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Photonics West 2013 Notes

I visited the Photonics West 2013 show recently.  I saw a lot of cool equipment there, but I was looking for automation equipment, not at lasers, light sources, optics, or such.  So here are my notes based on my short and highly unscientific visit:

Piezo Motors and Stages

Piezo motors were everywhere.  I spent some time taking a look at SmarAct’s wide variety of piezo positioners (which range from tiny to small), rotary tables, end effectors, systems, and controllers.

New Scale was showing their tiny piezo powered autofocus lens and actuators.

Other piezo companies at the show included attocube (piezo positioners), npoint (piezo stages), Cedrat and their US Distributor, MMech, PI, piezosystem jena, and Mad City Labs.

Visit my Piezo Motors and Piezo Positioners page for a more complete list of piezo motion companies.

Motion Control, Encoders, and Stages

AllMotion displayed their tiny servo and stepper drives.  They are working on adding fieldbus support, which is a very good thing (I do not like their current communication protocol).  I’ve recently used their servo controllers in a project, so I’ll have more to say later (hopefully, not too much later!)  A neat trick: if you use single row 0.1″ receptacles, you can mount their drives upside down to a custom PCB, no cables required.

Of course, you’d better make sure you layout is correctly positioned — and all your connections are right!  I’m glad I didn’t do this, because I ended up with the motor turning in the opposite direction; the fix was simply swapping some wires on the cable wiring diagram, instead of re-doing my PCB.

Zaber demonstrated a wide variety of stages and USB or serial controlled stepper drives.  Their protocol is pretty simple; it uses a 6-byte command structure.  It looks better than a lot of screwy ASCII protocols, but I still prefer standard fieldbus protocols (CANOpen, Ethernet Powerlink, or EtherCAT).

I had an enjoyable time talking about Canon’s encoders.  They’ve dropped some of the models I remember from previous years, but still have unique optical encoders that use a laser light source instead of a LED.  Pricing for the linear encoders is reasonable; the laser rotary encoders are considerably more expensive (but they also provide higher performance).

The Siskiyou people impressed with their passion for making mechanical components such as optical breadboards and lens holders.  They offer motors to replace manual adjust screws and motorized stages for microscopes.

Cameras and Lenses

I always stop by Vision Components, since I’ve know their US salesman, Endre Toth, for a long time.  VC makes OEM smart cameras; you can program them yourself using VC’s software, use Halcon, or other third party software such as the EyeSpector.  My favorite products were:

  • An all in one inspection smart camera with multiple lighting options.  Most smart cameras with built in lighting have only one type; often different types are needed.
  • The VC nano cube.  OK, I wish the camera cables had latching connectors, but the IP67 remote head looks great, and reminds me of the unique M40/M50 line of cylindrical smart cameras.
  • The VC nano 3D triangulation based 3D smart camera.

Mr. Toth also represents Vision and Control in the US; V&C has some interesting products such as telecentric lighting.

I also enjoyed talking with Point Grey (who make a variety of compact, competitively priced cameras with USB, Ethernet, and Firewire interfaces) and Varioptic (makers of liquid lenses, used in a variety of products including 2D barcode readers from both Cognex and Microscan).

Other Cool Stuff

I enjoyed playing with an impressive 3D model, made by an additive 3D printing powered by TI’s DLP technology.  There were a number of other companies showing off MEMS micro-mirrors, but I didn’t record their names (I’m trying to be realistic; I find micro-mirrors fascinating, but I’m unlikely to ever design a product using them).

Nanoscribe’s technology is even more impressive: they can make a model of the Eiffel tower that’s 100 microns tall.

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