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Especially in times of cost pressure 3D imaging opens up new optimization opportunities, says Terry Arden, CEO of the Canadian 3D sensor manufacturer LMI Technologies. Here´s an interview with Terry about the latest developments in this area.
Question: For which applications does 3D Imaging make sense (inside and outside industry), and for which applications is 3D imaging necessary?
Terry Arden: LMI Technologies believes 3D imaging makes sense for most applications involving optimization and automation processes. It is only because of the past complexity and relatively high cost of applying 3D technology that we do not see widespread use of this approach in industry. This is rapidly changing with smart 3D sensor products such as the Gocator, that scan, measure, decide, and communicate to the factory environment at the same price point as current 2D solutions.
Question: Which of the common 3D imaging technologies (laser triangulation, stereo vision, light stripe projection, time-of-flight) does LMI use for their products? How do they work? What advantages and disadvantages do they have compared with each other? For which applications are they best suited?
Terry Arden: LMI has traditionally focused on laser triangulation methods to develop sensor solutions for various vertical markets such as wood processing, rubber and tyre manufacturing, automotive metrology and wheel alignment, molten metal level pouring control, and road surface texture measurement. Other 3D measurement techniques such as active stereo and light stripe projection are now emerging to offer robust ways to achieve high density 3D point cloud acquisition.
Triangulation methods rely on calibrating a single camera to a structured light source (such as a laser line projection) to produce 3D output at fast scanning speed (1 kHz+) in high ambient conditions. Often, the object is moving through the sensor field of view to build a 3D point cloud and the 3D sensor is synchronized to an encoder. Stereo methods rely on calibrating two cameras to produce 3D output resulting in slower speeds (30-60Hz) but providing a snap shot ability with little temperature drift error. Temperature compensation is required in single camera triangulation designs to maintain micron accuracy. Light stripe projection can use either a single or stereo cameras to produce very high density 3D point clouds but at the slowest speeds (2-5Hz) and poorest ambient performance. Of all the 3D methods, time-of-flight is considered inappropriate due to its limited resolution (2-5 mm) and various sources of error due to IR reflections, temperature drifts, and object reflectivity variations.
Question: Which market position and market share does LMI have in 3D imaging products (in Germany, in Europe, in North America, worldwide)?
Terry Arden: Overall, LMI considers itself among the top 5 suppliers of 3D sensor products worldwide with over 30 years in the business, 60,000 sensors sold, and 60+ active patents.
Question: What market strategies and aims does LMI follow in Germany? What sales volume did LMI achieve there in 2011, and at what sales volume is the company aiming for in 2012 and the following years?
Terry Arden: LMI began selling 3D sensor solutions into Germany over 10 years ago by focusing on the automotive market first. Since then, we’ve broadened our activities and now use a combination of direct sales to handle our vertical markets and distribution through Stemmer Imaging for our easy-to-use Gocator product line.
Question: What worldwide sales volume did LMI achieve in 2011, and what worldwide sales volume does the company expect in 2012 and the following years?
Terry Arden: LMI achieved a 35% growth rate from 2009 to date with US$23.6M for 2011. In 2012 through to 2014, we expect slower growth rates of 10%. Despite world economies struggling with debt, 3D sensor technology continues to develop as a strategic piece in automation or optimization processes that naturally develop when business costs are under pressure.
Question: Does Stemmer Imaging sell products from LMI exclusively in Germany, or are there further distribution channels?
Terry Arden: Currently, Stemmer Imaging represents LMI exclusively on the Gocator all-in-one 3D smart sensor product line outside of the LMI direct channel that handles our vertical market customers or our specialized sensor solutions.
Question: Does LMI plan to enter new technologies or product categories? If yes, which ones?
Terry Arden: In 2011, LMI launched the Gocator megapixel series sensors to dramatically increase resolution to microns. We also added the ability to build a 2D calibrated image during the 3D scanning process where we can begin to offer both 2D and 3D processing in a single sensor package. LMI will continue to build this solution.
Question: What kind of new products and solutions can be expected from LMI during this year?
Terry Arden: Expect to see LMI extend the Gocator product line beyond laser triangulation by leveraging active stereo and light stripe technologies where customers can expect the same ease of use experience from an all-in-one 3D sensor solution.