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Quality Assurance Grows from Measurement to Manufacturing Intelligence

Ready for a metrology revolution on the shop floor? By putting intelligence inside scanning systems and their associated software, shop floor personnel can operate a scanner after watching just a few training videos. New CT systems operate with not much more complexity. A metrology technology explosion has occurred, and it will all be on display in the Quality Assurance Pavilion at IMTS 2022.

Ten years ago, metrologists gathered over a beer to talk about the digital thread. Five years ago, they were pitching fast, easy-to-use scanners with a PowerPoint deck. Now those digital solutions are no longer dreams. Exhibitors in the Quality Assurance Pavilion at IMTS 2022 are showcasing manufacturing intelligence solutions that enable job shops and OEMs to revolutionize their workflow.

Technologies making their debut in the QA Pavilion include:

  • Affordable CT systems that operate with the push of a button, opening up a host of possibilities for non-contact inspection to detect internal defects or measure internal structures and wall thicknesses.
  • Portable laser scanners usable by shop floor personnel after training no more complex than watching YouTube videos.
  • CMM scanners operate with near-touch probe accuracy and magnitudes of order faster than tactile CMMs.
  • Scanners and probes combined into a single instrument and offered in portable and stationary options.
  • MTConnect-enabled instruments that offer remote monitor of machine status via the cloud with a smart phone app.
  • Integrated measuring experience solutions, which means that images and data can be shared on a network of instruments that share common software, eliminating time-consuming manual file uploads.
  • Automatic creation of measurement programs from 3D CAD models.
  • Self-learning (AI) or dynamic learning CMM measurement programs that learn not to measure characteristics that do not impact quality, reducing cycle time.
  • CT and CMM systems that can create a digital twin by measuring a product to reverse engineer it or link it to CAD/CAM data for continuous process improvement.
  • Structured light (blue light or white light) scanners that verify geometry, dimensions, and tolerances on the production line and that can be operated by production personnel.
  • Automation-ready solutions, as well as work cells that integrate a CNC or 3D printer with a robot and a measuring device.

A Continuum of Solutions

The automotive, aerospace, medical, electronic, and other industries especially face more stringent quality and compliance demands, but virtually every company is under pressure to improve their manufacturing processes or make equipment more productive, says David Wick, manager of product management at ZEISS Industrial Quality Solutions (booth: 135502). To achieve these goals, companies need metrology equipment that provides a better end-to-end user experience. They need to be able to measure parts, analyze results, report results, and communicate results in an Industry 4.0 environment.

Joel Martin, director of portable metrology, North America, of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence (booth: 135202), says, From the basic building blocks of measurement solutions to Industry 4.0, from design to cloud-based data analysis, exhibitors now offer a continuum of solutions that will transform the way we manufacture products. He notes the close connection between the QA Pavilion and the software solutions in the Controls/CAD-CAM Pavilion (both in the East Building at IMTS) and Hexagon's recent acquisition of the ESPRIT CAM system.

Daniel Brown, director of product management for Creaform (booth: 135258) notes that the metrology industry also faces the same lack of highly skilled labor as the rest of the industry. Further, traditional CMMs are always a bottleneck. They remain the benchmark for high accuracy measurement (and are required by some standards), but they require a highly qualified operator, have long cycle times, and shops don't use enough of them because of cost.

For parts from 10 cm to several meters, easy-to-use 3D scanners offer the ability to offload some of the quality control activities from the metrology department to the production department, says Brown. First, you don't need to be a metrologist to operate the equipment. Second, if you improve your quality assurance at intermediate steps during production, you will have better quality, few rejects and higher productivity. We even have customers that buy 3D scanners for their suppliers because they generate a return on investment.

Next-Generation Scanners

Martin says that Hexagon is focusing its innovations around three primary pillars: speed, state-of-the-art non-contact scanners that work with all types of surfaces, and ease-of-use. All of those are embodied in the Absolute Scanner AS1, Hexagon's flagship cross-platform 3D scanning sensor.

