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Light and Shadows: Examples of LED lighting in industrial image processing.

© The Imaging Source Europe GmbH


Revision 2.1.2000 (Preliminary)
http://www.theimagingsource.com

What, a thousand dollars for a lamp. You're kidding, right? At first it may seem somewhat
wasteful to spend almost twice as much on a ring light or other illumination element than on an
industrial camera. However, on closer inspection it is clear that the light emitted from a light
source, is an instrument with which we measure. If the light rays are not good, it is extremely
difficult - if not impossible - to perform post image acquisition analysis. Highly efficient
illumination requires an intimate interplay between mechanics, optics and electronics. And, that
has its price. When was the last time that you saw a professional photographer using a bedside
lamp?

Remain flexible and reduce costs at the same time


A new modular LED illumination system saves customized developments.

One of the fundamental challenges of industrial vision lies in the large range of applications. This
inevitably leads to a large number of illumination arrangements. As a result, off-the-shelf lighting
hardware simply does not exist. With this in mind, The Imaging Source Europe GmbH set about
developing the VarioFlash - a modular LED lighting system based on the following four design
goals:

1. Low price
Only two types of modules should be offered. One with infrared LEDs for monochrome
applications and the other with white LEDs for color applications.

2. Flexibility
Using modules of the same type many illumination arrangements must be possible.

3. Strobe
No special - and expensive - control unit should be required: all modules must be strobes.

4. Robust
The modules must be able to stand up to the toughest industrial environments.

Figure 1 shows a single VarioFlash module and Figure 2 show an example of how the modules
can be connected together. This daisy chaining is described later on in this report.

Avoid interference:
IR-LEDs save the dreaded ‘black box’

As the light emitted from a light source is in fact the instrument with which we measure - we
looked at this in the opening paragraph - we must take care to protect any other environmental
light from entering the illumination scene. There are two ways in which we can prevent this
unwanted light:
1. We can place a black box over the area that we are illuminating, thus the only light rays
which are present are those from our light source.

2. Or the alternative and cheaper approach is to mount a daylight cut filter in front of the
lens on the camera and to then use near infrared LEDs as our light source.

Taking the second approach, we are making good use of the fact that sensitivity of the CCD chip
lies more in the red part of the light spectrum than the human eye.

As we can see in figure 3, the CCD’s sensitivity in the red region is considerably lower than its
maximum sensitivity. Nevertheless, the absolute sensitivity of the CCD in this region is very
high in comparison to the absolute intensity of a VarioFlash IR module. However, in comparison
to the brightness of a VarioFlash IR Module, this is extremely high. Here, the important point is
that when a daylight cut filter is used, a CCD is completely blind to the light visible to a human
(400 to 700 nm).

Increase performance:
The brightness of LEDs can easily be increased 20 times

If voltage is applied in forward direction of a diode and slowly increased, above a certain voltage
the current increases in a dramatic fashion. In always-on mode this voltage may only be increased
a little (nominal voltage) otherwise there is chance that the LEDs will be damaged. The LEDs in
the VarioFlash have a nominal voltage of 1.5V and a nominal current of 100mA.

In strobe mode, on the other hand, the short bursts of current, which are required for the strobes,
may be many times higher than this nominal current value, without damaging the LEDs. See
figure 4. As long as the guidelines in the VarioFlash manual are followed (especially those
pertaining to the on/off switching times) no damage to the LEDs will occur.

The previous paragraphs discuss the non-linear relation between voltage and current. As we can
see in figure 5, the relation between this current and the light intensity of the LED is linear.

Increase efficiency
LED lighting can do even more

• Monochromatic light
As their emission is monochromatic, chromatic aberration no longer occurs in the lens.

• Low costs
LED lighting is cheaper to buy, cheaper to maintain, and cheaper to run.

• Long life expectancy


LEDs are capable of 100,000 hours of operation in always on mode. Their light intensity
remains constant during their entire life.

• Low voltage
In comparison to other light sources, which require as much as 100V for operation, the
voltage required by the LEDs is ‘harmless’.
• Easy to customize
Special designs are easy to manufacturer.

• Small physical size


LEDs can produce a lot of light and at the same time still remain very small.

• Cold and silent


The LEDs do not create heat, nor to they make any noise when they are in operation.

All of the following examples of illumination methods are ideally suited to LED lighting.
Naturally they can all be created using normal white LEDs.

Making internal structures visible:


Backlighting

If an object is more or less transparent, a technique known as backlighting should be used.


Backlighting simply makes an internal structure more visible. To see this in action, take a look at
figure 6 (left). This method is especially suited to detecting inhomogeneous areas or errors.
Another typical, industrial example is the detection of air holes in aluminum sheets by shinning
X-rays through them. In the biology and medicine many more example can be found.

The image in figure 6 (left) was taken during a quick mock-up in the laboratory, using two
VarioFlash IR modules and an improvised diffuser.1 LEDs with a larger opening angle have been
used to create a homogenous field of light. By overlaying the cones of light, the point structure of
the LEDs cannot be recognized at a distance of approx. 50 mm. However, in situations where
backlighting is implemented, a diffuser is rather cumbersome, as the camera is pointed directly
towards the light source and therefore sees its structure. Metaphorically speaking, the diffuser is
the light source that the camera sees. Therefore, it is important that the camera is positioned at
the correct distance from the LED modules so that the single light cones produce a homogenous
field of light.

