Hepcomotion Creates Infrared Scanner For Fine Art

A fully automated, fine-art infrared-scanning system has been created by Smartdrive and Hepcomotion. The system control and image-stitching software also enable distortion-free digital photographs of large works to be taken for further study and record. The Satscan uses technology that mimics that used in mapping systems, with the optics 'flying' over or across the subject. Satscan works by moving digital and infrared camera heads incrementally around the artwork using encoder technology to achieve precision positioning.

'We know the position of the carriage to within +/-1um,' said Dennis Murphy, managing director of Smartdrive. 'We're achieving this from automation components with industrial tolerances of 100-200um. 'In scientific terms we are also using relatively low resolution, off-the-shelf cameras. 'But by acquiring a small field of view - maybe just an inch or two square - and holding it perpendicular to the painting we can take images that are completely distortion free. The important aspect is that each image has uniform scale throughout, so valid measurements can be taken anywhere on the complete constructed image.

The scale also makes individual tiles easier to match and automatically join in software. The user can select the digital quality by adjusting the camera lens - in the fully zoomed mode the resolution of the system can create images at over one thousand DPI over a large area. The first large-scale Satscan is installed at the Hamilton Kerr Institute near Cambridge, a centre of excellence for conservation services. Chris Titmus, imaging consultant at Hamilton Kerr, said: 'Once the work is in position we press a button, the image capture process begins and the software stitches it all together.

'In an hour or so we can achieve what used to require a whole day. 'In the past it would only have been viable to look at selected areas of some paintings, whereas now we can examine the whole thing. The Hamilton Kerr Institute recently used Satscan to image a painted oak panel that was 2in thick and 7ft tall. Having taken an outline brief from Smartdrive, Hepcomotion designed the Satscan's system mechanics on 3D CAD. The HKI Satscan is designed to scan areas of 4.5 x 3.5m. This makes for a large installation and its metalwork - mostly aluminium extrusion - weighs over 400kg.

The Hepcomotion technical team designed a strong, lightweight frame that was capable of handling the inertia of such a moving load, yet maintains rigidity so that wobble is minimised and the micron positioning of the cameras that is so crucial is not compromised. The Hepcomotion SBD was selected for carrying the camera heads in the horizontal and vertical axes. This sealed belt drive is designed for high loads and demanding duty cycles, and provides an exceptionally clean linear solution. Each of the guideways is fitted with a scale and optical read head to provide positioning feedback. The high-strength, aluminium SBD units are mounted onto the Satscan gantry that is made from the Hepcomotion MCS machine construction system.

A small Hepcomotion GV3 guideway was chosen to provide fine adjustment of camera carriage in the Z axis. Further Hepcomotion components included the ZIMM screwjacks that are responsible for adjusting the incline angle of the 4.5 x 3.5m frame to accord with the painting. The system's development involved the consideration of load/motor inertia matching and the use of precision Smartdrive Taranis technology digital drives - the combination of which produces smooth, quiet and accurate motion.

The front-end interface makes the system easy for users to define and stitch areas with a few simple mouse clicks, quickly transforming digital data into clear, high-resolution infrared or visible spectra images that can be viewed or saved to disk. The company has has developed another system for examining museum artefacts in standard 500mm2 trays - typically archaeological collections, entomology or botanic specimens. A microscope slide scanner version has also been created for imaging objects whose size is measured in microns rather than metres.


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