This modular, portable device combines a touch probe with a blue laser line scanner, and it is the first in the industry to operate with both laser trackers, portable measuring arms, or even a robotic arm. The AS1 has no limit on size or complexity of the part and scans 1.2 million points per second, which is three times faster than its previous flagship scanner.

The scanning unit works with Hexagon's Absolute Arm seven-axis systems and can also be mounted to the Leica Absolute Tracker AT960 using an Absolute Positioner AP21 and Hexagon's patented kinematic joint – the same repeatable mounting system existing on the portable arms. The scanner can be swapped between systems without the need for realignment, setup or calibration. A good usage example would be found in a submarine manufacturing facility. The AS1 can be used to scan large blocking structures up to and including a full hull using a laser tracker, then attached to a portable measuring arm for smaller, more discrete localized inspections.

Today's scanners are so accurate, and the data is so clean that many AS1 customers are buying the system for feature-based measurement,” says Martin. “Even better, almost anyone can learn to use this scanner after watching a few of our YouTube videos.”

The AS1 integrates Hexagon's SHINE (Systematic High-Intelligence Noise Elimination) technology, a patented type of High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology that uses three different exposure levels for each measured scan line. Users can scan most any surface type at maximum speed and accuracy while SHINE's advanced algorithms eliminate the need to adjust settings.

By using a Creaform MetraSCAN with a scan-to-CAD comparison combined with color mapping, a technician can easily make a go/no-go decision on the production floor

Creaform's premier product for production settings is the MetraSCAN 3D, which uses multiple laser crosses (15 in this case) to scan with an accuracy/volumetric accuracy and resolution of 0.025 mm. The measurement rate is 1.8 million points per second using blue laser technology.

Flex-N-Gate, a supplier of stamped metal and welded components, assemblies, and plastic parts for car manufacturers, equipped 22 of its factories across five countries with MetraSCAN 3D. Flex-N-Gate's production teams can scan a part or sub-assembly in real time and get a precise image of the root cause of quality issues.

Another customer, a company operating deep draw forming machines, uses the MetraSCAN to scan parts before removing them from the die. By using a scan-to-CAD comparison combined with color mapping, which highlights deviations in geometry and textures with different colors, a technician can easily make a go/no-go decision. Users just have to scan, run the inspection, create a report, and then they have everything required for the metrologist.

Payback is really fast, especially in applications where scraped parts or production downtime is extremely valuable, says Brown. Other savings include freeing up the lab for other tasks, as well as cost savings associated with digital data generation, file management, and traceability.

CT Is Moving Mainstream

While CT is often perceived as complex, ZEISS significantly simplified the process with the latest additions to its X-ray portfolio, the ZEISS METROTOM 1 and GOM Volume Inspect software. With the easy-to-use CT technology, users can efficiently perform complex measurement and inspection tasks with just one scan. They can measure and inspect hidden defects and internal structures that cannot be detected with tactile or optical measuring systems. Geometries, shrinkage holes or internal structures and assembly situations can be evaluated precisely.

The ZEISS METROTOM 1 and GOM Volume Inspect software make CT technology so easy to use that anyone can efficiently perform complex measurement and inspection tasks with just one scan.

The GOM software is suitable for beginners and combines all stages of the CT process from scan set-up and reconstruction to data evaluation and reporting, adds Wick. Users can load volume data from several components of a product, perform a trend analysis, compare the captured 3D data with the CAD model and more.

With its small footprint, the CT scanner fits easily into a metrology lab and enables in-house measurements and inspections in just one step. Installation is a simple process; users only need a little training, and it literally just takes one click to start a scanning process.

ZEISS will also showcase multiple software solutions, including simple apps that offer remote monitoring of machine status with a mobile phone app and enterprise-level solutions such as the ZEISS PiWeb software. It brings quality data into the context of the entire manufacturing process by correlating data from each individual link in the value chain so that companies can make the right decisions to accelerate processes and reduce costs.

Finally, the explosive growth in automation also extends to metrology. Just as CNC and 3D printing companies will debut robot ready systems, exhibitors in the QA Pavilion are making sure that their measurement machines can communicate with robots to enable automated part load/unload to improve productivity.

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