I caught up with Chuck Petersen, Vice President at Epix Inc. Epix designs and manufactures high speed cameras, frame grabbers (boards that are installed into computer slots for image capture from a camera), and software for image capture and processing.
The typical Epix customer uses these products for manufacturing assembly line inspections, but they are used in a variety of applications from microscopy to astronomy.
Epix just introduced three new versions of the PIXCI® EB1mini, a frame grabber for use on embedded PCIe® buses. Chuck took the time to talk to me and answer a few questions about the product.
SAMTEC: Chuck, tell me about the PIXCI EB1mini camera link frame grabber.
CHUCK: The size of frame grabbers is decreasing as the size of computer motherboards is decreasing. The smallest frame grabbers we made prior to the EB1mini series was for use in laptop ExpressCard slots. One of the recent computer slots that was introduced was the mini card slot. It is similar to the function of an ExpressCard slot but has a connector that is internal to the computer motherboard.
All of our previous frame grabbers have connectors on a bracket for mounting cables which connect to cameras and use a typical desktop PC. The mini card slot is located away from the other connectors on the edge of a small computer where a mouse, keyboard, USB connector, or HDMI monitor connector are located.
The mini card slot used to be internal to laptops where a wireless adapter would be installed with a very small coax cable that connects to a Wi-Fi antenna. Intel created a small computer called the NUC (Next Unit of Computing) that evolved from laptops and tablets and is 4″ by 4″ in size.
We created the EB1mini and placed a standard 26 pin 3M SDR vertical connector on it which is the same type connector used on our laptop frame grabbers. However, we soon noticed how difficult it was to get cables that were low cost and flexible for mounting inside a small computer box, such as a NUC.
Our solution was to create three new versions of our EB1mini and use Samtec DCC, HLCD, and IDMD Series cables to connect from the mini card to the side of the chassis of the small computer. A 4 wide DDC is used in the EB1miniH to carry PCI Express® signals, while the EB1miniG uses an 8 wide DDC to carry camera communication signals. The EB1miniF uses an HLCD cable for camera communication signals and allows the customer to replace the cable should a different length be needed.
Note that it took some time since we introduced the EB1mini and ran into various customer requests for cabling solutions before we created the three new versions of the EB1mini. We created several hand soldered cable solutions and they were a pain to deal with. With these three new products we think that we have solved the cabling issues that we have seen to date.
SAMTEC: Alright, that’s a great description. Bottom line, what makes it unique?
CHUCK: The PIXCI EB1mini is the smallest camera link frame grabber and can be mounted in the very small computers, such as the Intel NUC.
SAMTEC: What are some end-customer applications of the PIXCI EB1mini? Who uses it and why?
CHUCK: Customers are using it in drones due to its small size. Other industries that use small frame grabbers include aerospace, automotive, industrial, and rugged mobile application, and even underwater.
SAMTEC: You use a Samtec DCC Series high speed press-fit twinax cable assembly on the EB1miniH; why did you choose that system?
CHUCK: We needed to be able to run camera link communication signals with minimal signal loss. The DDC spec for running up to 3 meters of Gen 3 PCI Express is very important.
CHUCK: It is a high speed system that also allows customers to change to a different cable length in the field, if required.
Thanks to Chuck for taking the time to explain the PIXCI EB1 mini and why he selected Samtec. Below are some other high speed cable links that you might find interesting: