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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Smart laser probe for automatic welding machines
Article Type: New products From: Sensor Review, Volume 31, Issue 2
Meta Vision Systems has launched a new laser seam tracking system that applies the company’s latest sensor technology to welding machine applications. Called Smart Laser Probe, it is manufactured at the company’s Oxfordshire factory and will be demonstrated on the Meta stand at the forthcoming Fabtech exhibition in Atlanta, Georgia, 2-4 November 2010.
The concept of Meta’s original laser probe was to provide laser seam tracking performance and reliability at a price roughly comparable with mechanical, tactile probe tracking. The system has proved successful in applications such as tank welding, railway wagon production, fabrication in shipyards and other automated welding operations involving simple linear, rotary or circumferential operations.
Using the latest advances in megapixel CMOS cameras, embedded electronics and high resolution displays, Meta has designed the new generation of Smart Laser Probe with significant improvements in performance, reliability and ease of use, while maintaining its competitive price.
The non-contact, seam-tracking system senses and compensates for any deviation from the nominal weld path to ensure highly accurate, automated welding, without the need for expensive fixturing or manual guidance.
Meta’s smart laser sensor technology incorporates the image processing hardware and software inside the sensor head. This greatly simplifies the architecture of the system, which uses an Ethernet backbone to communicate between the sensor head, colour touch screen display and integrated multi-function I/O board. Advanced anti-reflection techniques have been incorporated in both the hardware and software, so system performance with more reflective metals such as aluminium and stainless steel is substantially improved.
Even though the electronics for image processing is now in the sensor head rather than a separate controller, as previously, a high sampling rate of 30 full frames/s at megapixel camera resolution underpins fast welding speeds and better accuracy. Additionally, partial frames can be analysed at substantially higher rates.
A further advantage of the new design is that it can tolerate a wide range of ambient temperatures from −40 to +55°C. The initial requirements for extended temperature operation came from applications in cross-country pipelines and apply equally well to some extreme factory environments.
Ease of use has been improved by the inclusion of a controller with a colour touch screen instead of a simple monochrome video monitor. The touch screen is used for monitoring welding performance at a glance and for diagnosing any maintenance issues during operation. Multi-function I/O within the cabinet allows easy interface to a wide range of equipment.
The operator pendant has been completely redesigned to be more robust and informative. It includes multi-colour LEDs to give the operator status feedback directly from the pendant itself.