For an industry such as automotive manufacturing that carries out high volumes of inspection daily, 3D co-ordinate measurement is indispensable to its operations. By Anthony Lur, Product Marketing Specialist, FARO Technologies.

The world has witnessed three Industrial Revolutions, with all signs pointing toward an impending fourth one. Each revolution saw significant jumps in productivity and efficiency, and corresponding reductions in costs. Today, manufacturing practices are evolving to include ‘cyber-physical’ production systems controlled with smart products and the internet ‘cloud’.

With regard to quality control for the automotive industry, the ‘smart factory’ revolution has brought about changes in manufacturers’ measurement needs. The conventional factory and its methods are no longer ideal. Increasingly, climate-controlled metrology labs are making way for in-line inspection systems that enable quick assessment and prompt corrective action. Single-use measurement tools and template-type productivity tools such as check fixtures are also slowly becoming obsolete. Replacing them are new devices that cater to multiple application needs, and that allow for machine-to-machine collaboration, cloud-based data inspections, and digital engineering processes.

Here are some ways that 3D co-ordinate measurement technology contributes to better-running automotive production in the new manufacturing environment:

  1. In-line inspection. Amid changing market demands, the automotive industry’s measurement needs have evolved over the years. Manufacturers used to rely on fixed co-ordinate measurement machines (CMMs) to perform inspection checks. While highly precise, a great drawback was the devices’ inability to provide accurate results in thermally unstable environments like the shop floor. In response to automotive manufacturers’ cost-control needs, metrology suppliers began to develop devices that maximise efficiency by eliminating the time and effort spent transporting components to and from measurement rooms. The portable CMM – a robust device that provides highly accurate readings even under the harsh conditions of the shop floor – was born. In essence, inspection checks are being moved closer to the production line, to a point where manufacturers demand the ability to complete tasks without even moving components off the line.
  2. Production part approval process. The digital data that 3D co-ordinate technology provides is exceptionally useful for manufacturers that practise a Production Part Approval Process (PPAP). Regardless of where a component supplier is along the supply chain, the PPAP industry standard requires that each item of output fulfils design specifications consistently, as spelt out by the client. In that way, the automotive manufacturer is given full assurance of its component suppliers and their production processes. 3D co-ordinate technology has facilitated the execution of PPAP in the automotive industry today. The speed and consistency with which measurements are acquired by CMMs enable manufacturers and suppliers to communicate their requirements and results clearly and easily.
  3. Machine-to-machine (M2M) collaboration. In a smart factory environment where machines ‘talk’ to one another, precision and automated inspection are key factors for manufacturers to achieve efficiency. Today, there are 3D measurement devices that provide those capabilities to make M2M collaboration a reality.
  4. Highly-flexible mass production. Changes in market demand for non-standard auto parts imply that manufacturers need to possess highly flexible production systems. To cope with varied needs, manufacturers seek out versatile tools that handle multiple applications and flexible part volumes, so as to cater to as many options as possible at the lowest cost.
  5. Digital engineering. With the emergence of this engineering discipline, manufacturers have been able to improve and develop their production processes and output with better accuracy and consistency. Advancements in 3D co-ordinate technology, in particular point cloud solutions, have caused the trend to escalate further.
  6. Big data, cloud computing. A key factor supporting the change in the new manufacturing landscape is the growing popularity of cloud computing and big data analytics. The availability of cloud-based applications for 3D co-ordinate measurements enables data consistency and integrity, allowing resources (e.g. software information) to be readily shared.

Different 3D co-ordinate measurement devices suit different needs. Here are some real-life examples of how automotive players use Faro solutions.

Mitsubishi – Research & development

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, the world leader in mass production of electric vehicles (EVs), has one of its production bases in Okayama, Japan – a place where many other automobile-related companies choose to locate. Founded in 2011, Okayama Vehicle Engineering Center for the next EV (OVEC) is a network of 16 companies from Okayama prefecture, formed in response to the changing automobile industry. OVEC was built with the next EV in mind, equipped with the latest, industry-endorsed production systems. Since its inception, OVEC rolled out its prototype vehicle, known as the OVEC-ONE, at the Automotive Engineering Exposition 2013.

The development of OVEC-ONE was based on Mitsubishi’s Galant Fortis model. To convert it into an EV, unwanted components such as the car engine had to be removed and replaced with other components (e.g. inverter, battery, compressor, heater.). The challenge was to lay out ten new components of varied sizes and shapes thoughtfully in the available space.

