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Machine vision inspections using visual cameras can occasionally cause recognition problems if the product and background have too little colour contrast. In such cases, thermal imaging cameras can be a practical solution – especially if the product has a different temperature than the transport medium. In many cases such temperature differences are caused by the production process. Injection moulding applications are ideal candidates as manufactured parts come out of the machine at a relatively high temperature.

 The injection moulding machine manufacturer, MAPLAN, provides a good example of how thermal imaging can be applied.  The company decided to make customisable, rubber luggage tags as giveaways on an extrusion line at a trade fair; they would then be re-positioned by a robot and labelled using an inkjet printer.  However, the weak colour contrast between the conveyor belt and product proved to be a challenge.

The conventional approach would have been for a visual camera to guide the robot to remove the luggage tags from the conveyor belt and position them for personalising with inkjet printing.  However, the light grey luggage tags on a light grey conveyor belt provided insufficient colour contrast for the vision system to work effectively so the visual camera was replaced by a FLIR A615, fixed mounted thermal imaging camera. This way heat radiation from the extrusion process could be used for reliable product detection.

The FLIR A615 is widely used for thermal monitoring and quality assurance of production processes. The compact thermal imaging camera can be fully controlled from a PC and, thanks to its compliance with a wide range of standards, is suitable as a plug-and-play device with software for machine vision applications from third party manufacturers such as National Instruments, Cognex, and Halcon. It is also compatible with the GigE Vision standard and supports the GenICam protocol.

The thermal camera’s high-resolution detector with 640 x 480 pixels enables high-speed IR windowing. With its high thermal sensitivity of 50 mK, it captures and visualizes the smallest image details and the slightest temperature differences.  Its Gigabit Ethernet port allows 16-bit image streaming to the computer in real time.

“The solution was very simple and worked right from the start,” explained MAPLAN’s technical manager Rudolf Eisenhuber. “The high thermal imaging resolution of the FLIR A615 also enables quality analysis, which we would like to demonstrate with more complex injection moulded parts in the future.”

MAPLAN is also considering the possibility of additional evaluation of thermal information for rubber injection moulding machines. The use of a thermal imaging camera could also provide additional information about the quality of a product. This method is particularly interesting for complex shaped components and in this regard, FLIR thermal imaging technology has the potential to significantly optimise the injection moulding process.

FLIR Systems specialises in technologies that enhance perception and awareness.  The company brings innovative sensing solutions into daily life through its thermal imaging and visible light imaging technology and systems for measurement, diagnosis, location and advanced threat detection.  Its products improve the way people interact with the world around them, enhance productivity, increase energy efficiency and make the workplace safer.

FLIR Systems has six operating segments – surveillance, instruments, OEM and emerging markets, maritime, security and finally, detection. Of these six, ‘instruments’ is of greatest interest to trade and industry and the second largest segment in the company’s portfolio. This division provides devices that image, measure and assess thermal energy, gases and other environmental elements for industrial, commercial and scientific applications.

These products are manufactured across five production sites, three in the USA and two in Europe; Sweden and Estonia.

A model to suit every application and budget
The options that FLIR Systems provides for measuring temperature and studying thermal performance have never been greater.  Not only does the company offer a huge range of models to suit all thermal application needs but the technology is also affordable and very easy to use.  Thermal cameras now come in various shapes, sizes and degrees of sophistication and FLIR continues to invest heavily in the development of new and complementary technologies to differentiate itself from competitors.

An important milestone in the development of thermal imaging has been the introduction of the FLIR Lepton® core, a micro longwave detector, the size of a mobile SIM.  This has allowed thermal imaging to be repackaged to meet the needs of an even wider audience and, in combination with another new technology called Infrared Guided Measurement – IGM™ – has led to the development of a range of test and measurement meters with imaging capability.

Another important growth area for FLIR thermal imaging is in continuous monitoring to assure quality and safety.  Through its introduction of discrete fixed mounted thermal cameras which are fully compliant industry standard plug-and-play protocols, FLIR Systems has provided industry with infrared machine vision which is instantly ready for quick and easy network installation.

Protecting assets and people from fire is an area for which thermal imaging is least known but, thanks to FLIR Systems’ development, it is now one of the most cost-effective methods available.  Its application flexibility and rapid return on investment present an attractive proposition for any site or safety manager.

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