Modular camera meets range of needs

4The concept of a camera as we know it is changing. The sensor, digital image processing, and networking are important, while the camera body can adapt to the need.

Good health is prized by individuals and society alike. Thus, it’s no wonder that the pharmaceutical industry is a major consumer of automated testing facilities. The risks posed by dosing errors or the packaging process and the consequences that can result are too serious to be treated lightly.

Laetus GmbH ( in Alsbach-Hähnlein, Germany specializes in the development, production, and marketing of highly developed control systems for pharmaceutical packaging, from the identification of flawed packaging material to its secure removal from the packaging process. Thanks to Laetus’ control systems, pharmaceutical companies minimize error risks and guarantee the traceability of each individual package.

The challenge: Reduce variety

Whether the task involves verifying the completed filling of tablet blisters or the correct packaging of medicines, many Laetus control systems function by optically capturing the product using high-performance digital cameras. For many years, Laetus has used (AVT) industrial cameras with FireWire interfaces including cameras from the Guppy, Marlin, and Pike families.

“Historically, as new Laetus products were introduced, the variety of cameras grew larger and larger, even more so as we used different variants with straight or angled lens mounts,” says Günter Rodeck, director of product management at Laetus. “This variety wasn’t optimal for the efficiency of our processes.” This issue prompted the idea to standardize camera modules for Laetus.

The solution: Modular camera, modular systems

The impetus for this project was the introduction of the Stingray camera family from AVT (see Figure 1). This high-performance industrial camera had been modularly conceived as an adaptable and multitalented “transformer camera,” allowing imaging system developers to mix and match à la carte from a variety of sensor variants, angles, filters, connections, and housings. More than 2,500 combinations are possible with the FireWire version. Other models with GbE interfaces have already been announced.

Figure 1: The Stingray was developed as a “transformer camera” that allows developers to mix and match various sensors, angles, filters, and so on.
(Click graphic to zoom by 1.9x)

“Similar to the Stingray, we wanted to build our systems modularly and work with standard components,” Rodeck says. “The Stingray provided the perfect basis for a uniform camera module [as shown in Figure 2]. It has a broad palette of sensors and a board-level version in its modular conception.”

Figure 2: The Stingray camera board and sensor enables the use of standard modular components.

One standard camera alone could not fulfill the complex requirements of several different systems that typically use different cameras. Laetus needed a new development completely customized to fit its specific camera module requirements.

Custom design with board-level camera

“We at Laetus had to do our homework first and define our own specifications for our ‘Swiss Army knife,’” Rodeck says.

·    Like all other Laetus cameras, the new camera needed to be built in a special housing unit to protect it from dirt and displacement.

·    To replace angle- and straight-mount varieties, two FireWire ports had to be positioned at 90° angles.

·    To reduce cabling, the I/O port was eliminated. In its place, an additional trigger board circuit needed to be housed within the unit, allowing the camera to be triggered instantaneously using a hardware signal via FireWire connection.

·    Two modular designs were needed: one with a conventional C-mount lens adapter and one with a compact M12 lens and an integrated LED light source.

Based on these specifications, designers created the Laetus iCAM (Figure 3), a compact camera module with an integrated LED flash. Inside the 100 mm x 60 mm x 40 mm housing are a modified AVT Stingray board-level camera, a small M12 lens, and a two-color LED flash. Illumination with red, white, or UV LEDs is directly controlled by the camera and calibrated to its exposure time.

Figure 3: The Laetus iCAM includes a modified Stingray board-level camera, small M12 lens, and two-color LED flash.

The iCAM is available in eight sensor varieties with resolutions from VGA (0.3 megapixels) up to 5 megapixels. Lens focus with 6, 8, or 12 mm focal length allows for optimal image quality using Allen screw adjustment. The camera is also available without the integrated flash, using a standard C-mount lens adapter instead.

Two IEEE 1394b interfaces are arranged at right angles outside the housing, allowing for flexible orientation in different directions as system configuration requires. The rapid FireWire interface enables reliable image data transfer at 800 Mbps. An intermediary trigger board in the camera enables jitter-free image recording via FireWire connection.

Use in practice: Less complexity, more efficiency

“With this new iCAM, we’ve radically reduced the variety of cameras in our systems,” Rodeck states. This implementation has greatly simplified construction and reduced warehouse costs for the assorted camera models. Clients who had previously worked with Guppy- or Marlin-based systems can benefit from the upgrade to a more recent camera generation with a faster interface and better image optimization functions.

By concentrating on one AVT camera model, developers can delve deeper into the Stingray’s smart features to achieve optimized image quality and system output.

Allied Vision Technologies

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