Designing Rugged Cameras Into Electro-Optical Systems

Posted by Gretchen Alper on Mon, Jul 18, 2011

Cameras that are optimized to the application can offer performance advantages and reduced costs.

When the exact camera you need is not available on the market, you have 3 options:  build it yourself, build a workaround in the imaging system, or pay a supplier to customize their camera to your specifications.  An immediate reaction to the term customization is that it will be more expensive than an off-the-shelf solution. But a careful analysis of the total cost (Cost Of Ownership) shows the opposite to be true.

System redesigns, workarounds, and software adjustments for inadequate quality and functionality are often inefficient and costly in the end. Building it yourself may sound good at first since you will have total control over the product, but when you require leading edge technology, working with camera specialist can save huge amounts of time by eliminating the learning curve.

Utilizing an optimized camera from the start allows for more focus on your core technologies and eliminates the need for your own additional design work.  When you deal with lengthy product life cycles in your industry, custom cameras also provide better continuity and obsolescence management.

Developers need to deliver systems that are faster, offer more capabilities, and meet unique implementation requirements. That’s a daunting task, especially if your main business isn’t cameras. In many ways the core components of how high-end imaging systems are put together are similar from system to system and company to company – cameras, sensors, interfaces, connectivity, power supplies, etc. are generally the same. So the challenge is to take those core building blocks and develop a system that does something unique to better serve your customer’s needs than competition. 

So when an ‘off the shelf’ or COTS solution will not help you differentiate your system and market proposition, and you have decided to seek customized solution from a 3rd party, what are your options.

Customization is a broad term that can range from a minor tweak of a standard product to a ground up design of a camera for a specialized system. For example, with a camera, you may want features such as automatic integration time, higher resolution, color processing.  Or, you may need an entirely custom form factor to fit in a very specific operating environment.

The adaptations can generally be categorized in three ways – building a new camera from scratch (fully customized solution), combining previously developed modules from a platform (customized solution), and thirdly the addition of functionality to an existing product (tailored camera). 

Often a camera vendor may have a good starting product, but it is just missing certain functionality, such as automatic exposure control, video enhancement, or color processing.  In this case, a tailored camera can be created quickly, with high quality, and minimal costs by an experienced manufacturer.

If more adaptations are required, a customized solution can be the ideal answer.  This is best done using a platform approach where you can create the camera you need by selecting a combination of developed and tested building blocks.  For example, there could be an option of sensors, functionality packages, and interfaces that can be combined and packaged (or left as a board level) as needed.  This again can have short time to market, low costs, and low risks.

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 Example:  Rugged Platform From Adimec with Selectable Modules

Fully customized solutions are when all of the camera components –  sensor, Adimec custom medical camerafunctionality, interface, outline, are specified exactly by the customer.  This could be required for extreme environmental conditions, for instance, where an exceptionally rugged design and specific extended testing is required.  Perhaps it is also beneficial when a less common component is determined to be necessary.  This would be a more expensive option, but is still cheaper to have done by camera experts.


When deciding which camera manufacturer to use for a fully customized, customized or tailored solution, you may want to consider the following:

  • Do they have experience with your specific additional requirements, such as extended shock and vibration testing?
  • How close is a starting product or platform to what you require in the end?
  • Is the additional functionality you require in an already developed and tested module?
  • Are they committed to developing and maintaining customized products?
  • Do they have thorough procedures to ensure the quality of a modified product?
  • Do they have volume production capabilities for several modified products?
  • Do they have sufficient life cycle management of component obsolescence to eliminate costly changes?


The Bottom line is when you work with an experienced vendor, customization reduces costs.

Topics: Vision System Optimization