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 by the packaging process during manufacturing 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 through 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.
Long lasting partnership, wide product variety
Whether verifying the completed filling of tablet blisters or the correct packaging of medicines, many Laetus control systems are based on optical capture of the product using high-performance digital cameras. For many years, Laetus has relied on industrial cameras with FireWire interfaces and has worked closely with Allied Vision Technologies (AVT). Thus, in various Laetus product lines, AVT cameras from the Guppy, Marlin and Pike families are used; a short time ago, a generational change came to pass when the Stingray succeeded the recently discontinued Dolphin camera.
“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,” recalls Günter Rodeck, Director of Product Management at Laetus. “As satisfied as we were with every single AVT camera, this variety wasn’t optimal for the efficiency of our processes.” So arose the idea to standardize camera modules for Laetus.
Modular camera, modular systems
The impetus for this project was the introduction of the Stingray camera family from Allied Vision Technologies. This high-performance industrial camera had been modularly conceived and marketed as a “Transformer Camera,” adaptable and multitalented — allowing imaging system developers to mix and match “à la carte” from a variety of sensor variants, angles, filters, connections and housings. With the FireWire version alone, over 2,500 combinations are possible; further models with Gigabit Ethernet interfaces have already been announced.
“Similar to the Stingray, we wanted to build our systems modularly and work with standard components,” Rodeck explained. “The Stingray itself provided the perfect basis for a uniform camera module; after all, it has the broadest palette of sensors and a board level version in its modular conception.”
One standard camera alone could not fulfill the complex requirements of several different systems which had previously, and for good reason, made use of different cameras. A new development was needed, completely customized to fit Laetus’ ideal camera module needs.
Requirements: all in one, one for all
“We at Laetus had to do our homework first,” Günter Rodeck recalled, “and define our own specifications for our “Swiss Army knife.”
- The new camera needed – like all other Laetus cameras – to be built into a special housing to protect it from dirt and displacement.
- In order 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.
Quick-change master: Stingray Board Level becomes Laetus iCAM
From these specifications arose the Laetus iCAM, a compact camera module with an integrated LED flash. Inside the 100 x 60 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.
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 perfect image quality using Allen screw adjustment. Alternately, the camera is available without the integrated flash, using a standard C-mount lens adapter instead.
Two IEEE1394b interfaces are arranged at right angles on the outside of the housing, allowing for flexible orientation in different directions as system configuration requires. The rapid FireWire interface enables reliable image data transfer at 800 Mbit/sec. An intermediary trigger board in the camera enables jitter-free image recording via FireWire connection.
Less variety and complexity, more efficiency
“With this new iCAM, we’ve radically reduced the variety of cameras in our systems,” Günter Rodeck reported. In so doing, construction is greatly simplified and warehouse costs for the various camera models reduced. Clients who had previously worked with a Guppy- or Marlin-based system can benefit in the future 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 are able to delve deeper into the Stingray’s comprehensive “Smart Features” to achieve the best possible optimized image quality and system output.
“Allied Vision Technologies’ Stingray was predestined for this project. With its modular construction and board level version as well as the dual FireWire interface, it was the ideal basis for the iCAM,” according to Rodeck. Add to that AVT’s know-how for special design, especially in the area of FireWire Interface.”
Thomas Vogel, Allied Vision Technologies’ Sales Manager for Germany, is also excited about the success: “Not just with technical know-how but also with cooperation based on mutual trust, we were able to help Laetus achieve a customized solution for its ideal OEM camera.”