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Automated quality control: A key strategy for e-car manufacturers to speed up their throughput

Challenges: Innovations in the automotive industry bring new opportunities—and challenges in quality control

With the increasing popularity of electric vehicles (EV), a lot of engineers and quality control specialists are facing new challenges when inspecting parts. Whereas traditional cars had primarily mechanical parts, EVs now feature complex electrical-mechanical devices controlled by software. While there are few moving parts that gasoline vehicles, EVs have a myriad of complicated subsystems—all of which impact the performance and handling of these new vehicles.

In order to improve product safety and production throughput, more and more EV manufacturers are turning to automated quality control systems in the plants and right on their production floors. Anomalies can be instantaneously reported back to the engineering staff for quick corrective measures. Speeding up inspections leads to more throughput and a faster time to market.

Inefficient quality control methods and lack of skilled labour slow down throughput

In today’s tough labour market, there is a clear lack of skilled labour with the experience and expertise required to perform effective quality control inspections.

Manual inspections or inspections with conventional coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) take time. Both are prone to operator efficiency levels and human error. CMMs are often located in a dedicated lab, which means there is a lot of programming, setups, and back-and-forth with the production line. CMMs are not very fast either and require metrology experts to operate. All of these factors can greatly slow down the execution of quality control inspections.

Complex EV parts and production types beget complex inspections

In addition, because EV parts and subsystems can be more complex than traditional vehicles, inspections may require extra steps. For example, some conventional inspection technologies may be very sensitive to surface finishes; they may require surface preparation, such as the application of powder, to perform inspections properly. This preparation takes additional time, can be difficult to predict, and, if not done correctly, can impact inspection accuracy.

Furthermore, many EV parts are not reworkable. That means if inspectors miss a quality issue and a non-compliant part is added to a production line, that line could immediately come to a standstill. This is why EV manufacturers often require 100% measurements on finished parts before going into series production within a specified cycle time.

It is also important to note that the automotive industry is moving towards high mix and low volume production types for EVs. This means that quality control teams need to constantly change a CMM’s programming, which again, requires time and expertise from an experienced metrologist.

The engine mount’s assembly lineThe engine mount’s assembly line
Credit: Walter Automobiltechnik

 

Striking the right balance between speed and accuracy

As mentioned before, traditional manual or CMM inspections are dependent on a technician’s skill, which can compromise data accuracy, reliability and repeatability. CMMs in particular are also very sensitive to vibrations, dust and humidity from the surrounding production environment; in fact, CMMs often require an isolated concrete slab to guarantee inspection accuracy. This significantly adds to the cost and complexity when deploying a new CMM.

A word on accuracy. Conventional CMMs are very accurate—often too accurate for their use. For example, the tightest tolerances you will find in stamping or welding for surface profile, trim points, etc. are +/- 0.5mm. It’s not rare to even see +/-1.0 and +/-1.5mm. CMM accuracy (up to few microns) are more than 10 to 100 times more precise than the smallest of tolerances! This means that CMMs are often too precise for some applications. Therefore, CMMs should only be used in cases where their accuracy is really needed and let other, faster technologies inspect the majority of parts.

Solutions: Automated quality control solutions to increase EV manufacturers’ efficiency and throughput

Creaform’s R-Series™ of 3D scanning solutions for automated quality control are ideal for EV manufacturers looking to increase their inspection efficiency without compromising on accuracy and requiring highly skilled technicians.

The MetraSCAN 3D-R™ is a powerful robot-mounted optical CMM scanner that can be implemented within any automated quality control process for at-line inspections. No matter what the production type—high mix and low volume or low mix high volume, the MetraSCAN 3D-R can be set up as a turnkey solution with a C-Track optical tracker in a CUBE-RTM cell or within a custom configuration.

  • High productivity
    Quality control teams can capture up to 1,800,000 measurements/second regardless of part size, surfaces, trims and geometric features.
  • Multitasking
    When both the MetraSCAN 3D-R and VXelements, Creaform’s 3D software platform, inspectors can simultaneously carry data acquisition and analysis to speed up throughput.
  • Robust industrial design
    Great for any production environment, quality control teams can achieve shop-floor accuracy of 0.025 mm (0.0009 in), regardless of instabilities, vibrations and thermal variations.
  • Automatic calibration
    No accuracy drift over time despite accelerated throughput

Automated quality control of the engine mount using the MetraSCAN 3D-RAutomated quality control of the engine mount using the MetraSCAN 3D-R
Credit: Walter Automobiltechnik

Benefits: Get accurate inspection results fast with automated quality control

Whether implementing a turnkey or customizable automated quality control solution with MetraSCAN 3D-R, EV manufacturers can conduct faster inspections with the right level of accuracy and without highly technical staff.

What’s more, MetraSCAN 3D-R can be integrated within a production line quickly and without any lengthy training or significant downtimes.

Quick implementation and training

Thanks to its design and ease of use, MetraSCAN 3D-R can be installed in as little as one week. Technicians of any skill levels can be trained in just one day. This tackles manufacturers’ HR headaches and decreases downtimes to implement an automated quality control system.

100% complete dimension inspections—faster

As EV manufacturers are pressured to release their innovations to the market faster, automated quality control solutions, like the MetraSCAN 3D-R, meet the need for data acquisition speed without sacrificing measurement accuracy, reliability and repeatability.

Some manufacturers are using the MetraSCAN 3D-R to slash data acquisition times for inspections from hours to mere minutes—all while feeling confident that the parts that are approved are according to spec and industry regulations. Increased inspection capacity ultimately contributes to increasing throughput.


logo WAT

Walter Automobiltechnik GmbH, a renowned German part and accessory supplier for big OEMs in the automotive and motorcycle industries, recently added two MetraSCAN 3D-R systems to its customized automated quality control system to assess the quality of an engine mount for an electric car and maintain a short cycle time.

The engine mount was made using welded structural parts with complex geometries, which made them difficult and time-consuming to inspect. The mount was also developed using reflective galvanized steel, which compounded the inspection problem.

By using the MetraSCAN 3D-R, which enabled the quality control team to capture a high level of measurements in seconds, Walter Automobiltechnik was able to drastically reduce inspection times on the engine mount from 1 hour 30 minutes to just 8 minutes! Walter Automobiltechnik could not have achieved that level of throughput with a traditional CMM.

MetraSCAN 3D-R enabled the company to reduce its shop-floor footprint due to the use of a smaller robot that was capable of covering the entire part. This saved Walter Automobiltechnik money on the investment of the robot and, since the integration took up less space, there were less changes on the production floor.

The company is planning to add more MetraSCAN 3D-R optical CMM scanners in the very near future to accelerate many of its other production lines.

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