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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
Figure 8 - Color Wheel
Materials reflect and/or absorb various wavelengths of light differentially, an effect that is valid for both black and white and color imaging space. Like colors reflect and surfaces are brightened; conversely, opposing colors absorb and surfaces are darkened. Using a simple color wheel of warm versus cool colors (Figure 8), you can generate differential contrast between a part and its background (Figure 9), and even differentiate color parts, given a limited, known palette of colors, with a black and white camera (Figure 10).
Figure 9. A mail stamp imaged under (a) red light, (b) green light, (c) blue light, generating less contrast than green, (d) white light, generating less contrast than either blue or green. White light contrasts all colors, but it may be a contrast compromise.
Figure 10. Candy pieces are imaged under (a) white light and a color CCD camera, (b) white light and a black and white camera, (c) red light, lightening both the red and yellow and darkening the blue, (d) red and green light, yielding yellow, lightening the yellow more than the red, (e) green light, lightening the green and blue and darkening the red, (f) blue light, lightening the blue and darkening the others.
Sample Composition and Transmittance
Sample composition can greatly affect what happens to task lighting impinging on a part. Some plastics may transmit light only of certain wavelength ranges and are otherwise opaque; some may not transmit, but rather internally diffuse the light; and still some may absorb the light only to re-emit it at the same wavelength or at a different wavelength (fluorescence). Fluorescence labels and dyes are commonly used in inks for the printing industry as well (Figure 11).
Figure 11. The motor oil bottle on the left is illuminated with a red 660 nm ring light. On the right, the bottle is illuminated with a 360 nm UV fluorescent light.
The properties of IR light can be useful in vision inspection for a variety of reasons. First, IR light is effective at neutralizing contrast differences based on color, primarily because reflection of IR light is based more on sample composition rather than color differences. You can use this property when less contrast, normally based on color reflectance from white light, is the effect you want (see Figure 12).
Figure 12. On the left, the glossy paper sample is under diffuse white light. The right is under diffuse IR light.
IR light is considerably more effective at penetrating polymer materials than the short wavelengths, such as UV or blue, and even red in some cases (see Figure 13). Conversely, it is this lack of penetration depth that makes blue light more useful for imaging shallow surface features of black rubber compounds or laser etchings, for instance.
Figure 13. In the populated PCB the penetration of red is 660 nm (left image) and IR 880 nm light. Notice the better penetration of IR despite the red blooming out from the hole in the top center of the board.
Polarizing filters, when applied in pairs, one between the light and sample and the other between the sample and camera, and typically affixed to the lens through screw threads, are useful for detecting structural lattice damage in otherwise transparent samples (Figure 14).
Figure 14. On the left, a transparent plastic six-pack can holder is shown with a red back light. The right shows the same, except for the addition of a polarizer pair, showing stress fields in the polymer.
Particularly when used to block specular reflections on samples, any use of polarization filters comes with inherent compromises. The images depicted in Figure 15 demonstrate moderately effective and highly effective use of polarization filters specifically for blocking glare. In samples depicted in Figure 15a–c, you see that glare reflected from a curved surface, such as this personal care product bottle, can be controlled but not entirely eliminated (see Figure 15b center area). This is true because multiple reflection directions are produced on the curved surface from a directional light source, and polarization filters cannot block all vibration directions simultaneously, thus always leaving some areas vignetted. In this case, a more effective approach to glare control, given the flexibility to do so, is to reconsider the lighting geometry. By simple moving the light from a coaxial position around the lens to a relatively high angle, but off-axis position, you can completely eliminate all specular reflection. Conversely, for the relatively flat and planar jar top surface depicted in Figure 15d–e, you can largely remove the specular glare, producing a clear image for inspection. However, a caveat for using dual polarizers is that they can reduce the allowable light considerably—up to 2 ½ f-stops in the case of the jar top example, which could be detrimental for high-speed, light-starved inspections.
Figure 15. A change in light/sample, camera geometry, or type may be more effective than applying polarizers to stop glare. (a) Coaxial ring light without polarizers. (b) Coaxial ring light with polarizers (note some residual glare). (c) Off-axis (light axis parallel to the sample long axis) ring light without polarizers. (d) Coaxial ring light without polarizers. (e) Coaxial ring light with polarizers (note: 2 ½ f-stop opening).