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Overview

Reference Number: AA-00241 Views: 9757 Created: 2012-11-07 16:39 Last Updated: 2013-06-11 14:46
Overview

This article is an overview of the steps needed to get a Slabsmith installation up and running.

Preparation

Computers   ( see recommended hardware )

    1. Slabsmith Server - This is a computer on your network that holds the Slabsmith database.  It's best to have this on a company server that is routinely backed up, but it can be any computer on the network as long as everyone who needs to use access can 'see' the server on the network. It can also be located in the cloud.

      Slabsmith's data is stored and managed on a customized installation of SQL Server Express. The database is administered by Slabsmith's DB Admin program.  The DB Admin program must be installed on the Slabsmith server for completion of some administration tasks.   It may also be installed on a local desktop machine for many admin tasks.

      If you have a virtual machine or a remote server running the Slabsmith database, be aware that only a remote desktop session can be used to setup features like automatic backups and the presentation directory.

    2. Slab Makerâ„¢ workstation - The Slab Makerâ„¢ workstation is the computer where digital slabs are created.  This computer is typically located near the camera at the slab photo station.   A fast processor and 8+ gb of RAM are the primary requirements to get good performance when creating digital slabs.  (requires a USB security dongle)

    3. Perfect Match workstations - Perfect Match is the module used for slab layout.  This computer should have a good graphics card (preferably an "nVidia") as well as a good quality monitor.  (requires a USB security dongle)

    4. Viewing computers: You may install Slabsmith on as many computers as you like for the purposes of viewing and managing your data.   Any installation of Slabsmith that does not have a Slabsmith USB security dongle will be able to view and manage inventory, as well as viewing layouts completed in Perfect Match.

Photo Station  ( see recommended hardware )

    1. A-Frame - The A-frame holds the slab during the slab photography.  You can modify an existing A-frame for use with Slabsmith but it's probably better to fabricate one from scratch.  

    2. Camera & lights - A Canon Rebel will let Slabsmith communicate directly with the camera.  We recommend Alien Bee lights because they are sturdy an inexpensive to repair.

    3. Calibration targets - The calibration targets are used in the calibration process to assure accurate dimensions and color for your digital slabs.   

      Find a safe place to store these targets where they are well supported.  Leaving them standing against a wall will eventually warp the targets, which will affect the lighting calibration.  

      A 2.5" gray card will be sent to you from Northwood Designs.   This card will be affixed to the calibration targets in the center of the area of photography.  It is placed in the center of 4 of the calibration dots on the target.  Do not use packing tape to attach the gray card to the grid - it has an adhesive backing that should be used.   Be careful with the gray card as well.  It is important to an accurate calibration.

      When you are ready to calibrate your photo station, clean any dust or debris off of the grid.  Dust will artificially darken that area of the grid and cause lighting inconsistency.

      Place material behind the Calibration targets to bring the front of the calibration targets to a similar height as the slabs you will be photographing.  In practice .75" or 1" sheets of foam insulation board work well for this purpose.

      Be sure your calibration targets are FLAT across their entire surface.   Any bending or distortion of this flat plane when calibrating will affect the lighting calibration.

    4. Initial setup notes - When setting up your photo station for the first time, do not bolt anything to the floor.  Adjustments may need to be made to the positioning of the lights, camera, and possibly the a-frame. 

      If possible, avoid any sources of natural light, like an overhead door.  Varying levels of natural light will have a direct impact on the color accuracy of your photos.

Calibration

Once you have everything prepared, you are ready to calibrate your photo station.  Use the photo station layout as a guide.  If you have enough space, our guide will give you very good results with relatively little effort.  However, we understand that many customers can not afford as much space as we would like.  Plan to get as close as possible to the ideal layout, and if you have any concerns, please contact us (nwd@nwdesigns.com or 315-287-2877) for input.

Calibration is the process used to correct for any lens or perspective distortion, as well as any lighting variation.  This means that once you have calibrated the photo station using our calibration module, you will want to bolt everything to the floor, then take one more calibration photo with everything fixed in place.  You should never change the position of the lights, camera (or camera settings), or a-frame in any way because any movement will affect the validity of the calibration.

A good calibration is essential for quality results.  The best calibrations can even be used for detecting subtle color changes in man-made materials.  Lesser calibrations will always have good dimensional accuracy, but the color of different areas of a single slab may not be accurate.  If your main concern is slab utilization and color accuracy is not as important, calibrations are quick and easy.  We always recommend that you get the best calibration possible for your particular setup since this will produce the best results at all stages of the process.  It's worth taking a little extra time at this stage.

Photographing your first slab

After you have calibrated the photo station, you are ready to begin photographing slabs with Slab Maker.  The first time you use Slab Maker, you should do the following steps:

  1. Remove the calibration grid from the a-frame and store it someplace where it will be kept flat.  If anything changes in your photo station, you will need the calibration grid again.  Try to keep dust, debris and scratches off of the targets.
  2. Be sure that the most recent calibration is selected before starting to create digital slabs.  If you are using mulitple calibrations, always make sure you have selected the correct calibration in the drop down list at the top left of the Slab Maker screen.
  3. Take a reference photo of the background.  This will allow automatic extraction of the slab from the background, and it is a tremendous time saver.
  4. Place a slab on the a-frame and photograph it.  There is an extraction tolerance that will allow you to fine tune the aggressiveness of extracting the slab.  A value of 20-40 is usually a good starting point.  Higher tolerances will cause more of the photo to be considered background, and lower numbers will make more of the extracted image a slab.  Adjust this number until the slab is accurately extracted from the background.
  5. Save the slab to the database.  If everything is setup correctly,  you should now be able to load this slab in Perfect Match and begin your first layout.
Perfect Match

Perfect Match is designed to work with DXF files from your CAD system or templating system.

The basic workflow is:

  • Import a digital counter template.  ( a dxf file from a templating system, cleaned up in a cad system.)
  • Import the digital slabs.
  • Create the layout.
  • Export the layout to your programming system as a DXF file.

 

Contacting support

If you have any questions or require live technical support, please contact us during normal business hours ( 9:00am - 5:00pm Eastern Standard Time).  We can remotely control one or more of your computers using fastsupport.com.