Providing an education

Optoelectronics could learn something from the machine-vision sector.

Optoelectronics could learn something from the machine-vision sector.

Readers of Laser Focus World get some of their education in optoelectronics from technical conferences such as SPIE’s Photonics West or the Optical Society of America’s (OSA’s) CLEO, not to mention numerous topical meetings and workshops. It is a process that helps keep scientists and engineers current in their fields and networked with their colleagues. The exhibitions that accompany these conferences usually showcase products that might be used in numerous applications.

To the contrary, the machine-vision industry-more closely related to end-users in manufacturing-does not rely on technical societies composed of individuals to sponsor tradeshows, and attendees at machine-vision shows spend relatively little time in technical sessions, ­preferring to be in exhibition booths looking for solutions to production problems.

The difference with the machine-vision industry is clear from the recent VISION 2004 show in Stuttgart, Germany (produced by Messe Stuttgart, an organization that runs tradeshows) and the upcoming Vision Show West in San Jose, CA (organized by the Automated Imaging Association [AIA] of Ann Arbor, MI, an association of machine-vision equipment manufacturers). These shows draw 2500 to 5000 attendees and 100 to 200 exhibitors, and are accompanied by tutorials on subjects such as lighting and optics or choosing the best camera interface.

In the past year, AIA has initiated its own series of workshops, one focusing on machine vision in robot guidance and the other on pharmaceutical and medical applications. The agendas include talks such as “A case study of automatic rack handling in the automotive industry,” “Vision solution for micro-tube insertion and measurements,” and “New barcoding regulations for hospital products and their impact on packaging operations.” These titles are a far cry from a typical paper at Photonics West, such as, to pick one at random, “All-epitaxial apertured GaAs-based VCSEL.”

There is another sort of show in the imaging and machine-vision world, one that is common in electronics but rare in optoelectronics, and that is the company-­sponsored event. In recent months, National Instruments (NI; Austin, TX), DVT (Duluth, GA), and FLIR Systems (North Billerica, MA) have all held week-long meetings for their distributors, integrators, and end-users. NIWeek, held in August, in Austin, TX, was the company’s 10th annual meeting and conducted with all the show-business style and entertainment that its 2000 attendees have come to expect.

A publicly traded company, NI has products for many industries and applications, but many related to vision, including new products such as a LabVIEW FPGA programming module, reconfigurable I/O devices, a reconfigurable embedded control and acquisition platform, and programmable machine-vision systems. Technical sessions on such products and their uses were crowded, and the exhibition floor was packed with integrators displaying vision and automation systems for tasks such as printed-circuit assembly testing and video output measurement.

Although their size is considerably smaller and their breadth of products limited to vision, both DVT and FLIR Systems also see the value in providing their distributors and users with a forum dedicated to their products. The technical sessions are practical discussions of how to use a technology or product in a system.

Since SPIE and OSA are constantly seeking ways to educate and engage their members and to expand the uses of optoelectronics, they should take a page or two from the machine-vision industry’s book.

Page-readers

Amid the hundreds of technical books published each year, it’s very difficult to find one that can serve as an introduction to students of all ages for all things digital, including imaging. Geoffrey Orsak, a professor at the Southern Methodist School of Engineering (Dallas, TX), and some colleagues have written just the book. Engineering Our ­Digital Future (Prentice Hall 2004) invites the reader in with excellent and entertaining graphics, and chapters with names such as, “The World of Modern Engineering,” “Creating Digital Music,” “Math You Can See,” and “Making Digital Images.” The book was a perfect match to the keynote speech that Orsak gave during NIWeek: “Who said engineering is only for adults?”

CONARD HOLTON is editor in chief of Vision Systems Design; e-mail: cholton@pennwell.com.

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