October 6, 2021Harnessing the speed, versatility and accuracy of 3D scanning for the additive manufacturing of metal parts See the article
In today’s hypercompetitive market, manufacturing companies face a multitude of challenges on their production lines. Many of those are connected to the quality control process, which aims to ensure the quality of the products being manufactured and sent out to the clients.
A solution often brought forward to tackle this task is the use of a coordinate measurement machine (CMM). However, traditional CMMs come with their own set of issues such as delays in productivity, difficulties in recruitment and challenges in measuring complex parts, to name a few. And in such a high-speed environment, the smallest productivity slowdowns, added expenses or simple mistakes can take its financial toll on a business, and can translate into loss of contracts and customers’ trust.
How to detect assembly problems earlier, reduce scrap and down time
While traditional CMM can be very precise, its complexity of use and limited speed can delay important information-based decisions. As only a few experts and professionals can execute these tasks and the measurements are taken outside the production line, it can create significant delays in applying corrective measures, which can generate scraps and down time.
A different approach to quality control aims at addressing these specific challenges: automated 3D scanning solutions.
Is automation an option to increase productivity?
Over the past few years, global manufacturing industries have come up with increasingly complex parts and assembly designs to address hypercompetitive markets. However, the diversity of such intricate components requires more advanced quality control processes.
What causes bottlenecks?
Too often, quality control inspections are performed in a room isolated from the production floor where temperature and humidity variations and vibrations are limited. Quality control experts must take samples from the production floor to the quality control lab to perform dimensional inspection with a traditional CMM. These part movements have several major negative impacts. For one, it requires a considerable amount of time and effort to move the parts back and forth from the production line to the lab, often creating unmanageable bottlenecks at the various measurement stations and extended delays in decision-making.
Inspection on the production line
To mitigate these issues and along with the increasing implementation of Industry 4.0, manufacturers are requiring that quality control inspections be conducted right on, or very near the production line to maximize efficiency and streamline communication throughout their entire manufacturing processes.
As a result, there has never been a greater need to perform dimensional inspections within the production cycle using automated near-line or in-line metrology solutions.
However, if inspections are carried out on production lines, the inspection pace must follow the production pace to avoid affecting productivity. A stop of production due to inspection bottlenecks cost a lot of money. Therefore, the return on investment of an automated quality control solution is very high.
Solution: Automated 3D Scanning
Thanks to new technology and advances in science, manufacturers are using next-generation 3D scanning solutions with unprecedented data acquisition speeds of up to 1.5M measurements/second and faster mesh generations. A mix of high-performance cameras and computer components helps to increase data acquisition and processing speeds. In other words, 3D scanning measuring machines provide a solution that can scan parts continuously, faster than ever. Scanners can even adjust their settings during the scan process to optimize surface acquisition according to different textures and colors. This is a major enhancement since we can scan shiny black and matte white surfaces on the same part.
Increasing Automated Inspection Productivity
By using automated 3D scanners, quality control teams can perform more inspections per hour. Problems, defects, and irregularities can be detected earlier for immediate or future actions. In addition, equipment maintenance and corrective measures in the manufacturing process can be identified and planned ahead. With the possibility to be connected directly with production databases, the information can be automatically synchronized to save even more time.
In short, the number of default parts that must be rebuilt decreases, the rate of discarded pieces compared to manufactured parts also decreases, and more parts are manufactured and sold with the same amount of raw material. Again, the return on investment is obviously a winning factor with this kind of solution.
Automated quality control solutions for part complexity and finish variety
One of the major factors that is often dismissed but can have significant impact on the total measuring time, is the sensibility of surface finishes from 3D scanners. When talking about automated inspection solutions, cycle time is always a key metric in the choice of a new technology. However, to calculate the true cycle time of a process correctly, it’s not enough to look only at the measurement rate of 3D scanners.
