The future of CCD image sensors: Are we seeing the end of an era?

30/03/2015
Sony recently announced its intention to close its 200 mm CCD wafer line in Kagoshima and to stop the manufacture of the majority of Sony’s industrial CCD (charge-coupled device) sensors.

Mark Williamson, Director – Corporate Market Development of Stemmer Imaging, explains how machine vision users and his customers are affected by this decision.

Mark Williamson

Mark Williamson

Question: CCD sensors have been the key enabler of the imaging and machine vision market, with Sony being the largest vendor of CCDs to this market. What has driven this decision?

Williamson: Before the CCD arrived video cameras were based on tube technology which were free running only and came from the broadcast industry. When CCD technology launched it became possible to add specialist features in cameras to enable triggering and hence the ability to synchronise to the production line. This enabled the explosive growth of industrial vision which developed into the industry we know today. However, while Sony CCDs have the largest market share in industrial imaging, the biggest market for image sensors has been larger markets such as consumer cameras, mobile phones, CCTV and broadcast. The importance of the CCD to mankind was recognised by a Nobel prize in Physics in 2009. In the last few years there has been a big shift from CCD to CMOS in these high volume markets which has left the CCD wafer line very underutilised even with the high number of machine vision sensors sold. This makes the factory no longer financially viable.

Question: Historically CCD sensors have outperformed CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) sensors in terms of image quality. Will Sony’s decision reduce the availability of high image quality sensors?

Williamson: Absolutely not, CMOS has traditionally had a reputation for lower image quality, however recent sensors have surpassed the image quality of Sony CCDs in terms of noise and dynamic range. This, coupled with the numerous advantages of CMOS sensors such as speed, lower power consumption, less support electronics and the elimination of tap balancing is the natural evolution of technology. The higher end CCDs from ON Semiconductor (formerly Truesense and Kodak) and the full frame CCDs used in professional photography from Teledyne DALSA are still available for high end applications although over time CMOS will affect this market segment also.

Question:  Are there other advantages of CMOS over CCD technology?

Williamson: From a manufacturing point of view CMOS sensors can be built on standard wafer lines which utilise mainstream manufacturing capacity and competition. From a technical point of view the ability to mix sensor and support circuits on to one device simplifies camera design and allow additional features to be integrated. Multiple regions of interest, and linear scaling of frame rate versus readout region provide application flexibility and high dynamic range modes, additionally the reduction in oversaturated image bleed makes the cameras more tolerant of changing illumination.

Question: What is the share of CCD cameras compared to CMOS cameras Stemmer is selling today?

Williamson: In 2010, 22 % of cameras we sold were based on CMOS sensors. This has risen to 58 % in 2014 with 32 % of cameras using Sony CCDs and the remainder other high end CCDs. With nearly all new camera designs using CMOS the prediction is that in a further 4 years the natural shift would make the CMOS market share approximately 80 %.

Question: What is your expectation of how Sony’s decision will change that ratio in the future?

Williamson: Although Sony has announced the closure, production will not cease until 2017 with the last deliveries in 2020 or even later, depending on the sensor model. This time scale is designed to follow the natural declining trend which is expected to continue and maybe slightly accelerate. With the attractive price: performance ratio of new CMOS cameras new designs are expected to use CMOS anyway.

Question: What are your plans with regards to the announcement?

Williamson: While Sony CCD availability will continue until at least 2020 the camera manufacturers will need to commit to quantities much earlier. Each camera manufacturer may choose to take a different approach, to commit to stock sensors or asking customers to make future commitments. Stemmer Imaging are liaising with all our camera manufacturers to agree their policy and we will communicate this policy if it has any effect on availability to customers. Some models will be available even after 2020.

Question: What is your advice for imaging and machine vision integrators and users that have used CCD cameras in the past?

Williamson: If you build an OEM product that utilises a CCD camera we believe there is no immediate need to change the camera. If there is any risk of your particular camera being made obsolete we will inform you normally with 6 months notice under our End of Life programme. However when selecting a product for a new application we would recommend selecting CMOS sensor based cameras as availability will be longer and also the price: performance ratio will be better. If CCD capability is important remember CCD sensors are available from other companies.

Question:  Are Sony leaving the machine vision sensor market by discontinuing its CCD sensors?

Williamson: Sony have been innovating with CMOS sensors for some time and are investing significantly in expanding their CMOS wafer production capability. They have announced their first CMOS global shutter sensor family under the Pregius name aimed directly at the imaging and machine vision market. The first model named IMX174 is already shipping in a number of our cameras and outperforms the Sony CCD equivalent. With a clear roadmap of further models we will still see Sony sensors in the machine vision market.

