Manufacturing Matters welcomes Marc Larive, strategic marketing manager at Xenics. The company specializes in the design and manufacture of SWIR InGaAs imaging detectors and cameras. Larive joins the podcast to discuss new products and trends related to shortwave and longwave IR. At the 2022 Vision Show, Xenics demonstrated two SWIR cameras — one ideal for fast inspections and another that captures even the smallest defect — and a LWIR uncooled thermal camera dedicated to thermography. While industry and scientific applications remain Xenics’ biggest segments, Larive sees growth opportunities in agriculture (e.g., food grading or checking water levels in the soil) as well as surveillance and medical.
Winn Hardin: [00:00:00] Hello, everyone. This is Winn Hardin. You’re here on the set of Manufacturing Matters in Boston, where we’re at the Vision Show, which is co-located with the Autonomous Mobile Robotics and Logistics Show. And today I’m lucky enough to be with Marc Larive, who is strategic marketing manager at Xenics. So, Marc, if you could kick us off by telling us a little bit about Xenics. What makes you special?
Marc Larive: [00:00:19] Okay. Hello. So I’m Marc Larive, strategic marketing manager at Xenics. And Xenics is a Belgian company, and we are specialists in designing, manufacturing, and selling infrared cameras, both in shortwave and in long wave. So shortwave, typically it’s 900 nanometers to 1700 nanometers. So just make the visible, and long wave is 714 micron. So it’s really for the temperature visualization. So what we do at Xenics, it’s really the design of the sensor, the core, and the camera. That means we design our own sensor, including the readout circuit. That means the core of the core of the camera. So that’s basically what gives the final performance and capabilities and functions of the camera or the sensor. And we can provide at each level sensor, core, that main sensor plus its electronics and camera. So that’s for the shortwave. And for the long wave, we design the cameras. We have several kind of cameras, but mainly an industrial camera, a very small one that can be embedded in big systems or even small systems and really plug and play in this camera. You just plug the camera on your system or even on your laptop and you get the picture.
Winn Hardin: [00:02:00] Is that embedded space becoming more of an important area for Xenics?
Marc Larive: [00:02:05] Yeah. So the embedded space is more and more important because especially in machine vision, people are using more and more the infrared to check the quality, the process, and all this. And for this, the camera is usually not used alone, but it’s part of a bigger system. So that’s why we deliver cameras that are plug and play, but also we can offer the SDK so that it’s embedded in a bigger system and can communicate easily with the different parts of the customers.
Winn Hardin: [00:02:46]. Do standards play an important part of that? I’m used to, from the visible perspective, thinking GigE, thinking USB3 Vision, Camera Link, high speed. How about when it comes to infrared?
Marc Larive: [00:02:59] So infrared, each time they have to use it in a process monitoring or inspection system, the customer uses it in a bigger system, and it has to be standardized to easily communicate with the global system. So typically Camera Link, GigE or CoaX or whatever, these are the standards, and especially this GigE and Camera Link, these are standards that are very common in machine vision. And we provide the SDK, that are compliant. All our cameras are compliant with the standards so that it’s easy for the customer to integrate it.
Winn Hardin: [00:03:48] That’s wonderful. Interoperability cannot be overstated as an important aspect of cameras and every one of the machine vision components we’re looking at. So I think that’s really useful to have an SDK that adapts to all these different standards. That’s beautiful.
Marc Larive: [00:04:03] Yeah. Each time we deliver a camera, or we design a camera in fact, we take care of that. It’s compliant with the standard with the interface that we offer with the camera. If it’s GigE, then it’s compliant with the standard. So that’s important.
Winn Hardin: [00:04:23] So what are we showing here in Boston today?
Marc Larive: [00:04:25] So in Boston we have three live demos in the booths with unique products. In fact, the first one is a line scan, shortwave, with a line of 2048 pixels running up to 260 kilohertz full line.
Winn Hardin: [00:04:51] Fantastic.
Marc Larive: [00:04:52] So it’s something which is first of all, it’s the fastest you can find on the market. And it’s very useful each time you need to make a fast control or inspection. It’s also very useful for all kind of OCT inspection — optical coherence tomography — which is used for the surface inspection, on the first layers of the surface inspection, and shortwave plays an important role there because you can see a bit better, strongly better in fact, through some specific material, typically silicon. So with shortwave you can see through it. So that’s the demo we have on our booth. We have a wafer with the name on the other side. We look on the top, and you can read the name. So just to prove to you that you can see through. So that’s for the line scan. We have also VGA camera in shortwave, which is the latest. It’s VGA 640 by 512.
Winn Hardin: [00:06:08] Yes sir.
Marc Larive: [00:06:10] So it’s 20 micron pitch and very, very sensitive. And you have to understand that in shortwave, the small pitch is not always beautiful. You are coming from visible, and you know that invisible people are looking for small and smaller pitch. In shortwave, you need light. You need flux. So the bigger the pixel, the more flux you have. So, in fact, what is relevant is the capacity to get the light, so big pixel and the noise which is in front of it. So it’s a ratio in between. And this camera has one of the best ratios you can find. And so you can detect very teeny things, very small contrast. So typically, again in silicon inspection, you can see very small differences, which are still defects. So people want to eliminate this. So that’s a good way. On the booth, we show it on a food demonstration just to show that shortwave is very useful for all the food processing and food sorting. So we make some real food with some students, and you can just look at the screen, you can see the difference between both. So this is really useful and used in food inspection. And then the third camera is a thermal camera, so a long wave, from 7 to 14 microns, 12 micron pitch and. That means 1280 by 1024. So it’s an industrial camera with performance that is very close to a scientific camera. So it’s very, very stable. It’s good for thermography.
