Automated 3D part inspection as a competitive advantage

Monday March 14, 2016
Written by General Inspection
Mar. 14, 2016 - Whether manufacturers pursue lean production, Six Sigma, or their own quality assurance program, measuring is at the heart of quality and foundational in Six Sigma’s goal to Define Measure Analyze Improve and Control (DMAIC) production processes. Yet excess waste remains when the measurement is completed by slow human subjective means such as traditional hand gauges and optical comparators, which can lead to a myriad of errors in production processes.

With manual methods, first part inspection can take up to 45 minutes, incoming inspection audits can take hours, the Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) can take days, and accuracy can be less than desired.

“Even if micrometers and calipers are calibrated properly, measurement will vary from person to person depending on how they are held, squeezed, and interpreted,” said Rocky Pinheiro, vice-president of quality, North American Operations at Acument Global Technologies, a manufacturer of screws, bolts, nuts and cold formed components for the automotive, industrial, aerospace, and defence markets.

Inspection equipment that provides a two dimensional (2D) or cross sectional view of parts can also be insufficient for today’s demanding quality control requirements. “Parts do not exist in a 2D, but a 3D world,” said Pinheiro. “Every part manufactured must properly mate and function with other components in three dimensions.”
 
For these reasons, proactive manufacturers are turning to precise, objective, 3D inline inspection that can measure and record dozens of part features in a fraction of the time it would take to do manual inspection. This is enabling manufacturers to turn automated 3D part inspection into a competitive advantage that is capable of significantly increasing quality and cycle time, reducing scrap, and improving overall equipment efficiency up to 20 per cent.
 
Automated 3D part measurement
“With LaserLab we are completing up to 20 measurements per part in three dimensions within 30 seconds for first part, hourly, and final inspection,” said Pinheiro. “It gives us feedback on 90 per cent of the elements we want to measure. From length, diameter, radius, and head height to corners, shoulders, and other dimensions it is very accurate.”

LaserLab, a 3-dimensional laser gauging system that can measure over 20 part features within 20 seconds down to 2 microns in diameter, is offered in laboratory and shop floor versions by General Inspection, a developer of high-speed measuring and fastener inspection sorting systems.
 
“We are seeing a 10-20-per-cent improvement in overall equipment efficiency (OEE) for set up and changeover, and are making parts much faster with LaserLab,” added Pinheiro. “We are also significantly reducing first time scrap and downstream sorting while increasing production cycle time.”
 
Because the laser technology measures with exact repeatability every time, it greatly reduces part-to-part variability by eliminating operator error, he said. A comprehensive, built-in thread database provides instant tolerances for each thread characteristic, and after every pass the laser beams are automatically calibrated to NIST standards to ensure accuracy, he added.

As such, LaserLab boasts real-time manufacturing process control with more precise, repeatable measurements than possible manually. This allows more frequent part measurement that significantly improves product quality and reduces scrap.
 
According to Pinheiro, Acument Global Technologies previously used operator manual inspection to determine first part quality, which required about 10 minutes to check part dimensions.

“Using the 3D laser gauging system has cut our inspection time to less than 30 seconds per part, a 20-fold time savings,” said Pinheiro. “We ensure our process is performing within specifications so we’re continuously manufacturing good parts.”

True to the tenets of lean production and Six Sigma, the 3D laser gauging system has streamlined accurate data collection and Statistical Process Control (SPC), putting Acument Global Technologies on a virtuous cycle of better production measurement, analysis, improvement, and control.

“Instead of operators hand measuring part dimensions and writing the data on paper to enter in Excel, LaserLab’s output goes directly into Excel electronically,” said Pinheiro. “This eliminates operator bias, error, as well as the production bottleneck of operators stopping to measure product, which allows us to manufacture with more continuous flow.”

As Acument Global Technologies begins using LaserLab for incoming part identification and validation at distribution centres, Pinheiro expects to see further benefits. The process will verify that the correct parts are actually in the containers. It will also verify key part characteristics such as length, diameter, flats, corners and head height.

“We have found that the 3D laser gauging system (LaserLab) reduces incoming part identification and validation cycle time from 3-4 minutes to about 20 seconds,” said Pinheiro. “The efficiency allows staff deployment to other areas while ensuring part quality and accuracy for our end customers.”

While the company’s PPAP process typically took about 90 minutes to measure several parts with manual gauges such as micrometers or calipers, LaserLab has saved about one hour per PPAP. “The efficiency has freed up about a day per month for my PPAP coordinator to further enhance quality control,” said Pinheiro.
 
According to Pinheiro, Acument Global Technologies is also realizing very strong Earnings Before Interest and Taxes Accrued (EBITA) performance compared to last year. “This tells me that even if we are not directly measuring some the benefits of the 3D laser gauging system they are flowing to the bottom line,” he said. “Any company that manufactures parts where dimensional accuracy is crucial should look into a 3D laser gauging system. We achieved ROI in one year on our units and are still realizing greater efficiencies.”

Article supplied by General Inspection, www.generalinspection.com.

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