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Electrowetting Improves Imaging Device Performance

The evolution of industrial and non-industrial automation, smart manufacturing, and Industry 4.0 technologies have increased demand for vision systems that support robust, reliable imaging industrial applications. What factors are driving growth in the machine vision market today?

SEMI spoke with Frederic Laune, Business Manager, European Technology, Corning, about how Corning® Varioptic® Lenses are vital to advancing the speed, efficiency, and integration of products using computer imaging. Laune shared his views ahead of his presentation at SEMI MEMS & Imaging Sensors Summit, 25-27 September, 2019, at the WTC in Grenoble, France. Join us at the event to meet Corning and many other key industry influencing players. Registration is open.

SEMI: Corning's markets include optical communications, mobile consumer electronics, display technology, automotive, and life sciences vessels. Back in June 2019, Corning Incorporated announced that it had delivered its 2 millionth Corning® Varioptic® Lens for industrial applications. What drove this great milestone?

Corning logoLaune: This milestone was met thanks to the fact that Corning Varioptic’s solution solves several problems generated by classical motorized solutions used in industrial applications: limited number of actuation cycles, poor vibration and shock resistance, size (meaning bulky), and high-power consumption. Before Varioptic, there was no variable focus solution that worked well.

In addition, the explosion of the CMOS sensor technology helped drive down the cost of imaging solutions for industrial devices, increasing the number of applications and shipping volumes.

SEMI: What inspired Corning Varioptic Lenses?

Laune: Varioptic was started in 2002 by Dr. Bruno Berge, a French physicist turned entrepreneur. Inspired by the work of Gabriel Lippmann, the 1908 Nobel Prize winner for the invention of color photography, Dr. Berge explored the shape-altering effects of an electric charge when applied to two liquids, a phenomenon referred to as electrowetting. His research ultimately led to the creation of liquid lenses.

Fast forward to 2017, when Varioptic became a part of Corning through an acquisition that included Varioptic and Invenios technologies. We believe the synergies from this acquisition will lead to exciting new liquid lens application opportunities that align with Corning’s growth strategy and core capabilities. Corning is one of the world’s leading innovators in materials science. For more than 165 years, Corning has applied its unparalleled expertise in glass science, ceramic science, and optical physics to develop products that transform industries and enhance people’s lives.

SEMI: What differentiates traditional camera systems from adjustable lens solutions?

Laune: Traditional industrial cameras are usually fixed focus, meaning that the image is sharp only in a limited distance range. Unlike consumer camera applications, there were no good solutions for variable or auto focus cameras in the industrial space. This is due to the intrinsic limitations of motorized technologies.

Corning Varioptic lens 3Therefore, customers were using, for example, several cameras to focus at several distances. This compromises the optical quality by closing the objective in order to increase the depth of field, therefore limiting resolution and leading to a need for more light.

The cameras using Corning Varioptic’s technology offer more functionality with their ability to focus, whatever the distance, in a fast, reliable, and accurate fashion, and with lower power consumption than traditional mechanical solutions. The upshot is that the product that can withstand heat, vibration, mechanical shocks, and high numbers of focus cycles in tough industrial environments. 

SEMI: And how is electrowetting enabling industrial devices to capture images and process information quickly and clearly? 

Laune: In two words: fast and accurate.

Electrowetting has unique features – with our two-liquid solution, we combine fast focus with high vibration and shock resistance, and the added benefit of low power consumption.

What’s more, our programmable lens can be reconfigured on demand. The lens adapts rapidly and continuously from diverging to converging and can be modeled to support demanding variable focus applications. Our lenses can change their focus in milliseconds, similar to the human eye, and capture fast-moving objects at varying distances. The use of liquid, over mechanical solutions, allows us to create a small form factor, saving precious space and reducing power consumption.

Corning Electrowetting

SEMI: What industrial applications are taking advantage of this technology? Can you name one example?

Laune: 2D barcode readers and industrial vision are our main markets. There is also a strong adoption of our technology in medical applications.

SEMI: What does the rise of machine vision mean for manufacturers? Give us one prediction about the opportunities offered by advanced imaging applications.

Laune: A great example is the use of 2D barcode readers and liquid lenses to track your ecommerce order, point to point. Another example is full product traceability by implementing a 2D barcode on every component of a given product globally to improve product quality. The varying and adjustable focus abilities of our liquid lens technology make it possible for barcode scanners to track products of different heights, allowing manufactures to improve their processes and logistics.

Corning PQBeyond these examples, tracking and analyzing are booming, thanks to the combination of low-cost CMOS sensor technology, increasing processing power, innovative algorithms (deep learning, AI, neuromorphic processors, etc.), and better image quality due to the progress of lens technology, Varioptic being one.

We see an opportunity to improve people’s lives, such as enabling better analysis of medical images and improving the use of cameras in biomedical technologies.

SEMI: Quality inspection and automation, adoption of Industrial 4.0 technologies, government initiatives. If you were to choose one, what main factor will drive growth in the machine vision market?

Laune: It is difficult to pick just one. I believe that full traceability (monitoring individual parts throughout the production process) has interesting implications as compliance and regulatory efforts ramp up and stronger security of goods becomes more important, particularly as consumers become engaged in food safety and tracing products throughout the supply chain.

SEMI: What are your expectations for the SEMI MEMS & Imaging Sensors Summit and why would you invite your peers to attend?  

Laune: I strongly believe in the power of human interactions in technology and science! Ideas come from discussions and physical interactions. The SEMI MEMS & Imaging Sensors Summit is a great place to network, meet people, and think about the future!

Corning MEMS & Imaging Sensors logo


Corning Laune 2Frederic Laune is the business manager leading the Corning® Varioptic® Lenses business. Laune joined Varioptic as an R&D engineer in 2003 after spending the first eight years of his career developing novel active components for the optical telecom industry. At the time, Varioptic was a newly created start-up aiming to develop liquid lens technology for industrial applications. After designing the first two Varioptic commercial products, the Arctic 320 and Artic 416, Laune stepped up as head of Varioptic’s R&D department to focus on product and performance improvements. In 2010, he was appointed sales and marketing lead for the company. Varioptic was acquired by Corning Incorporated in early 2017. Laune received a master’s degree in physics and optics from University Pierre and Marie Curie (Paris) in 1995.

Serena Brischetto is a marketing and communications manager at SEMI Europe.

Topics: AI , MEMS , sensors , Artificial Intelligence , manufacturing , deep learning , Industry 4.0 , machine vision , CMOS sensors , SEMI MEMS & Imaging Sensors Summit , Corning , liquid lens , neuromorphic processors , electrowetting , Corning Varioptic Lenses , warehouse operations , industrial cameras




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