Considerations for an Optimal Lighting Solution

With respect to the lighting environment, there are two aspects to evaluate when determining the optimal lighting solution: (1) immediate inspection environment and (2) sample/light interaction Consider all the information from these evaluations together with the available optics, lighting types, techniques, and the four cornerstones to develop a sample-appropriate lighting solution that meets the three acceptance criteria. 

Immediate Inspection Environment
Fully understanding the immediate inspection area’s physical requirements and limitations, in a 3D space, is critical. In particular, depending on the specific inspection requirements, the use of robotic pick-and-place machines or pre-existing, but necessary, support structures, may severely limit the choice of effective lighting solutions by forcing a compromise in not only the type of lighting but also its geometry, working distance, intensity, and pattern. For example, you may determine that a diffuse light source is required but cannot be applied because of limited close-up, top-down access. Inspection on high-speed lines may require intense continuous light or a strobe light to freeze motion, and of course large objects present an altogether different challenge for lighting. Additionally, consistent part placement and presentation are also important, particularly depending on which features are being inspected; however, even lighting for inconsistencies in part placement and presentation can be developed, as a last resort, if fully understood.

Ambient Light Contribution
The presence of ambient light input can have a tremendous impact on the quality and consistency of inspections, particularly when using a multispectral source such as white light. The most common ambient contributors are overhead factory lights and sunlight, but occasionally errant vision-specific task lighting from other inspection stations or even other stations in the same workcell can have an impact. There are three active methods for dealing with ambient light: (1) high-power strobing with short duration pulses, (2) physical enclosures, and (3) pass filters. Which method is applied is a function of many factors, most of which are discussed in some detail in later sections. High-power strobing simply overwhelms and washes out the ambient contribution, but has disadvantages in ergonomics, cost, and implementation effort, plus not all sources, such as fluorescent, can be strobed. If you cannot employ strobing, and if the application calls for using a color camera, multispectral white light is necessary for accurate color reproduction and balance. In this circumstance, a narrow wavelength pass filter is ineffective, as it will block a major portion of the white light contribution, and thus an enclosure is the best choice. There are exceptions, however, to this general rule. For example, a 700 nm short pass filter, otherwise known as an IR blocker, is standard in color cameras because IR content can alter the color accuracy and balance, particularly of the green channel. Figure 5 illustrates how the use of a pass filter can block ambient light very effectively, particularly when the light of interest is low-yield fluorescence.

Figure 5

Figure 5. The left image shows nyloc nuts with a UV ring light, but flooded with red 660 nm “ambient” light. The goal is to determine nylon presence/absence. Given the large ambient contribution, it is difficult to get sufficient contrast from the relatively low-yield blue fluoresced light from the sample. The right image has the same lighting, except a 510 nm short pass filter was installed on the camera lens, effectively blocking the red “ambient” light and allowing the blue 450 nm light to pass. 

Sample/Light Interactions
How a sample’s surface interacts with task-specific and ambient light is related to many factors, including the gross surface shape, geometry, and reflectivity as well as its composition, topography, and color. Some combination of these factors determines how much light, and in what manner, is reflected to the camera, and subsequently available for acquisition, processing, and measurement. For example, a curved, specular surface, such as the bottom of a soda can (Figure 6), reflects a directional light source differently from a flat, diffuse surface such as copy paper. Similarly, a topographic surface, such as a populated PCB, reflects differently from a flat but finely textured or dimpled (Figure 7) surface, depending on the light type and geometry.

Figure 6

Figure 6. On the left, the bottom of a soda can is illuminated with a bright field ring light but shows poor contrast, uneven lighting, and specular reflections. On the right, the soda can is imaged with diffuse light, creating an even background so the code can be read.

Figure 7

Figure 7. The 2D dot peen matrix code on the left is illuminated by bright field ring light. The right is imaged with a low angle linear dark field light. A simple change in light pattern creates a more effective and robust inspection.