Figure 7 illustrate a laboratory mock-up, in which a simple piece of paper has been used to create
the diffuser.

Measuring edges:
Silhouette Projection

If only the edge or outline of an object is of interest, silhouette projection is the best method to
use. Figure 6 (right) shows a screw, illuminated using the silhouette projection method. The
result of a silhouette project is a grayscale image in which the dark areas represent the object
itself and the light pixels the background. It is therefore quiet easy to set a threshold and assign a
‘1’ to the object pixels and a ‘0’ to the background pixels. Thus, a binary image can be easily
created.

The image in figure 6 (right) was taken using the LEDs discussed in the previous sections (see
set up in figure 7).

1
Please note, however, that the VarioFlash modules are not shipped with such diffusers.
Basic Method:
Front Lighting

Front lighting is by far the most simple method of illumination. One of the classical problems
with front lighting – especially in the metrology context – is the projection of shadows. One of
the well known solutions to this shadow problem is to use a ring light. Ring lights eliminate
shadows. Sound like a simple solution: But as ever, the devil lies in the details!

The basic opto-mechanical parameters of a ring light – namely its diameter, light area and
distance from light source-to-object lead to a large number of model variations, making it
extremely difficult to purchased a ring light off the shelf. This problem has been solved with the
VarioFlash system. Figure 8 shows a mock-up in the laboratory and its result (right).

This simple constellation of camera, LED modules and object show how easily two VarioFlash
modules can replace a ring light. The ring of LED modules simply needs to be enlarged to
illuminate larger areas - as show in figure 2.

Avoiding reflections:
Diffuse Lighting

In the previous section it was described how two VarioFlash modules are capable of replacing a
ring light. Figure 9 shows that it is also possible to use just one module. However, as illustrated
in figure 9 (right), the result is by no means perfect. This is simply because the surface of the
object is metallic and reflects light. The reason for this undesirable result is that the camera does
not see the object itself, but a mirror image of the light source (in this case the LED module). The
result is nothing more than an extremely bright area.

To get around this problem diffuse light needs to be used. Figure 10 illustrates a suitable set up to
illuminate the metallic object in a way, which avoids the reflection seen in the previous figure.
Professional photographers who wish to avoid shadows in their photographs also use this exact
method. Shadows are created only by direct light and disappear using diffuse light.

The secret therefore is to reflect light rays on a matt surface toward the object. This has the result
of making the light diffuse. Figure 10 illustrates exactly this. Usually, the matt surface used to
reflect the light rays is concave in form. This increases the brightness at the object. Using a
straight matt reflector would decrease the brightness at the object, as many light rays would be
scattered away from the area that is to be illuminated.

The ideal diffuse reflector is one in the shape of a sphere. Figure 11 illustrates how light rays
reflect off the internal matt white surface of the sphere to create almost perfect diffuse light. In
figure 10 (left) the mock-up in the laboratory shows how a simple piece of white paper can be
used as the matt reflector. A quick comparison with the previous set up (figure 9, left) illustrates
the differences: Whereby in figure 9, the object creates shadows; in figure 10 (left) they have
completely disappeared. As the shadows disappear, so does the reflection.

Another use for diffusers is described in section ‘Making internal structures visible’. It should
however be noted that this section deals with the creation of a homogenous field of light. The
light is however, still directional (as it should be) and therefore creates shadows.
Illuminating scratches:
Bright Field and Dark Field Illumination

On inspection of the result shown in figure 9, it could be assumed that direct light should be
avoided at all costs. Exactly how wrong this assumption can be is illustrated in figure 12. Here a
slight modification of the set up in figure 9 has been undertaken.

The LED module has simply been turned a few degrees counterclockwise, so that the center of
the emitted light falls just to the left of the object. The result (figure 12, right) is astonishing:
Apart from the small reflection in the middle of the metallic object, all other reflections have
disappeared. The structure of the objects’ surface, however, is clearly visible.

We use exactly this effect on a daily basis without thinking too much about is. Say for example,
the quality of an old vinyl record is to be checked. Often one holds it ‘to the light’ to inspect its
surface for scratches. Usually the scratches appear as slightly lighter thin lines on an otherwise
very dark background (or indeed the other way around). In a technical context this type of
lighting is called dark field and bright field illumination. Figure 13 shows this effect.

Summary

• The creation of a machine vision system should begin with the lighting.

• Special illumination systems are expensive. Thriftiness when purchasing illumination


products should be avoided. Post acquisition image correction is always more
troublesome (and more costly) than using the correct lighting in the first place.

• Thanks to the many advantages LED lighting offers, it is becoming the standard in
metrology applications.

• ‘Illumination’ is not only what one describes on a daily basis as ‘light’, but also invisible
light, like UV, IR and x-ray.

