Supply chain
Optical instrument providers are scrambling to transition to EtherCAT
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Developments of the optical lens industry have always been in close connection with those in end application markets, advancing from digital cameras and projectors in the early years to smartphones in recent years. Taiwan has formed a complete industry cluster supplying upstream blank glass, midstream lenses and downstream camera modules. With dual cameras and 3D sensing in smartphones becoming the trend in addition to burgeoning applications such as automotive cameras, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), robot vision and drones, the optical lens industry is looking forward to a bright future.

Envisioning booming opportunities, optical lens producers are all looking to increase production capacity. As they tend to develop their own production equipment through independent research by their automation teams for protection of their trade secret, rather than purchasing equipment from suppliers, to increase capacity, they need to think of ways to enhance the equipment's ability to respond to quick production line changes and fully satisfy precision control requirements. Camera modules have diverse configurations and require precise assembly work. Without careful calculations on the positions and bonding angles between lenses, there may be optical axis misalignment resulting in blurry images and poor picture quality.

Synchronous action across control cards is key to boosting production capacity

Under the circumstances, optical lens producers face the same challenge of how to implement synchronous motion control on the production line to achieve high-performance and high-precision control. Most manufacturers are used to satisfying their production needs by expanding motion control cards. The increase in the number of motion control cards means there are more axes that need to be controlled. Therefore, synchronous action across axes (cards) holds the key to increasing capacity, which is unlikely to happen due to limitation of the traditional architecture.

Furthermore, with a limited number of I/O slots, industrial computers can hardly support continuing motion control card expansions. As a result, vendors have no choice but to keep buying more industrial computers, which imposes burden in terms of both costs and space. This is another challenge for the optical lens industry.

Chia-Wei Yang, market development manager, automation business center, ADLINK, commented optical lens producers are phasing in EtherCAT solutions to overcome the above-mentioned challenges and enhance production flexibility. They hope to use "out-of-box" control and connect all EtherCAT masters and slaves with the same Ethernet cable so different axes under the control of different motion control cards have a chance to move in synchronization. Moreover, with the same Ethernet cable, optical lens producers can add new slave equipment at any time to address the needs for capacity expansion. Taking ADLINK's EtherCAT solution for example, up to 64 axes can operate in synchronization and the availability of 10,000 DI/O and 2,500 AI/O allows ample expandability.

Using machine vision to guarantee reliable defect inspection

Some users may wonder that although capacity increase relies on hardware expansion, software changes are also required. This is ADLINK's strength, creating customer trust. ADLINK provides APS Function Library so customers can reuse existing software packages while also customizing some functions available from APS, such as redefining speed and loop and helical interpolation to accelerate software packaging or enrich software features. On the APS basis, customers can easily and flexibly keep up with evolving operation needs whether by expanding control cards or modifying software programs.

Yang pointed out ADLINK is able to come out ahead in optical lens producers' selection process because its solution not only provides excellent compatibility with third-party EtherCAT equipment (e.g. motors) but also enables a greater advantage by integrating machine vision. After a work piece enters the assembly line, a typical production flow includes the steps of alignment, processing, compiling production history and finally defect inspection. Machine vision is used for inspection during the whole process, including simple alignment check and complicated AOI defect check. ADLINK has accumulated 16 years of experience in machine vision technologies and offers complete products including capture cards and compact vision systems which have passed meticulous testing to guarantee compatibility with ADLINK Talos EtherCAT master controllers and a high level of integration.

It should also be mentioned that in-house optical production lines undergo constant changes to accommodate diverse production tasks for different devices. Vendors generally desire equipment with smaller footprint to save space as well as wiring costs. Seeing that industrial computers are generally too bulky, ADLINK especially introduces the new Talos-2000 controller featuring compact footprint, highly integrated machine vision and compatibility with third-party EtherCAT equipment. Many optical lens producers are enthusiastically embracing Talos-2000 as it enables precise motion control through highly synchronized actions, supports optimal flexibility and adapts to quick production line changes.

ADLINK stays on top of customer to keep improving product usability and thereby develops new functions in the APS Function Library for customers to make use of. It will soon add a new function to support flexible editing of EtherCAT slave stations. If customers need to change their EtherCAT topology and correspondingly modify the software programs in the future, they can do so at the slave stations without any problem.

Please visit ADLINK for more information.


ADLINK hopes to use "out-of-box" control and connect all EtherCAT masters and slaves with the same Ethernet cable so different axes under the control of different motion control cards have a chance to move in synchronization.

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