Winn Hardin: [00:08:05] And that’s uncooled, right?
Marc Larive: [00:08:06] It’s uncooled for sure. It’s uncooled. It’s designed to be industrial. So plug and play. And then the largest definition that you can find on the market for such thermal industrial cameras. So with this, we have it on demonstration and you see the sensitivity of the camera.
Winn Hardin: [00:08:27] Which was amazing. Is that the one that we were doing?
Marc Larive: [00:08:29] Yeah, that’s the one.
Winn Hardin: [00:08:31] So we’re standing in front of the camera in the demo and taking our hand and then touching it, and you could still see the handprint on the suit as you take your hand away.
Marc Larive: [00:08:40] That’s just to show sensitivity. This camera is very, very sensitive. And more than the sensitivity is also the resolution. You can see very small and teeny defects with that because of the resolution. Or you can check a wider area with the same kind of optics. Yeah, because the size of the sensor, it’s 1280 by 1024. That’s very useful for thermography and for industrial application. Usually people try to get one camera to measure the most they can.
Winn Hardin: [00:09:22] Right. The largest area.
Marc Larive: [00:09:22] The largest area.
Winn Hardin: [00:09:24] So I have to buy the fewest cameras.
Marc Larive: [00:09:25] Either they have to buy plenty of cameras or they can just buy one. So that’s one of the advantages of the 1280 by 1024. You cover a much larger area.
Winn Hardin: [00:09:40] Wonderful. So we talked about wafer inspection. I’m going to guess that there’s also a play in printed circuit board electronic assembly. We talked about food inspection. Obviously, there’s security and there are other applications too that that leverage your technology.
Marc Larive: [00:09:56] Security is usually using also thermal cameras or shortwave. With shortwave you see through the haze and fog much better than the visible. And the advantage is that the picture you get is very easy to understand because it’s like a black-and-white picture. And the thermal, you see the temperature. So it’s also very useful in surveillance and this kind of area. The image is a bit more difficult to understand. But people in this field, they know it quite well because here you see the temperature. You see the difference, the contrast in temperature. So it’s not something that you are used to in real life, but for detection of intrusion or this kind of stuff, that’s really useful.
Winn Hardin: [00:10:55] Now, earlier we talked about the growing use of your technology in embedded systems. I’m just curious, as we talked about earlier, the ability to see through fog, penetrate. Is there a play for Xenics in our technologies in autonomous vehicles? Are we seeing it more in consumer goods or is the performance level such that it’s not optimized for that type of application?
Marc Larive: [00:11:16] So the cameras that we develop, for the moment, are industrial. They are not optimized for vehicle inspection in shortwave. In Norway we have developed cameras that are the smallest you can find on the market, really very, very teeny cameras. The camera is just 6 grams.
Winn Hardin: [00:11:37] That’s a board level.
Marc Larive: [00:11:40] That’s a board. You see a chip. But in fact the board is doing all the job in the chip, and it’s a camera. So it’s very, very small. So this can be used in, let’s say, a large surveillance and can be easily integrated. Drones — for all these kinds of applications — in short wave for the moment. The cameras that we design are more for machine vision but can be used also for this kind of application. Definitely.
Winn Hardin: [00:12:25] We talked about food inspection. Is Xenics technology moving into agriculture?
Marc Larive: [00:12:30] That’s also one of the applications that can use the shortwave and our cameras or sensors. We have cameras and we have sensors used for grain inspection. Food inspection. Food grading? Not on the inspection. It’s just detecting whether there is a foreign object or not. Grading is whether the meat is just meat or you have plenty of bones in it or plenty of fat. And depending on the proportion, you do different things with it.
Winn Hardin: [00:13:06] So that’s how they grade the Wagyu steaks.
Marc Larive: [00:13:09] I don’t know whether they use it for this, but they could. Yes, definitely they could.
Winn Hardin: [00:13:14] They could send more samples.
Marc Larive: [00:13:16] They could make the proportion between the fat and the protein. So yes, that’s one of the uses. The other one, you’re right, is in agriculture to look at the maturity of the product, whether there is enough moisture on the soil, whether there is a stress because it’s too dry, especially in this summer, at least in Europe.
Winn Hardin: [00:13:45] Same thing here in the states out west. One of the worst summers we’re having for ranchers. I know about that.
Marc Larive: [00:13:50] So, yes, this kind of cameras can be used for that.
Winn Hardin: [00:13:55] So what is the single biggest application that’s in this technology? Just general purpose machine vision? Or is there a particular vertical industry where it is gobbling up most of your components?
Marc Larive: [00:14:06] No, no, no. Let’s say the main segment is industrial. So either inspection or process monitoring to get a closed feedback loop, and surveillance is also a growing market. But we serve all these segments. We are also serving medical applications, and transport. So as for sure [Not sure what he’s saying here], we start from the scientific market, we still in scientific market, and it’s still a big piece, a big part of the market. But I think the one which is growing with a steeper slope is probably the machine vision and the process measuring.
Winn Hardin: [00:15:04] Marc, thanks again for joining us today on Manufacturing Matters. If anyone in the audience has any more questions about their long wave and shortwave solutions, give us a shout while you’re sharing, you’re liking this video and hopefully sharing the reasons why manufacturing matters out there. And until that time, I’ll look forward to talking with you again soon, Marc.