whole system, comparison is an important component in deciding which image sensor will be in your chosen camera. EMVA 1288 is the standard for measurement and presentation of specifications for machine vision sensors and cameras. This standard determines properties like signal-to-noise ratio, dark current, quantum efficiency, etc.

Dynamic Range
Dynamic range is one of the basic features and part of EMVA 1288 report as well. It is expressed in decibels (dB). Dynamic range is the ratio between the maximum output signal level and the noise floor at minimum signal amplification. Simply, dynamic range indicates the ability of a camera to reproduce the brightest and darkest portions of an image.

SNR
Signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is a linear ratio between recorded signal and total root mean squared noise. SNR describes the data found in an image. It establishes an indication as to the signal quality found in the image indicating with what amount of precision machine vision algorithms will be able to detect objects in an image.

 

Preprocessing Features

Do you build high-end product? Is the speed important for you?
You need to rely on the camera/image sensor features. Every update of an image sensor comes with more and more built-in features. For example:

  • Dual trigger, where you set two different levels of exposure and gain and each can be triggered separately.
  • Self-trigger – you set 2 AOI, the first one triggers image and second detects difference in the AOI.
  • Short exposure modes – you can set as fast as 2us between shutters.

Machine vision components continue to be improved upon and new features are added regularly. So, when you are selecting a camera for your application, first determine what features are required to meet your application needs. Filter to only the cameras that can meet those needs and use their additional features to determine what more you can do.