Question: Which other players are in the imaging and machine vision sensor market?

Williamson: Over the last 10 years we have seen many small companies launch CMOS image sensors addressing the low cost or high speed market where CCDs could not compete. In recent years a number of these have become significant providers through a combination of innovation and acquisition. While Sony has been the dominant supplier of CCDs to the imaging and machine markets this dominance is not evident with CMOS giving more market choice . Key players besides Sony are ON Semiconductor, CMOSIS, e2v and Teledyne DALSA. Our direct relationship with Teledyne DALSA allows us influence over their sensor strategy so customer needs are valuable input.

Question: With so many manufacturers and sensors how do I choose what?s right for my application?

Williamson: Like any product each manufacturer’s design has advantages and disadvantages. Stemmer Imaging has an in-house EMVA 1288 camera testing facility which is used to characterise cameras and hence the sensors beyond the spec sheet. With this capability, our immense knowledge of sensor and camera technologies and access to the largest number of camera manufacturers and possibly all sensors relevant to our market we are well placed to advise customers as to the sensors and cameras that are best suited to their application. When you are ready to migrate to the new generation of CMOS sensors we are here ready to assist.

• See also: What is the difference between CCD and CMOS image sensors in a digital camera? (How stuff works!)

Application for Mass flow measurements for those over 18 years old!

03/03/2015

When thinking of alcoholic products that are produced in Britain, a fine malt Whiskey may spring to mind or perhaps beer brewed in one of the numerous breweries that can be found dotted around the country. How many people however, would immediately think of Vodka?

English_VodkaWell, nestled in the Herefordshire countryside, the family run Chase distillery (entry only to over 18 year olds!) thinks a lot about Vodka, in fact it produces the award winning Chase Vodka which is the World’s first super premium English potato Vodka.

The entire process from seed to bottle takes place on the Chase estate ensuring that a close eye can be kept on all stages from growing the potatoes to distilling and bottling. It was at the distilling stage that Chase was looking for a flowmeter that was capable of measuring the flow rate of fermented potato mash. After careful consideration, they decided on Krohne’s OPTIMASS 1300 Coriolis mass flowmeter.

The fermentation process is started with the mashing of potatoes and the addition of a brewer’s yeast. After about a week, the fermented potato mash is distilled four times in a bespoke copper batch pot and then twice more in a rectification column. It is here that the OPTIMASS 1300 is installed in a vertical pipe run feeding the distillation column. The density of the medium going through the meter can vary from 0.95 to 1.1kg/litre and flows at a rate of 2000 l/hr with pressure of 1BarG at a temperature of 30C.

Krohne_VodkaWith the available space being limited, Chase required a meter that had a small installation envelope, but could still measure accurately and was capable of being CIP cleaned at 65C. The OPTIMASS 1300 has a dual straight tube design which makes it ideal for use in hygienic applications as there are no crevices or bends for bacteria to gather and the meter can be easily drained and cleaned. Due to the hygienic nature of the application the OPTIMASS 1300 was supplied with hygienic fittings and also has all of the necessary hygienic industry approvals.

Prior to installing the OPTIMASS 1300, Chase used a manual method to monitor the flow of fermented potato mash into the distillation column, however they were looking for a mass flow meter to automate the process. The OPTIMASS 1300 has enabled Chase to monitor the feedstock to finished product ratio accurately and since installation it has also reduced production time by highlighting an underperforming feed pump that was increasing the mash charging time which in turn lengthened the production time.

Tim Nolan, engineering manager at Chase is very pleased with the performance of the OPTIMASS 1300, “Installing the KROHNE meter has meant that we can automate the process and ultimately reduce production time.  It also allows us increased flexibility as we can install the meter on other parts of the process to verify efficiency,” he continues, “KROHNE have supplied us with a meter that complies to our hygienic requirements and has proved to be very reliable.”

Initially, the OPTIMASS 1300 will be used with a local display, however in the future it is planned to interface the meter with the PLC using mA outputs to measure volumetric flow, density and temperature.

Chase_Bosca


Sensors in space – will they last 100,000 years?

22/02/2015

ROSETTA+LANDERWhen the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta space probe arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko it had been travelling for ten years and had travelled 4 billion miles on just one tank of fuel. If the fuel had run out before the probe reached the comet, the navigational thrusters would not have been able to make the numerous course corrections needed to rendezvous with the comet and then establish a stable orbit from which to launch the Philae landing module.

