Comau Group, a subsidiary of Fiat Spa, builds automated production machines for a wide range of customers, including those in the automotive industry. The company also manufactures turnkey automated assembly systems, robots, weld guns, conveyors, recognition software and other automation components.

Recently, engineers at the company’s North American headquarters in Southfield, MI, developed what they call VersaVision II software as an upgrade to the company’s existing robotic guidance systems. The new software allows a robot to both pick up parts and then position them in space using a single machine-vision camera, as opposed to multiple cameras. The software can be used with any GigE camera or robot currently on the market. By reducing the number of cameras, the system helps assemblers reduce costs.

“The VersaVision II program provides our robots true visual recognition,” says Comau product development engineer Max Falcone. “The software emulates the visual cortex of the human brain, teaching the system to recognize an object the same way you would teach an infant. We show the system an object by taking a picture of the object and naming it.  All of the information pertaining to that object is stored into the system’s memory, which allows the system to recognize the target part and maneuver a servo-actuated manipulator to pick, place or work on that object.” 

To make the system as effective and efficient as possible, Comau engineers wanted to reduce the amount of cabling connecting the robot-mounted camera to the robot controller. Standard GigE cameras require three cables: one for communications, one for power and one to trigger the camera to take a picture. Three cables means three times the opportunity for failure in a single camera application. 

“To make our robotic guidance systems as reliable and cost-effective as possible, we wanted to take our design one step further,” says Comau robotics and vision products manager Tony Ventura. “Not only did we need to reduce the number of cameras in our systems, we wanted to reduce the chances of system failure associated with cabling. The more cables located on a robot, the higher the risk of cable failure.” 

To solve the problem, Comau incorporated a TXG camera with power over GigE cabling from Baumer Ltd., a manufacturer of sensors, motion-control equipment and machine vision. In the Comau application, the camera includes a specially developed industrial power injector module or Ethernet switch that provides power down a Cat6 Ethernet cable at distances up to 100 meters. By eliminating the need for any additional cables, the Power over GigE Camera minimizes the risk of cable fatigue and greatly improves the integrity of a vision system.

According to Falcone, Comau also liked the camera because of its robust design and performance features. “The camera is neat, complete and well engineered. The lock-style connections are strong, reliable, industrially accepted M8 connectors. The integrated UV filter mounted in front of the camera’s face eliminates the need to buy and install a separate filter to show true colors. This high-quality camera allows us to provide our customers with an overall lower cost system,” he says.

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