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A Camera Can Revolutionize Your Workpiece Setup

Workpiece setup has come a long way in the CNC world. Edge finders and wigglers were once commonplace in every machine shop, but nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to find any current-generation machinist using one. Touch probes have become the norm, be it an electronic Renishaw unit or a more basic Haimer dial indicator. But make no mistake, there is still a lot of skill involved in using these tools properly. Ask anyone in the trade and they can quickly tell you why graphics like this are around:

(Credit: Saunders Machine Works

Probing for Workpiece Setup

So does workpiece setup go from here? This is a question that DATRON has been answering for many years (see video below). It started many years back by integrating the probe as a Z-axis accessory, instead of a separate tool all together, and including a comprehensive probing utility in the software that made 3D-probing functions easy. Macros could easily be assembled by even the most newbie users to create fully automated solutions. The goal to make probing easier for everyone, without sacrificing functionality, is just getting started.

Workpiece setup with probing. An integrated Z-Axis accessory with a probing function included in the control software.

Camera for Workpiece Setup

But for DATRON, advancements for workpiece setup don’t end with probing. There is another accessory that is quite uncommon on most CNC machines: a camera. The common use for a camera in a CNC machine is to serve as a visual edge-finder, so-to-speak. Move your machine to a camera offset, and use it as a “bombsight”. This is especially useful in the graphics industry, where you can print a crosshair on the outer perimeter of your piece to quickly line things up.

Workpiece setup for graphics. An integrated camera that locates crop marks (registration marks).

However, this solution still lacks something – automation. Using a camera requires the user to pay very close attention to all the details in order to succeed. This gave way to DATRON Vision. By collaborating with MVTec Halcon, DATRON was able to create a solution for automated vision system in a CNC process.

Workpiece setup for PCB. Includes camera (vision system) to locate fiducials.

There are several applications where using automated vision is critical. Apart from the aforementioned graphics industry, the most prevalent of them is the electronics industry. Being able to utilize the fiducial marks integrated onto a circuit board allows you to quickly register a part for milling or rework – something that no probe can touch (pun intended). Functionality is integrated so that two fiducials could be used to quickly determine a parts rotation about its zero point, which allows for a highly accurate and repeatable process.

Camera & Probe Combo for Workpiece Setup

As much as I love this tool, it is a bit of a niche product – only applying to certain applications. Though, the R&D department at DATRON AG saw the potential for more. By cleverly integrating a camera and a touch probe as standard features on the DATRON neo milling machine, DATRON pushed camera integration to the next level. Combining the functionality of the camera for workpiece recognition, as well as utilizing swipe gestures on the Next control’s touch screen allow for easy, seamless part probing that can be mastered by anyone, machinist or not, in a matter of minutes.

And voila! Machine Vision for the masses. Where does workpiece setup go from here? Only time will tell, but you can be certain that DATRON is focused on the task.

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