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by Robert Andersson on January 2, 2015
posted in Solutions & Applications

We frequently get support questions on how to acquire and store data generated by our machine vision or Auto ID readers in some form of file. Microsoft Excel is a widely used tool by many businesses to manage, process, and share data. In this post I demonstrate a way to integrate our Ethernet devices—such as the Vision HAWK and Vision MINI Xi Smart Cameras, and our QX Hawk and MINI Hawk Auto ID readers—and their output into an Excel sheet.

How do you actually retrieve and archive the data that a barcode scanner or smart camera generates? This is a question that we as Solution/Application Engineers often face. In particular, is there a direct way to get the data straight into an Excel sheet without the need for any temporary flat-file storage? Such solution would circumvent any intermediate data import or other data staging procedure, creating a lean framework for data capture and management.

A data management nightmare indeed, Microsoft Excel is still by far the most widely-adopted Business Intelligence tool across all domains of business life. Now, how do you make a smart camera or barcode scanner write its output directly into an Excel sheet without any flat-file data staging or third party software components?

Excel makes use of the MS Windows event-driven programming language called VBA (Visual Basic for Applications). This gives access to the Windows API and the many functionalities offered in the Windows DLLs. In Excel this facility is referred to as 'writing a macro'.

Data arriving over TCP/IP to a Windows host system is being managed by the Windows Socket or Winsock. This Winsock API makes it possible to read and write data across TCP/IP connections.

As with most programming endeavors, all roads lead to Rome, and I took one of them (which, admittedly, was mostly copied and pasted from people knowing more than I do). The VBA code contains one standard module and a class module, see Figure 1. The standard module sets up the connection by calling the class module with arguments such as IP address and port number using user input. The class module initializes the connection and manages the data capture and data writing into the sheet.

by Jocelyn Chen on August 7, 2014
posted in Industry Trends

Since its invention in 1994, the Data Matrix code has become the industry standard in automated tracking and traceability applications in manufacturing, supply chain operations, and beyond. From the UID directive by the U.S. Department of Defense, mandating that a 2D code be included on all government-furnished military and non-military equipment, to new UDI regulations on pharmaceutical and medical devices to also include the 2D codes, Data Matrix has become a staple in most industries worldwide. The code has seen rapid adoption in areas where small footprint and high readability are vital, such as on automotive parts of various substrates, small or space-restricted PCBs, and highly-regulated pharmaceutical labels and packaging. Its ability to store thousands of characters of data within an extremely compact size, including its generous reading tolerance down to 2.5 mil code size, set Data Matrix apart from other barcode symbologies.

This year marks the 20-year anniversary of the Data Matrix code, since its invention by International Data Matrix (I.D. Matrix), a key innovator in Microscan’s 30-year corporate lineage. With the passing of this milestone, it’s only fitting that we shine a spotlight on the impact this symbology has made in helping manufacturers do more with less in automatic identification. In this blog, we’ll take a look at how the Data Matrix code is being used in major industries and by our own customers.


As consumer electronic devices become smaller and smaller, so must their internal components. But just because a microchip in your smart phone has shrunk to only a fraction of the size of its late-19th-century predecessors doesn’t mean that we can indentify it in any more concise terms...
by Shaina Warner on May 22, 2014
posted in Industry Trends

Prevention has become just as important as production in today’s manufacturing world. As wonderful as it is to see dollars streaming in as a result of products going out the door, profits can easily be affected if quality or compliance issues arise after products have made their way to the customer. More and more, the costs associated with producing less-than-optimal-quality products – from customer fines and industry fees to product recalls – are compelling businesses to invest in systematic preventative measures to ensure that they continue to see healthy returns for their production efforts.

Machine vision inspection plays a major role in ensuring production quality. Using automated tools such as cameras and software to read barcodes, check labels, and inspect products for defects, vision systems provide the equivalent of having several sets of eyes constantly monitoring your operations, making decisions about which products are up to par and which should be rejected. Many businesses rely on machine vision to automate quality control on their production lines with real success, but as good as a vision system may be, it is only one tool in helping companies maintain accountability for their products and activities in production...
by Shaina Warner on March 19, 2014
posted in Industry Trends
If you work in PCB assembly or electronics manufacturing environments, you’re probably already familiar with PCB “panels,” or multiple, identical PCBs arranged together in a grid. The process by which these grids are produced is appropriately called panelization, and there are key benefits to its practice.

