How 3D vision systems can meet the demands of industrial automation applications


As mobile robots, drones, and autonomous vehicles move into challenging environments, developers must consider several factors when building or choosing 3D vision systems that can provide high performance.

For instance, Photoneo recently released a new generation of its PhoXi 3D Scanners. The aim was to develop PhoXi 3D Scanner into a 3D vision system that would allow users to deploy it in harsh industrial settings. The company chose features to make the scanner industrial-grade and resistant to adverse conditions.

The combination of these features ensures durability, reliability, stability, and high performance, even if a device gets exposed to factors such as humidity, water, dust, and other contaminants. What features lie at the core of industrial-grade 3D vision systems?

High ingress protection rating

High mechanical quality and durability present the first condition for categorizing a 3D scanner as industrial-grade. Durable hardware not only ensures protection against damage, but it also minimizes the risk of unnecessary service and related repair costs.

The level of protection is defined by the international Ingress Protection Rating system, or IP code. This code consists of two digits — the first one represents the level of protection against ingress of solid objects, and the second digit specifies the degree of tolerance to moisture or water.

The larger the value of each digit, the greater the protection. The IP code tells users what kind of external conditions a device can handle and how safe it is to use it in specific environments and applications.

3D scanners designed for industrial use should aim for a minimum of IP65. Devices with this rating are completely dust-tight and protected against low-pressure, 6.3 mm jets of water coming from any direction and at any angle.

Sensors with IP65 are designed for dusty and humid environments and are protected against liquids and fine particles. However, customers should bear in mind that the exposure to these factors may result in lower-quality scans as they have a significant impact on the optical conditions of the acquisition.

IP65 dust-proof

IP65 dust-proof sensor. Source: Photoneo

Thermal stabilization for 3D vision systems

Another challenging factor that is often present in industrial settings is external temperature. Too low, too high, or even varying temperatures may significantly affect the scanning performance.

To ensure that a 3D scanning device will deliver stable and reliable performance even in demanding thermal conditions, it should feature an advanced thermal calibration model. Customers looking for a device that can be deployed in settings with extreme or varying temperatures should therefore definitely opt for one with high-level thermal calibration.

Power over Ethernet

Power and data connections are also important to consider in assessing whether a 3D vision system is suitable for industrial deployment. Many 3D scanning devices feature two connectors: a custom connector providing electric power, and a separate Ethernet or USB connector enabling data communication.

However, this setup is not the most convenient option for 3D vision systems, because using two different cables means higher costs, limited cable length, and a more complicated installation.

Power over Ethernet (PoE) provides both power and data over a single cable. PoE offers advantages including lower costs, easier and cheaper installation, and the possibility to use cables longer than 30 meters. PoE has become standard and provides great flexibility since it guarantees interoperability among different suppliers. It is reliable, stable, safe, and rugged, which makes it a preferred choice for the adoption in industrial settings.

If a 3D vision system combines PoE with the option of being powered by 24 V, it should meet the requirements of all customers. This secondary option is also very reliable and safe because it operates with limiting circuits that protect against short circuits or similar problems. Another advantage is its high ride-through capabilities that help the devices better survive voltage sags.

Next-generation scanner

PhoXi 3D scanner. Source: Photoneo

M12 connectors

Another feature that can help make 3D vision systems industrial-grade is an M12 connector with screw-on locks. They provide rugged and reliable connection and protect devices from contaminants such as dust or moisture.

M12 connectors with screw-on locks are also resistant to vibration or impact and do not get easily disconnected without unscrewing. Their compact size also plays a role here as the market demands head in the direction of miniaturization of components and simultaneously their ever-better performance.

High-performance GPU

One of the most important elements in 3D scanning is time. Every customer wants high-quality 3D scans delivered in the shortest time possible. Producers of 3D vision systems look for solutions to reduce the scanning time while preserving high-quality outputs.

A crucial component of the overall scanning time is the computation time.This can be significantly reduced by using a powerful graphics processing unit (GPU).

On the other side, an advanced GPU combined with a longer acquisition time can deliver data of even higher quality. A GPU also enables the computation to run directly on the device. This brings another advantage — it saves PC resources and thus leaves space for more user applications.

IP 65 water-resistant 3D vision systems

IP65 water resistance. Source: Photoneo

3D vision scanners also need powerful firmware

All the features discussed so far relate to the hardware side. They ensure ruggedness, durability, and reliable performance in challenging and changing conditions.

However, firmware is also necessary for industrial-grade 3D vision systems. Industrial 3D scanners should ideally have advanced algorithms for ambient light suppression so that the scanning performance is not affected, even in bright ambient light settings, which generally pose a major problem.

Another problem that might occur if a scanning device uses its own illumination method is the reflection of projected patterns in areas of complex scene geometries, which causes noise and incorrect measurements. This can be prevented by implementing an advanced reflection filter with intelligent algorithms that remove these artifacts.

The ability of 3D vision systems to provide superior-quality scans quickly is one thing; the question of whether they can work reliably in hot, humid, or dusty environments is quite another. The answer to this question is of crucial importance, given the increasing demand for vision-guided robots in an ever-expanding range of industries. Luckily, the answer is quite straightforward and can help customers find the best 3D scanners to meet the requirements of their projects.

Andrea_PufflerovaAbout the author:

Andrea Pufflerova is public relations specialist at Photoneo s.r.o. The Bratislava, Slovakia-based company was founded in 2013 and provides AI-powered robotic intelligence and industrial 3D vision. Based on patented technology, the company has developed high-resolution and high-accuracy 3D cameras. In combination with the robust machine learning software, Photoneo said it helps companies in the automotive, logistics, e-commerce, food, and medical industries improve the performance and efficiency of their manufacturing, fulfillment, and assembly processes.

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