“We give technical systems the ability to see,” says Ankel Wübbelmann, Director of Communications at Basler AG, in Hamburg-Ahrensburg. Intelligent guidance systems ensure fluid traffic. New types of analysis support athletes during training and record ball contacts in soccer. She is describing Basler, a company specialising in camera systems. Only few people know the company, although nearly everyone has come into contact with its products at some stage. Basler has achieved exceptionally strong growth in recent years. The company reported turnover of EUR 150 million in 2017 – an increase of 54 per cent over 2016. Income totalled EUR 29.8 million and was 161 per cent above the previous year.
Smart city of the future
Basler employs around 500 people and manufactures cameras for optical systems that capture images and deliver data that are interpreted and processed by a digital image processing system. Such systems are becoming increasingly important in society. Not only do they monitor traffic on motorways, control traffic lights and determine speed limits to counteract congestion, they are also part of the technology on bridges for monitoring truck tolls, recognize free parking spaces and facilitate new toll systems that do not interfere with traffic. “When it comes to the smart city of the future, our sensors are the focus of current developments,” said Wübbelmann. “In Singapore, for instance, camera systems are used to detect the license plate of each individual car in flowing traffic and to automatically debit the city toll.”
Visual inspection ensures smooth operation
When it comes to traffic safety, Basler’s technology provides valuable services. The walls of tunnel tubes are scanned regularly so that damage can be detected early. Appropriately equipped test scanners capture the surface of rails and detect even the finest cracks before a broken rail can cause dramatic accidents with devastating consequences. However, Basler generates most sales in factory automation. Nearly all of the products in the store are the result of an automatic production process. Every single step must be monitored precisely and recorded to ensure smooth operation.
Green light for beer in the bottle
In electronics and semiconductor manufacturing, every printed board is visually inspected to ensure that all components are present. It is “photographed” at breakneck speed and the recording is compared with a reference image. An electronic system detects any deviations and determines whether the board can be released for the next production step. Beverage bottles are checked multiple times before they are filled with beer, juice, water or whatever. Is the bottle absolutely clean? Are there any residues of detergent? Has glass broken off somewhere? Was it filled to the exact filling level? Is the seal attached correctly? The bottle can only be shipped when all the sensors have given the green light.
Quality through sensors
Plastic films pass through a high-speed, in-line sensor, which detects any irregularities at lightning speed and ensures consistently high quality. In float glass production, a sensor detects possible air pockets. Even heads of lettuce, apples or potatoes go through a scanner system to ensure that they agree with standards on shape and size. “When packaging rice, the sensor system can record every single grain of rice, check it within milliseconds and sort it out if necessary,” Wübbelmann explained.
The situation is similar in modern logistics. More and more storage and retrieval machines are being equipped with camera sensors and drive to the right shelf automatically. There, the machine removes the exact amount of the desired product. Modern logistics processes are based on multiple scans for sorting, distributing and tracking a delivery all the way to the recipient. This technology is endowed with intelligence and vision and Basler was one of the first to recognize this trend.
From CDs to digital cameras
Scanners that produce compact discs were first developed in the 1980s. The devices check the surface quality of each CD for scratches etc. Basler quickly became the world leader in this field. However, CDs and DVDs are almost bygone media. Now Basler is eyeing new fields of activity and specialises in digital cameras, which other companies have integrated into complex optical analysis systems.
Medical technology is also proving lucrative for Basler and is used to determine skin cancer, for eye scanning in ophthalmology or tooth scanning in 3D to manufacture prostheses. “There are exotic applications,” Wübbelmann noted: “After every football match, the presenters talk about a player’s ball contact. This information is the result of intelligent camera systems that record the game and analyse it in detail.
Image processing also yields valuable insight into other sports such as cycling, swimming or building modern running shoes. Many companies use cameras that have been developed and manufactured by Basler making it renowned worldwide and an outstanding company in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region.
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