Why Panelize?

When you get right down to it, PCB panelization is all about cutting costs and increasing assembly efficiency. If a manufacturer’s aim is to assemble several devices with identical PCBs, then it stands to reason that processing multiple PCBs at once rather than each PCB one at a time could have a positive impact on the bottom line. Panels can be loaded into an assembly line and run through SMT operations much faster than single boards alone, maximizing a manufacturer’s efficiency and yielding more PCBAs in exponentially less time.

So, panelization helps manufacturers do more with less (higher velocity). That’s great! But the risk with any time-saving benefit is that it may come at the expense of product or process integrity. As with any advanced system, great care must be taken to ensure that there are appropriate mechanisms in place to support it.

What’s the Problem?

Conscientious manufacturers know that the key to quality and efficient production is having a firm grip on production data. In electronics assembly, with so many parts in the mix, it’s critical to ensure that a reliable system is in place to log and track components so that you always know...
by Jonathan Ludlow on January 29, 2014
posted in Solutions & Applications

Can these codes be read by your scanners or readers? Or by your customers'?

Since barcode quality grading is becoming a hot topic – and believe me it is – here are eight things to remember when the topic turns to 1D or 2D code verification.
  1. Verification or Validation?
    The Two V’s mean very different things. In conversation, I have heard the terms “Verification” and “Validation” used interchangeably. In the world of auto ID and labeling, however, they mean very different things. Verification means grading a 1D or 2D code against a specific standard with the intention of predicting how easy it will be to read – or whether it will read at all. Validation means checking the format of the content of the code to see if the agreed formatting standard has been applied. Put simply Verification is Penmanship while Validation is Grammar and Content.

    The tips in this blog address verification (can it be read?), which is sometimes called grading.

  2. Keeping up with Standards: ANSI, ISO, and AIM.
    The thing to remember is that there is a single standard for 1D code grading – ISO 15416. It used to be called ANSI grading and use letter grades (A to F). Now ISO 15416 specifies that 1D barcode quality should be reported using number grades (4.0 to 0.0). Of course everybody still uses letter grades – old habits die hard. But in a true verification report for ISO 15416, numbers will always accompany letter grades...
by Shaina Warner on December 18, 2013
posted in Industry Trends

Electronic devices like smart phones continue to evolve into more compact and capable machines. We rely on our devices to help us manage even more daily tasks, critical transactions, and personal information than ever before. Consumer electronics manufacturers are therefore under tight scrutiny for their ability to produce technology of the utmost quality for seamless integration into our lives. This also means that, to stay competitive, manufacturers must be capable of producing higher-quality products at even higher production speeds – that is, do it better and do it faster than anyone else. How do these companies maintain their competitive edge?

The route taken by most of the major players in the consumer electronics market is the complete automation of critical processes in their assembly and manufacturing lines. Using automated ID and inspection, each piece in an electronics device from the chip to the chassis can be automatically tagged and tracked to ensure...
by Steve Twaddle on December 16, 2013
posted in Solutions & Applications
The following blog explains how to load job files via Ethernet onto a Vision HAWK or Vision MINI smart camera running Visionscape®, without using the Visionscape Machine Vision Software. There are two reasons to do this:
  1. If you are loading many different jobs, too many than may fit into the flash memory of the camera, then loading one job directly into running memory makes sense.
  2. However, if you wish to load the camera with a finite number of jobs – such that job switching may be done with the “jobload” command – then loading the job directly into flash memory makes sense.
Loading AVZ files utilizes two communication types – Telnet and FTP. This blog describes the specific steps necessary to load your Visionscape job onto the Vision HAWK or Vision MINI using the Telnet and FTP preinstalled with Windows® 7.

