Setting Benchmarks and Standards in Image Processing for the Past 20 Years

8 September 2017 - Silicon Software GmbH, manufacturer of frame grabbers and intelligent image processing solutions, celebrates 20th year of continued business success. In September 1997, Dr. Klaus-Henning Noffz and Dr. Ralf Lay founded the company as a University of Mannheim spin-off.

From the beginning, the two Managing Directors designed frame grabbers as versatile image acquisition boards combining FPGA technology and their programming expertise, to what later became known as VisualApplets, the graphical software environment for FPGA development. Creating intelligent solutions for complex applications in all industries with image processing in real-time, has been the motto of the company since its beginning.

Efficient image processing solutions have been the focus since the start to meet growing customer requirements for high data throughput, low latencies, long distances and a substantial unburdening of the host PC resources. Thus, powerful image pre-processing as well as signal processing functions and peripheral controls have been integrated in the early stages of the frame grabber series, this to support the very important high-speed camera interfaces. From those early days FPGAs (Field-Programmable Gate Array) become an economical processor alternative for small and medium-sized businesses. With the maturing of Intel's Thunderbolt™ interface technology, an additionally created external FPGA-based frame grabber series allows image processing in very difficult environments such as manufacturing. The frame grabber market segment has recorded high growth rates during the last 20 years.

Standardized, customizable solutions
To greatly simplify FPGA programming the company created VisualApplets, the graphical development environment with more than 250 icon operators. Complex image processing applications can be realized much faster than with HDL based hardware development methods. VisualApplets is targeted towards software developers and application engineers without any hardware programming experience. The software was initially developed to program the own FPGA-based frame grabbers and is now being licensed to third-party manufacturers of FPGA devices such as (embedded) cameras and vision sensors. Highly respected companies such as Baumer Optronic and SICK AG have created new product lines that leverage the graphical programming model of VisualApplets within their products. They achieved this by using the VisualApplets Embedder extension, which allowed them to define the interfaces of their devices' IP core and integrating it into their FPGAs global design. Once they create the IP core, algorithms and applications can be transferred in a few steps onto hardware designs of further devices. With the VisualApplets Expert extension, experienced users are empowered to integrate their own HDL code and libraries as generic applets within the VisualApplets environment. This powerful leveraging accelerates their products time-to-market cycle.

Machine learning and CNN (Convolutional Neural Networks) based on deep learning are becoming more important. CNNs are especially suited in detecting defects with higher probability and with better quality, for instance in a surface inspection application. CNNs will be integrated as additional operators in the VisualApplets library, which is an open system that flexibly includes new technologies.

"Silicon Software stands for continuity across multiple levels: Managing Directors and company location have remained the same for 20 years, existing product lines have been developed further and complemented by new ones. Our engagement in associations and standardization committees, in which we are in charge of expediting new standards for Machine Vision and embedded vision, are a continuity of our company", underscores Dr. Klaus-Henning Noffz, Managing Director of Silicon Software. And Managing Director Dr. Ralf Lay adds: "Standards such as OPC UA Vision and embedded GenICam have a positive impact on our new hardware and software solutions. The balance between industrial and non-industrial applications and between OEM and standard product customers, together with our software product line and services as major pillars, have always strengthened the company."

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