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Nikon’s vision system uses camera expertise to solve problems

15 May, 2024

The Japanese camera-maker Nikon has announced an industrial robot vision system which, it claims, will overcome problems associated with existing vision systems. As well as performing static applications such as bin-picking, the system, which mounts on a robot arm, can also track and pick items moving on equipment such as conveyors, AGVs and AMRs.

Nikon says that the new system solves problems encountered with some existing vision technologies such as:
• limited processing capacities which can result in difficulty recognising parts;
• slow operation; and
• difficult, time-consuming set-ups.

The new system achieves high-speed measurements at up to 250fps in both 2D and 3D, by applying image processing technologies developed for Nikon’s cameras. This enables high-speed operation of robot arms, typically taking about two seconds from measuring a workpiece to moving the arm.

The camera is designed to be attached to the end of a robot arm. By tilting the arm, shapes that are difficult to identify from above, can be recognised. If there is no recognisable workpiece in the field-of-view, the camera searches from a different angle. If a workpiece is not found at the initial measurement position, a “retry” function moves the arm to a new position and checks again. Nikon claims that these functions can result in 100% picking success rates.

Existing fixed-location vision systems can restrict the layout of production sites, according to the camera-maker, and if the task changes, the equipment may need to be re-assembled. This is not the case with the 2.8kg system, which can be attached to robot arms from Fanuc, Yaskawa, Kawasaki and Universal Robots, among others.

The system can be used to track and pick items moving on conveyors or AGVs, without affecting their operation. Robot grippers and workpieces can be sensed in the same field-of-view, and minor shakes and errors in the gripping position can be corrected instantly. The technology can also respond to sudden stoppages of the moving equipment, and changes in workpiece orientation.

Nikon says that with existing robot vision systems, it is necessary to synchronise the movements of transport equipment with the robot arm, and to make fine adjustments. This can mean long lead times before an application can start operating. Even after operation has begun, the robot arm can be affected by sudden or wobbling movements of the transport equipment.

Nikon’s vision system is designed to mount on the end of a robot arm

The new system does not need to be synchronised with the transport equipment, cutting set-up times and efforts.

Another limitation with existing robot vision systems that Nikon claims to have overcome is low image-processing speeds, which can result in robot arms not keeping up with moving items.

In static applications such as bin-picking, the high-speed algorithm which combines 2D and 3D cameras, can recognise workpieces stacked randomly in a box and remove them. Routes can be set to avoid other workpieces, allowing loose stacks of items to be picked up without damaging them. Even if the target gripping position and the actual gripping position deviate, measurements can be redone after grabbing an item to correct for the deviation.

Nikon says that anyone can configure the vison system’s settings, regardless of their skill level. Some settings are automated, such as adding new workpieces, setting gripping positions, and determining routes. This can shorten set-up times “significantly”, with new workpieces added in as little as 20 minutes.

Nikon will be demonstrating its new vision technology at a Japanese robotics show in July, before releasing it commercially later this year.

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