In the world of manufacturing, dimensional control is a fundamental building block that cannot be compromised. It determines part-to-part variation, establishes part-to-CAD comparison to check whether specs are met, and ensures proper fit in a final assembly. Beyond getting part geometries right, however, there are more important reasons for maintaining standards in accordance with design specifications.
Investing in precision equipment for measuring and aligning components helps ensure that everything fits the first time around without any unnecessary rework, saving time and other resources for a company. Further, more serious consequences such as equipment failure or production delays can be avoided when alignment, measurements, and inspections are conducted properly and at appropriate phases of production.
Product Marketing Manager
A ‘greater’ need for precision
For industries such as Aerospace, Automotive, Shipbuilding, Heavy Equipment Manufacturing, and many others that handle large components and assemblies, measurement and alignment tasks are a considerable challenge in the overall production process. On the surface, these challenges may not seem too different from what most manufacturers typically encounter. Yet, the difficulties, as well as the consequences of missed specifications, are magnified manyfold owing to the size of the objects being built.
Manufacturers that handle large workpieces would candidly share that as product size increases and part geometry grows more complex, it becomes harder for them to perform measurements and inspections accurately. Conventional hand tools such as rules, gauges, calipers, micrometers, squares, and protractors are effective up to a point, but they are also demanding in terms of time and operator skill, often making them prone to human error.
Portable 3D technology to the rescue
Portable 3D coordinate measurement devices have long been the choice solution among manufacturers for large-volume measurement, as they combine accuracy with flexibility. Compared to conventional hand tools, portable 3D technology offers manufacturers a much higher level of precision, efficiency, and productivity all at once. Unlike fixed CMMs, these solutions require much less capital investment at the onset, and are robust enough to perform even in a non-controlled environment, such as right on the production floor, in a dry-dock or hangar.
Besides metrology grade measurement and inspection, however, there are additional ways in which 3D technology can support companies dealing with large assembly challenges. This is done through technical assistance systems for guided assembly and assembly verification based on virtual templating. These systems are based on the underlying philosophy that Quality Assurance starts with the assembly process, and they provide great support for layout and assembly workflows.
Guiding and verifying the layout and welding of large frames
When working on large, complex assemblies with numerous components, manufacturers who verify the accuracy of their assembly steps early on, or those that get the process of layout, positioning, and assembling components right tend to achieve better results in the final stages.
In the example of welding large frames — which can have up to seventy or more ‘trinket’ pieces to weld on — a call for rework on errors made during the assembly process can have detrimental effects on a company’s productivity and bottom line.
The team at Wisconsin-based crane lifting solutions manufacturer, Manitowoc Cranes, had been accustomed to using blueprints, tape measures, chalk, and physical templates to set their frames. However, there were downsides to the traditional way of laying out each frame using manual measuring methods. Parts located on the wrong side of a chalk line or parts welded on backward because the holes were offset in the plate were typical errors that required rework. In addition, given the complexity of the frames and number of components that need to be welded on, positioning all these parts manually also cost a lot of time. There was also no effective way to detect if something was laid out or welded improperly without performing a 100 percent inspection. Furthermore, training new employees and cross-training veteran ones also proved to be an ongoing challenge.
To overcome these challenges, the manufacturer decided to invest in a FARO® Tracer Laser Projector to increase throughput, reduce rework, and to lean out its processes. The Tracer Laser Projector provided operators and assemblers at Manitowoc Cranes with a virtual template to quickly and accurately position components. In addition, the Tracer system enabled a visual verification of individual process steps.
Initially, there was doubt among its staff — who would try to measure and verify the lines projected by the Tracer. But with the Tracer, the number of mistakes and the need for rework were reduced significantly. In fact, Manitowoc Cranes performed some time studies and confirmed that a return on investment for three projectors was realized in less than a year.
In a broader sense, the Tracer system eliminates the need for physical templates and tools in a broad range of layout, ply lay-up, and assembly applications. The device supports the layout/assembly process and also enables either a visual verification or a system-based, automated in-process verification of process steps or the final assembly (based on the model). As a result, the risk of human error and costly rework is substantially reduced.
Moreover, manufacturers can avoid the time and cost associated with using large and heavy templates, while significantly improving assembly and quality control processes. Instead of blueprints, operators follow the sequential guide through the assembly process provided by the system. This takes the stress off operators who have to work on large components, knowing that the Tracer uses the full CAD design of the entire workpiece to take care of the ‘big picture.’ Furthermore, this eliminates the risk of misalignment by less experienced employees, allowing manufacturers to ensure alignment accuracy every single time.
Staying at the top of the game
By offering 3D-based laser templating and helping users breeze through assembly and verification processes, the metrology industry has enabled manufacturers to achieve precision with unprecedented efficiency, ensuring quality right from the start of the assembly process. With the right portable 3D device, manufacturers can boost customer confidence, accelerate delivery timelines, and reduce scrap and rework rates all at once. Companies that wish to gain a competitive edge should contact a 3D measurement specialist to reassess their needs and identify a suitable portable solution right away.