For operators on the shop floor, the most impactful parameters of their performance are both the measurement rate and the scanning area. Studying these two parameters at the same time gives users a realistic 3D scanning experience. Once you know accurately how much time it takes to scan 1 square meters, it’s much easier to scale that efficiency for several part types and families.
Ways to avoid impact on inspection performances?
However, to calculate the true cycle time for a complete operation, it’s critical to measure the time required to prepare the part and to clean it after the measurements. In fact, knowing if a part needs to be painted or if it requires powder to cover the surface finish is also a key factor in evaluating what to choose an automated 3D metrology technology, as it will require human resources to complete these additional operations.
Typically, area-based scanners or structured light 3D scanners are extremely sensitive to surface finish. The volumetric accuracy is often directly affected if users scan black, white, or shiny material. To avoid such impact to the scanner performances, it sometimes requires preparing the part before scanning it. Even then, the scanning process may have to be slowed down and might require more measurements. Also, when doing such preparation, it’s important to remember that cleaning the part after will also be required, both manual operations that need to be carried out within the production cycle time. When keeping up with production pace is not possible, moving to better technology may be interesting.
These days, the best 3D scanners in the world can deal with different surface materials and surface finishes without having to apply any powder or paint before launching the acquisition. Not only do they provide the best 3D scanning experience (points per second combined with scanning area), it’s the best solution to tackle various part sizes, shapes, and surface finishes.
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CMM operator recruitment remains an issue in manufacturing
When talking about Industry 4.0, many people mistake what companies really need and how they will get it. Industry 4.0 implies a lot of different things including the dream of measuring 100% of all dimensions on 100% of all parts. However, this is not what’s valued most by manufacturing companies. The most important thing for a manufacturing company is to be in complete control of its manufacturing process. Increasing quality control is a way to get there, but it’s not the primary objective of the management.
It’s true that an increase in productivity of the quality control process will lead to an earlier detection of problems, but it could also enable companies to adopt a proactive and preventive philosophy to better plan corrective methods, equipment maintenance, etc.
Automation as a solution to labor problem
Obviously to put such principles in real life, companies need manpower to operate shop floor CMMs. Qualified quality control technicians or engineers are required to operate conventional CMMs or manual metrology tools. These days qualified quality control people are hard to find, this is a true problem for many manufacturing companies.
Recent innovations from metrology manufacturers have shown that automation can provide a solution to labor problems in metrology and solve the need for increased productivity. Although, traditionally, automated quality control solutions were less easy to implement than standalone 3D scanners, the new generation of automated shop floor 3D scanning CMMs has resolved this issue through close hardware and software integration. Fast, accurate and easy to use are the main characteristics of the newest shop floor coordinate measuring machine.
Trained specialists should only do high value quality control tasks
A key element to their success is based on addressing human resources challenges that so many manufacturing companies are facing as they can be operated by production people instead of someone from the quality control department. Of course, at some point someone from that department will need to prepare the inspection plan, but to run, it is people from production that will use the CMM on day-to-day operations. Indeed, the process is as simple as putting the part in the CMM and pressing start to get the robot to hover over the part with the 3D scanner.
Finally, thanks to a great software integration, quality control technicians and engineers do not have to carry knowledge about robots or robot kinematic. Today, digital twin software solutions can automatically calculate, simulate, and execute the robot’s path from an inspection plan.
How automated quality control can help you resolve your CMM challenges
In short, compared to traditional CMMs, an automated 3D scanning CMM solution is much faster, which in turn provides gain in productivity and efficiency. Through its speed and accuracy, it eliminates bottlenecks at the CMM and allows for automated inspection directly on the production line. It offers a solution to recruitment issues through its fast integration, automation and ease of use and is the best way to avoid impact on the inspection performances by being able to measure complex parts with different finishes.
Basically, it addresses all issues that companies face when using a traditional CMM and provides a definitive edge on the market for any manufacturing company looking to improve their CMM processes, accelerate their throughput and increase their customers’ trust and satisfaction.