Quality Scan: What Can an Automated 3D Scanner Do for You?

This article was first published in the October 2013 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF 

Quality control and inspection processes often have to be balanced with the need for speed. When the part in question is complex, the balance becomes even more delicate. Parts with compound curves and multiple features can be time-consuming to properly measure and inspect using traditional methods such as touch-probing, calipers, micrometers or gauges.

In many cases, quality control processes can be improved by upgrading traditional, time-consuming measurement and inspection equipment with an automated, industrial 3D laser scanner. Such a scanner can usually enhance 100% inspection, statistical process control (SPC), production part approval processes (PPAP), and lean manufacturing initiatives.

100% Inspection Process: Enhance Efficiencies
This type of inspection demands that every part meets spec. Typically, the volume of parts is relatively low and the impact of a failed part is very high, as is the case in aerospace manufacturing. 3D scanners are used by a number of aerospace parts manufacturers to increase the efficiency and coverage of their 100% inspection processes.

By capturing the entire surface area of a part–including complex-shaped parts such as molded plastics or cast metals–a 3D laser scanner can dramatically increase efficiencies in 100% inspection. A 3D laser scanner can capture millions of data points from even the most complex part. The resulting point cloud can then be compared directly to a 3D CAD model or to a known good part to identify deficiencies. Provided that an automated 3D scanner (such as a Shapegrabber Ai810 scanner) is used, laser scanning provides much faster inspection.

Statistical Process Control: Enhance Data
In other situations, it may not be possible, practical, or necessary to inspect each and every part made. Instead, manufacturers may use statistical process control (SPC). Traditionally, SPC methods were tailored to devices that measure only a few points, such as gages or hand tools. But, SPC can be performed very effectively using laser scanner data.

Not only will a 3D laser scanner provide much more data by representing the entire surface area of the part, the leading 3D scanner software packages such as Polyworks Inspector and Geomagic Control include built-in SPC capabilities. It is also common to export laser scanner measurements for treatment by popular SPC packages such as Minitab, which makes it simple to implement a 3D scanner within an existing SPC environment. Also consider the benefits of automation. The ability to repeat the same measurements quickly, in the exact same way, and with little operator involvement makes an automated 3D scanner an excellent choice for SPC-based measurements.

Production Part Approval Process: Enhance Speed
An automated 3D laser scanner can also shave time off of the PPAP, a standard approval process for new parts in the automotive industry. To obtain PPAP approval, manufacturers must measure several parts many times. The typical scenario is ten parts, measured by three operators, three  times each, for 90 repetitions of the measurement process. This is usually a time-consuming exercise.

An automated 3D scanner (such as the Shapegrabber Ai310 scanner coupled with Geomagic or Polyworks software) can make quick work of this task. They not only reduce the inspection time required, but also generate more thorough results as well as automated reports.

Lean Manufacturing
An automated 3D laser scanner can also support lean manufacturing initiatives due to the reduction in waste, both material and manpower, by providing fast and complete inspection coverage of complex parts, without the cost, time, and labor associated with using hard gages.

Multiple Benefits
Due to its ability to speed-up the measurement of complex parts, its thoroughness in capturing the complete part shape, and its ability to perform measurements repeatedly with low operator involvement, an automated 3D laser scanner can effectively enhance inspection processes while supporting lean manufacturing initiatives.

With manufacturing growing again, it may be time to consider an automated 3D laser scanner.

By Pierre Aubrey
President & CEO
Shapegrabber Inc.