To begin, you need to know the IP address of your Vision HAWK or Vision MINI and have network access to the camera. You’ll also need an archived vision job (AVZ) file, which can be created in AutoVISION™ or Visionscape FrontRunner software and saved to your PC before you get started. In this example, we’re using a Vision HAWK with IP address “” with an archived vision job file named “test03.avz” saved to our PC in C:\Microscan\Vscape\Jobs.

In order to use Telnet on Windows 7, Telnet must first be enabled:
  1. Go to Start Menu > Control Panel
  2. Choose “Programs” from category view or “Programs and Features” from icon view
  3. From the left pane, click “Turn Windows features on or off.”
  4. Check the box next to “Telnet Client” to enable it...
by Jonathan Ludlow on October 15, 2013
posted in Solutions & Applications
[Whispering voice]

Pssst – do you want to do machine vision without having to buy Microscan’s fine and very reasonably-priced products? You can, you know. It takes a few steps but it can be done. Just listen along…

[Back to normal indoor voice]

The first step in most successful machine vision applications is an evaluation, which usually requires sample parts to be sent to an Applications Engineer at a Microscan Partner’s office or in Microscan’s Solutions Lab. The alternative is for Microscan or our partner to come out for a site visit with cameras and lights to perform an on-site evaluation. These steps are expensive in terms of both time and money, so the question arises: “Is it possible to get useful pictures of the parts or labels in question without shipping or travel?”

You may have noticed that most of us are carrying around a gadget with a built-in camera these days, which now has more pixels than a high-end machine vision camera and which can deliver images to e-mail inboxes anywhere in the known universe (except certain parts of the U.S. state of Maine, but that is another story).

You may have figured out by now that the topic I am addressing is how to:
  1. Take useful pictures of parts with your own handy smart phone camera;
  2. Transmit them to your e-mail inbox;
  3. Transform them into something that Microscan’s ESP®, AutoVISION™, or Visionscape® FrontRunner software can use for your evaluation.

Taking Pictures

Let us begin with the topic of taking pictures of parts with a smart phone (or other handy digital camera). The first thing to consider is how to frame your part. And, as with any important imaging task, the second, third, and fourth things to consider are how to light it...
by Shaina Warner on October 8, 2013
posted in Product Development

There is not one perfect, turnkey automation solution to fit every manufacturer. With so many possible operations to automate, the procedure and tools required to implement or upgrade an automation system are almost always entirely unique from every system that has ever been implemented before. Engineering a complete automation system involves the synergy of several different technologies, from robotic equipment to smart cameras to PLCs. Automation engineers are regularly challenged to integrate tools with unique requirements, purchased from several different vendors, into a single, seamless solution. When it comes to machine vision integration, advanced knowledge of communication protocols and PLC brands – not to mention ample programming time – have historically been a necessary hurdle.

But, what if each tool in the automation system were pre-engineered to universally meet the requirements of the other tools in the system – even if the tools weren’t developed by the same manufacturer? For example, imagine adding this to your existing automation system...
by Kirsi Rolf on September 11, 2013
posted in Solutions & Applications
Case study: Ensuring DPM Code Readability on PCB Identifiers

Direct part mark (DPM) codes can be difficult for traditional imaging technology to read due to low contrast visibility of the symbol or inconsistency in the marking process. But Microscan’s QX Hawk flexible industrial imager is up for any DPM challenge.

ATC Automation, Microscan distributor in Ireland, recently tackled an especially demanding application to read DPM (direct part mark) codes on their customer’s miniature PCB identifier pads. ATC’s solution took advantage of the aggressive decode algorithms and integrated LED lights in Microscan’s QX Hawk imager, which was used to read the laser-etched 2D Data Matrix codes on identifier pads measuring just 2.80mm by 1.80mm. In addition to ensuring complete, reliable decodes for every pad, the imaging solution was able to read four codes within the imager’s field of view at once, arrange the read data into a specific sequential format with separators, and then send the codes in the correct sequence to a database on a central server. This was achieved using Microscan’s ESP® (Easy Setup Program) Software and the QX Hawk’s embedded Ethernet networking which enables high-speed communication between the QX Hawk and the server.

In its current implementation, the QX Hawk reads the Data Matrix etched on the customer’s identifier pads to double-check that each code is present, readable, that the data it contains is logged correctly. With this solution in place...