• Aside the primary function to illuminate, other aspects such as light mechanical stability
and durability play an important role in the industrial sector.
Figure. 1. The VarioFlash system is available with either IR or white LEDs. The modules are
small, robust and thanks to the mounting bolt on their rear, the modules can be fixed into almost
any position.
Figure 2. The VarioFlash modules can be daisy-chained together. The only physical limit of the
number of modules, which can be connected together, is the power available from the PSU.
Many different lighting situations can be created using the modules of the same type.
100

80

60

40

20

0
350 400 450 500 550 600 650 700 750 800 850 900 950 1000
Wavelength [nm]
Spe ctra l sen sitivity o f a typ ical C C D

Rela tiv e brig h tn ess of a VarioF la sh IR m od u le


Rela tiv e tran spa rency of a ty pica l d aylig h t cu t filter

Figure 3. CCD chips are far more sensitive in the red part of the light spectrum than the human
eye. Although, the CCD’s sensitivity in this region is considerably lower than its maximum
sensitivity, the absolute sensitivity of the CCD in this region is very high in comparison to the
absolute intensity of a VarioFlash IR module. However, in comparison to the brightness of a
VarioFlash IR Module, this is extremely high. Here, the important point is that when a daylight
cut filter is used, a CCD is completely blind to the light visible to a human (400 to 700 nm).
Forward current [mA] 104

103

102

101
1 2 3 4

Figure 4. If voltage is applied in forward direction of a diode and slowly increased, above a
certain voltage the current increases in a dramatic fashion. When the VarioFlash modules are
used in always-on mode, this voltage may only be increased a little (nominal voltage) otherwise
there is chance that the LEDs will be damaged. The LEDs in the VarioFlash have a nominal
voltage of 1.5V and a nominal current of 100mA.

One of the most important features that enables the LEDs to be used in strobe mode is that the
current to the LED can be much more that its nominal current, without damaging the LEDs. As
long as the guidelines in the VarioFlash manual are followed (especially those pertaining to the
on/off switching times) no damage to the LEDs will occur.
1000

100

10

0.1
100 101 102 103 104

Figure 5. The above diagram shows that the relation between the light intensity of the LED and
the current, which flows through it, is linear.
Figure 6. Left: If an object is more or less transparent (like the lid of an espresso can)
backlighting can be used to illuminate its inner structure. This method is especially suited to
detecting inhomogeneous areas or errors. Right: If only the outline of an object is of interest,
silhouette project can be used. The result of a silhouette project is a grayscale image in which the
dark areas represent the object itself and the light pixels the background. Both images were taken
using two VarioFlash IR modules and an improvised diffuser in a laboratory mock-up. Figure 7
shows the exact set up.
Figure 7. Top left: The distance between the light sources and the diffuser is so large that two
VarioFlash modules next to each other can create one homogeneous light field. Top right: If the
distance between the light sources and the diffuser is reduced, two separate, smaller light fields
are created. Each one is homogenous and of course far more intensive.
Figure 8. Left: This simple laboratory mock-up shows how simply two VarioFlash modules can
produce the same effect as a ring light. If it is desirable to illuminate larger areas, the VarioFlash
modules can simply be daisy chained together as is illustrated in figure 2. Right: The illuminated
object as seen by the camera.
Figure 9. Left: Only a single VarioFlash is required if the object is small. However, as can be
seen in the image to the right, the result is far from satisfactory. This is simply because the
surface of the object is metallic and reflects light. The reason for this undesirable result is that the
camera does not see the object itself, but a mirror image of the light source (in this case the LED
module). The result is nothing more than an extremely bright area. The solution is shown in
figure 10.
Figure 10. Using diffuse light can solve the problem of reflected light seen in figure 9. This
method requires that the object be illuminated indirectly using a matt white reflector. A piece of
paper has been used in this laboratory mock-up. The VarioFlash module has be positioned to
shine directly at this piece of paper, which creates diffuse light to illuminate the metallic object.
A quick comparison to the set up in figure 9, left shows a remarkable difference. The shadows in
figure 9, behind the metallic object are a result of the direct light. These shadows have
completely disappeared in the above figure. As the shadows disappear, so does the reflection.
Figure 11. Almost perfect diffuse light can be created using the Ulbricht sphere. Light rays are
reflected multiple times inside the hemisphere light, thus creating almost perfect diffuse light.
Due to the physical size of the sphere, however, it can unfortunately not always be used in
industrial metrology applications, where illumination has to be integrated inside existing
machinery. Illumination solutions created using the Ulbricht sphere are also very expensive.
Figure 12. Left: This little variation on the set up illustrated in figure 9, shows that direct light
can be useful in certain cases. The LED module has simply been turned a few degrees
counterclockwise, so that the center of the emitted light falls just to the left of the object. The
result (right) is astonishing: Apart from the small reflection in the middle of the metallic object,
all other reflections have disappeared. The structure of the objects’ surface, however, is clearly
visible. Figure 13 describes this effect.
Figure 13. Left: The bright field illumination produces a bright image. The interesting part of the
image (in this case a scratch) appears in a much darker grayscale. Right: Dark field illumination
works in reverse.