Throughout the long journey, Kistler pressure sensors monitored the fuel consumption continuously for the whole ten years to ensure that Rosetta arrived at its destination with enough fuel to make the final corrections to put the probe into orbit.

The Rosetta mission was one of the most ambitious projects executed by the ESA and two Kistler piezoresistive sensors played a small but valuable part in the success of the project by providing precision fuel monitoring from March 2004 onwards.

Sensor in space!

Sensor in space!

The key selection criteria for these sensors included their proven longevity and total reliability despite high levels of vibration at lift-off and years of zero gravity conditions. Rosetta’s cargo includes what is known as the Rosetta Disk – a nickel alloy disk with information etched onto it in image form. The disk contains about 13,000 pages of text in 1200 different languages, and it should still be readable after 10,000 years: durable though they are, even Kistler’s sensors are unlikely to be functioning after such a lengthy period!


Connectivity & Convergence:  Core Catalysts for Innovation Impacting All of Humanity!

08/02/2015
The driving forces of step-change innovation will be explored at Frost & Sullivan’s GIL 2015: Europe in London

gileurope15The core catalysts of innovation impacting all of humanity are connectivity and convergence, the theme of Frost & Sullivan’s Growth, Innovation and Leadership (GIL) 2015: Europe. The GIL congress returns to London for its seventh consecutive year on Thursday, 14th May in Kensington, London (GB). Over 200 industry leaders are expected to convene from all over Europe to share ideas and strategies to make their business choices successful.

With his keynote on “New Convergence Business Models,” EIA Partner & Director Dorman Followwill will discuss why convergence plays a key role in identifying new business models that drive growth. Directly after there will be a ground-breaking keynote address showcasing global leadership in connectivity and convergence driven innovation in healthcare through the 100,000 Whole Human Genome Sequencing Project lead by Genomics England. The Chief Scientist spearheading this most important project globally on genomics and personalised medicine, Professor Mark Caulfield, will explore this project. This represents an excellent case study of connectivity & convergence across multiple IT platforms and research/care facilities in Britain coming together to drive global leadership in an initiative that will ultimately impact every person on the planet.

“We are seeing that the core catalysts of step-change innovation across industries and geographies are connectivity & convergence, and one of the most incredible examples of global leadership in innovation is happening right here in the UK with the 100,000 Whole Human Genome Sequencing Project.  It is a joy to see the UK taking global leadership in such an exciting initiative, and we look forward to learning best practices that can be applied across industries and initiatives from Professor Caulfield,” said Mr Followwill.

The one-day congress is part of Frost & Sullivan’s exclusive Growth, Innovation and Leadership community that represents a global network of over 5,000 senior executives.  It will start at 9 am with a welcome speech by the Head of UK Operations, Partner Gary Jeffery.

Highlights include: Global Trends in Connectivity and Convergence by Partner Sarwant Singh, Techvision 2020 by Practice Director Ankit A. Shukla and the 2015 Frost & Sullivan Growth Excellence Awards Banquet.

Frost & Sullivan’s Global GIL Community continues to be the industry’s only resource that supports CEOs and their management teams in critical decision-making, offering tools that help industry leaders in achieving the three essential objectives of Growth, Innovation and Leadership. GIL 2014: Europe will provide CEOs and their growth teams an opportunity not just to attend GIL, but to actually experience it.


Technology Modernisation of Plant Automation Systems.

04/02/2015

The Ireland Section of ISA is holding its 2015 seminar this year in Dublin.

The theme of this year’s seminar is to showcase new developments within Technology in the Manufacturing/Service Industries realm under the banner of“Technology Modernisation of Plant Automation Systems”.  This is themed around system aspects that are required to allow a plant system to be upgraded for example to a new platform or utilising virtual the environment sphere.

booknowOnThe venue is to be the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Blanchardstown, Dublin 15 and the date 25th March 2015.

Given regulatory and cost pressures, driving technology modernisation and innovation programs with a change in plant systems can be a challenge. But it’s more important than ever. With the advent of evolving operating systems for computer based control systems and recent “end of support” for “old” operating systems such as XP, this places new challenges to system vendors and integrators in adopting new ways of upgrading existing legacy plant systems and ensuring that plant infrastructure is protected in the backdrop to new OS platforms. Utilising technologies such as virtualisation reduces physical hardware costs but requires investment in this environment.

Ensuring that plant systems are able to smoothly communicate from the plant floor layer to the corporate enterprise layer is another factor to consider in any approach with technology modernisation projects without interrupting daily plant operations and controlling technology risks from models going haywire.