To ensure that all the equipment fits in the space under the hood, the team acquired 3D data of each item with non-contact measurement using a FaroArm. With the 3D CAD data, the team decided on the layout virtually, checking that the components do not interfere with each other.

“3D measurement of the various components was necessary as they varied so widely in shape and size,” says Shiro Aikawa, Co-ordinator of OVEC. “Many of them were hard to measure with a calliper or tape measure. The FaroArm allowed us to efficiently complete the layout of the hood interior in a short period of time.”

Several individuals from the automotive industry have expressed admiration for the EV’s logical equipment line-up beneath the hood.

FAW-Volkswagen – In-line inspection

Founded in 1991, FAW-Volkswagen is a Chinese joint venture between FAW Group Corporation and the Volkswagen Group. At its Chengdu plant in China, FAW-Volkswagen specialises in the production and assembly of the Jetta and Sagitar car models. A large component of the assembly line is the conveyor system on which all the vehicles are transported. Any failure in this system would effectively cripple all other departments within the facility, so to ensure that each plant operates at its optimum, the company put in place a number of processes to minimise downtime on its shop floor.

FAW-Volkswagen utilises an overhead conveyor to move vehicles around the plant, and regular inspection and alignment checks on the equipment are necessary to ensure optimal performance. Common areas of interest requiring inspection include anchor points on the cradle support structure, corresponding anchor points on the conveyor trolley, and relative distances between workpiece and centre axis. These measurements vary in nature and range between two and four metres in length.

Traditionally, the technicians rely on hand tools such as tape measures, gauges, micrometers and spirit levels to get the job done. However, these traditional methods were not ideal in more ways than one.

“To begin with, accuracy levels achieved are lower with hand tools,” says Zhou Tingzhi, an engineer from the Assembly Shop Maintenance department. “At times, complex measurements would require several procedures, and these would accumulate large error margins. It would also take us a long time to perform the measurements and calculations manually.”

The company now deploys a 12-ft FaroArm on the maintenance platform, located right next to the assembly line. Whenever a glitch occurs, the team would use the device to pinpoint the precise problem area before zooming into it. Since then, FAW-Volkswagen’s inspection and alignment checks on its manufacturing systems have become much more precise and simple. This, in turn, has kept the plant operating at its best.

“Now, equipment alignment and inspection of check fixtures can all be done with just one tool,” adds Zhou. “With the FaroArm, we can accomplish our measurement task, which has a volumetric size of four metres and below, at an accuracy of up to 0.02mm. We have eliminated the possibility of human error, and greatly increased precision levels by switching to Faro.”

Komatsu – Large component inspection

Mining and construction equipment manufacturer Komatsu develops and produces large dump trucks and wheel loaders at its Ibaraki plant in Japan. One of the main challenges that the Quality Assurance (QA) department at Ibaraki faced was in the inspection of large parts. As the plant manufactures large-sized construction machinery, even the parts that the team has to deal with are enormous. It is common for a machinery frame alone to exceed two metres, which makes inspection both labour-intensive and time-consuming.

Importantly, the QA team faced problems with accuracy and repeatability when they relied on hand tools and a layout machine for measurement checks. Komatsu also found the quality management of parts provided by partner companies to be a challenge. Whenever a large part is deemed defective after arriving at the Ibaraki plant, it would have to be returned for rework, which would delay final delivery and also incur extra transportation costs.

Through recommendations by colleagues from other Komatsu plants, Yoshioh Nihei from the Inspection Section (QA Department) invested in a Faro Laser Tracker Vantage. Since its implementation, the team reduced measurement time for machinery frames from 1.5 days to just a day, with an added capability to measure complex features like mounting holes on a part.

Among the benefits enjoyed by Komatsu, most appreciated is its portability, because measurements can be performed directly at partner companies’ production sites. By identifying defects early, before a faulty part is introduced into the manufacturing process, the team eliminates the extra costs and time that would have been incurred for rework. It also greatly enhances the production and delivery time for the company. Manabu Kobori, the foreman of the Component Inspection Centre (Inspection Section, QA Department of Komatsu’s Ibaraki Plant) agrees: “When we visit partner companies and take measurements on-site using the Vantage, we are able to manage the processes from production to quality assurance in a consistent manner, thereby enhancing the quality of our products.”