In this episode of HxGN Radio, we are talking to Tal Vagman who is Director Product Strategy, Automated Solutions at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence about the new technologies and trends moving metrology ever-closer to the point of production. To listen to more HxGN Radio episodes, visit our channels on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher.
Welcome to HxGN Radio. This is your host Bill Fetter. In this podcast we’re talking about the trend of inline metrology and taking a look at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence’s automated measurement solutions. As a leading metrology and manufacturing solution specialist, Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence’s expertise in sensing, thinking and acting – the collection, analysis and active use of measurement data – gives customers the confidence to increase production speed and accelerate productivity while enhancing product quality. In today’s episode we are taking to Tal Vagman who is director of product strategy for automated solutions at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence.
BF: Thanks for joining us today.
TV: Hi Bill. Thanks for having me.
BF: Tal, perhaps we could start out by explaining a little bit of why manufacturers… and I’m assuming we’re talking car manufactures here?
TV: Yes, we are talking automotive OEMs and suppliers.
BF: OK. So why would they want to measure inline? What are the advantages to doing such a thing?
TV: Well, the key issue with inline measurement is being able to control your quality during the production and avoiding the delay between producing the part or an assembly and measuring it afterwards offline.
BF: OK. So how does inline measurement tie in with the wider product lifecycle management around the factory?
TV: First of all, we at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence already supply many products to the automotive industry, revolving around quality measurement and quality control. So the extension of our offering towards inline measurement already interfaces to a lot of other processes that we support at our customer site. The 3D availability at our customer locations allows us to compare actual manufacturing quality to that of the nominal or design aspect.
BF: So the CAD file?
TV: So the CAD file, exactly. So we are able to compare actual dimensional conditions to that of the design intent.
BF: OK. So I understand that Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence has pioneered this new method of inline inspection for car body, body in white shells, with its 360˚ SIMS system. First of all, what does SIMS stand for?
TV: Well, SIMS stands for Smart Inline Measurement Solutions.
BF: OK. So for those of us who don’t know what that means maybe you could enlighten us a little bit about what encompasses a Smart Inline Measurement Solution?
TV: Sure. First of all, let me start by saying that we are leveraging on top of innovation from Hexagon in the last 40 years in this field of auto body sheet metal measurement. We have thousands of devices already implemented, but most of them are used in the pre-production stages of design, prototyping, product development and let’s say towards manufacturing. With this extension for 360˚ SIMS we are able to take a new innovative technology of white light measurement into the production line. And we’re using it within the cycle time and production rates, and of course the real shop-floor environments that our production customers are used to using.
BF: And I see a picture of this system and that white light sensor is actually on an industrial robot. Is that the same kind of industrial robot that you see around a car factory in other processes?
TV: Sure. We are using the common production technologies used at our customer sites in the production line, in the body shop line. The same products that are used for spot welding, for palletising, and other applications are also used for our case. It’s very important for customers to be able to use the same automation technologies also for our measurement. It makes it more robust. It makes it easier to maintain and also work with their line builders when we are setting up those lines.
BF: OK. So that white light sensor then – what’s the key advantage to that, putting that particular sensor on this robotic carrier then?
TV: The white light sensor developed by Hexagon is an area measurement sensor, unlike many technologies that are on the market that are based on point or feature measurement.
BF: So when you say area, what do you mean?
TV: It’s able to capture the dimensional information out of a part in an area that’s around 50 by 50 centimetres and create a detailed colour mapping scan out of that, that could be compared later on to the CAD that we mentioned a bit earlier.
BF: 50 by 50 – sounds like a lot of data, probably more so than a point or a line?
TV: Exactly. So it opens up a lot of possibilities for using this data and the immediate use that our customers like to do is create a colour map. So comparing the actual measurements to the design and seeing the deviations where the part deforms. It’s a big step change to understanding the root cause of an issue.
BF: So putting a robotic white light system together seems like quite a departure from the traditional automotive metrology equipment, whether it is a point touch horizontal arm or even a horizontal arm with a laser scanner on it. What’s industry acceptance like of a new technology like this?
TV: Acceptance in the automotive OEM and also supplier industry in the past 2 years was very good. The underlying technology of white light is already being used in different departments, and we’ve had success in the past years in automating it off and near the line. So this was a gradual improvement and evolution. The inline control market has been evolving as well. So more and more customers are looking for the area measurement and having colour maps being used a daily basis. So it’s overall a strong take on what we can offer, specifically on the body shop applications, where they see most advantages.