This seminar will bring together key industry guest speakers who have successfully implemented such programs for “Technology Modernisation” along with industry solutions from vendors based on past case studies.

A number of vendors and guest speakers from industry will be contributing to the event during the day. Attendees will be able to meet and discuss with fellow industry colleagues their own experiences in technology modernisation.


Increased Activity in Multiple End-use Industries Rejuvenates Global PLC Market!

24/01/2015
Competition spurs innovation in technology and pricing

The global programmable logic controllers (PLC) market witnessed a strong decline in growth in 2012 due to the uncertain economic scenario in the developed world, most notably in the mature markets of North America and Europe. Since 2013, however, the market has witnessed positive growth across all regions. In particular, emerging regions such as Asia-Pacific are displaying uptrends due to increased activity in the construction, water and wastewater, and power industries.

typplcNew analysis from Frost & Sullivan, Global Programmable Logic Controllers Market, finds that the market earned revenues of €8.92 billion ($10.37 billion) in 2013 and estimates this to reach €12.55 billion ($14.58 billion) in 2018. The study covers services, software, modular input/output modules, programmable automation controller as well as large, medium, small and nano PLC. In the coming years, the small and medium PLC segments will be instrumental for market development.

In Europe, the need to enhance efficiency, comply with regulations as well as improve safety and control capabilities are driving the uptake of PLC. Market progress in the rest of the world is primarily fuelled by the desire to optimise assets, engage in reliable process planning, and achieve operational agility.

“With increasing customer demand and intense competition among tier-one companies, the global PLC market is poised to witness a surge in technology and pricing innovation,” said Frost & Sullivan Industrial Automation & Process Control Industry Analyst Karthik Sundaram. “Market participants have been developing products with new design and control functions that surpass traditional definitions.”

For the innovative wave to have a definite impact, boosting the security features in PLC hardware, software, and the network infrastructure should be a key focus area. As cyber security influences end-user perception of PLC, addressing threats will be equally important for continued market expansion.

“PLC manufacturers must offer robust support services, roll out cost-effective products, and communicate winning value propositions to customers,” advised Sundaram. “They should also strive to expand their geographical presence and refine their domain expertise to taste success.”


ABB Process instrumentation, analytical technology and gas detection in Ireland

19/01/2015

Hanley Measurement & Control has built a reputation for the supply of specialist solutions and expertise in process instrumentation, process analytical technology and gas detection. Founded in 1981 it has long been considered as a leading automation in Ireland. The company has recently been appointed as channel partner in Ireland by ABB, to expand its instrument and analyser offering into the Irish process market

Left to Right: Chris Kennedy, Gavin O’Driscoll & Eoin O’Neill of Hanley Measurement & Control together with Aidan Edwards of ABB stand next to a representation of a 3 meter magnetic flowmeter (the largest every supplied!) during a recent visit to the ABB flow meter manufacturing facility in Stonehouse, GB.

Left to Right: Chris Kennedy, Gavin O’Driscoll & Eoin O’Neill of Hanley Measurement & Control together with Aidan Edwards of ABB stand next to a representation of a 2.4 meter magnetic flowmeter (the largest every supplied!) during a recent visit to the ABB flow meter manufacturing facility in Stonehouse, GB.

The partnership will see the company acting as the official sales agent for ABB’s complete portfolio of instrumentation and analyser products for applications in the pharmaceutical, chemical, food and beverage and other related industries.

Chris Kennedy, Managing Director of Hanley Measurement & Control commented that “partnering with ABB enables the company to provide its customers with an enhance product range specifically in relation to flow measurement and analytical solutions.”

Commenting on the partnership, Tim Door, General Manager for ABB’s Measurement and Analytics business in the Britain and Ireland says: “The partnership with Hanley Measurement and Control marks a positive move forward that underlines our intent to grow our presence in the Irish process market. The company is a great fit for our growing range of measurement and control products for improving process performance and efficiency.”

“Utilising a well-known and respected partner such as Hanley Measurement & Control will allow our customers in Ireland to get full access to support and service going forward into 2015 and beyond.”

• Following the completion of a management buyout Hanley Measurement & Control is no longer part of the Hanley group of companies. Hanley Measurement & Control is now a subsidiary of Eolas Scientific which also has an operating company in the UK called Eolas Technology. The management team of Chris Kennedy, Gavin O’Driscoll and Eoin O’Neill are committed to ensuring our customers receive exceptional service and a world class range of products.

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