Make Your Factory A Little Smarter, Now

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While Industry 4.0 has been portrayed as the ultimate manufacturing solution on an Enterprise scale, the magnitude of implementation is daunting. Even if such a massive project were started today, it could be years before major benefits would be realised. 

Smaller-scale factory floor projects are far more manageable, and can have an immediate, positive impact on operations. All without having to implement the complexities needed for a fully functional Industry 4.0 enterprise. It all starts with data you may already have.

Many times, in-process inspection involves taking production parts to the quality control area so that parts can be measured to assure specification conformance. An alternative process, shown below, is collecting the same part measurement data, but using a single automated inspection cell physically located close to the production area. This near-real time measurement data can help make better quality decisions and allow faster process adjustments. This solution may be as simple as a dedicated single inspection cell, and could easily be duplicated to support multiple cells producing similar size and shape parts.

Versatility and connectivity are important attributes when choosing the measurement hardware, material handling components and the software that connects it all. Thinking ahead for future projects is advisable when making system procurement decisions – this could add further value and ROI (Return on Investment) when looking at equipment and implementation costs.

The Solution

Let’s examine how such a system would work.

This inspection cell example would include four components; two dimensional measurement machines, a material handling robot, and integrated software that makes them all work together.

A QVI SNAP digital video measurement system, from OGP (Optical Gaging Products), measures dimensions on small, complex parts. SNAP automatically collects measurement data for specified part features. SNAP can also automatically identify and measure similar looking parts. The family of SNAP family of products includes different models to accommodate a variety of part sizes.

Production parts would have multiple features measured by SNAP, and may have other critical dimensions that may not be accessible using SNAP’s video measurement technology. These other critical features would be measured by an OGP SmartScope multisensor metrology system. For this part of the process, the SmartScope may be equipped with a touch probe to measure these critical features, or the SmartScope could be equipped with a variety of sensors, depending on the attributes of the part features needing to be measured.

Part handling is done by a standard robot, collaborative robot (cobot), or other material handling device. The robot moves parts around the inspection cell, and is programmed to place parts on each measurement machine so that measured attribute data can be collected automatically.

The robot first positions parts to be measured on the SNAP stage. SNAP is a large field-of-view (LFOV) metrology machine, so as long as the part features are within this field-of-view, location accuracy is not critical. This technology feature, potentially, may allow the part to be inspected while still in the grip of the robot. Dozens of dimensions can be checked by SNAP in just a matter of seconds.

Once the specified part dimensions have been measured by SNAP, if necessary, the robot moves the part to the SmartScope fixture where other critical dimensions would be measured by a SmartScope equipped with, in this example, a touch probe. The robot uses a two-jaw self-centering gripper for precise part placement, as the touch-probing inspection process needs secure part holding. Touch probe measurement, by nature, is a considerably slower process than video (SNAP) inspection, so this data collection is generally done on a subset of the overall sample size.

Software Reports Actionable Data

The fourth component of the solution is software. SmartSCS (from OGP) is a versatile shop-floor user interface software designed for use in production environments.

SmartSCS organises the automated measurement routines and robot material handling program sequence. The reporting function can immediately display onscreen results after a measurement is performed, allowing immediate corrective action to the production process.

Measurement data can be printed, saved to a file for future use, or discarded. SmartSCS provides extensive support for machine tools, pallet loaders, robot part handing, and mechanical feeders. SmartSCS links to these other shop-floor systems by way of industry standard communication protocols MTConnect and OPC server.

SmartSCS can also be configured to output data automatically to third-party software packages for SPC (Statistical Process Control) or other Quality Control purposes.

This example of a shop-floor measurement solution offers a wide variety of manufacturing support and could be configured to provide similar value for future production projects.

The Reality of Industry 4.0

To keep pace with customer demands, evolving technology and global competition, manufacturers must find ways to harness the power of the data constantly flowing across their systems to dramatically improve their production operations.

Automated measurement systems, even when implemented on a limited scale, can substantially improve operational real-time data visibility, predict process-related quality issues, and quickly prescribe corrective actions.

For many, Industry 4.0 is still far out on the time-line horizon for a multitude of reasons. This limited-scale solution allows companies to make a positive operational impact right now, by thinking big, and starting small.

Article by Mark Thomas, Marketing Director,  Optical Gaging Products, Inc.







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