BF: OK, what kind of advantages would they see in a body shop… and we’re talking here about body in white again, right? Body in white and a colour map.
TV: Body in white, and it could be also doors, subassemblies. So everything that relates to the body and sheet metal parts. The reason why they see advantages there is that the body manufacturing of cars is a very complex process, and even if we have a great design just producing the hundreds of parts where their tolerances, and stack up of the tolerances, is not easy. And when the problem presents itself it’s also not easy to solve.
BF: So is this something you would apply both on a production start-up… start-up of a new model year application as well as continuous monitoring of the product once it’s actually in production?
TV: Definitely. Our customers see a lot of advantages of applying this technology in the beginning of the process. So they try to target setup of these cells and stations in the line early on in their planning stage. A lot of advantage comes out of the fact that we allow them to measure while they ramping up. These are the stages where they have the most issues and are in desperate need of getting more information with shorter timeframes.
BF: So if this kind of equipment then is reducing time to market as far as the start-up time for a new model. Do you think that the automotive industry would be moving toward 100% automated inspection of car bodies for the ongoing production?
TV: That’s definitely their goal. Their goal is to measure each and every part, and in some cases in different stages of the production process – with our technology. In some cases, day-to-day the have to compromise or have split measurement routines, but the actual goal is to measure each and every part so they can control each and every instance of their product on the market.
BF: So I imagine that’s generating an awful lot of data. If you’re driving towards 100% inspection you’re going to have an awful lot of data to look at on a daily basis.
TV: It’s true. It’s causing us and our customers to re-evaluate the use of the data. Definitely we’re involved in the mega trend of handling big data, also from our measurement equipment. And it’s opening additional possibilities of how to treat the data. It’s a big challenge on the volume side of it but also a challenge of how to process what you really need out of that. So we’ve developed several new tools to help our customers deal with this data.
BF: Such as?
TV: For instance, we have evolved our reporting capabilities to focus on the colour mapping functionalities. We have patented software capability that’s called the ‘video of the day’, which allows a manufacturer to compress all his measurements into a single video file that kind of summarises the dimensional quality during production for a full shift.
BF: So call it sort of a visual SPC video?
TV: It is. It’s a very visual SPC that can help engineers and managers working in those factories.
BF: So are people using that today? We’ve got car manufacturers using video of the day technology?
TV: Yes, they are. Some of them are using an ‘image of the day’ technology, which is a report that can compare today’s production quality with yesterday’s, for instance. And some are using the video of the day.
BF: So typically our 360˚ SIMS, what we’ve been talking about so far has to do with body in white measurement. Are there any plans to move this theory and concept into other areas of the plant?
TV: Yes, today we are focusing on the body shop applications. So it’s body under body, closures, body sites etc. And we are looking at extending this towards other departments of the automotive OEMs’ operations, including casting, die shop, plastic parts, final assembly. And in the future we also see other applications in the supplier community first of all. And also in other industrial markets, like maybe white goods.
BF: So anybody that’s making large volumes of parts and they want to be sure that they’re standardising the production as it comes through high volume.
TV: Yes. Their first goal is to reach the intended design level. Second is to control the dimensional stability of their product and third is to collect enough information from their product, so in case something happens later on they have it at hand.
BF: So what’s the roadmap? Where’s Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence automated solutions going? What improvements do you think we’ll being seeing over the next few years?
TV: Well definitely we’re investing more and more into this direction and strategy. A lot of the value will come from the software side with new tools and ability to manage all this data that we mentioned before. The ability to aggregate and correlate data from different cells that are implemented along the line and comparing the results between those. And also cross-referencing applications for instance, if I’m measuring a door in one area and the body in another to be able to bring them together and analyse the fit quality.
BF: Virtual assembly?
TV: Virtual assembly is one direction that we’re following, and for the rest we’re planning to improve our sensors, our sensing capability, our thinking capabilities and the goal is to give our customers what good tools to allow them to have actionable operations.
BF: So the customers have to take the action. The acting part is the customer.
TV: For sure, we are being asked to give a bit more bottom line guidelines. We really want to do that but we have to build some more infrastructure before we could do that.
BF: OK. Well thank you very much. We appreciate your time today. Thanks for being our guest.
To our listeners you can learn more about Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence at hexagonmi.com. Tune into more episodes from HxGN Radio on iTunes, SoundCloud our Stitcher Radio. Thank you for listening.