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Chuck Pfeffer

CMSC

Real-Time Data Opens Door to Metrology-Assisted Assembly

Published: Friday, February 17, 2012 - 10:48

“That’s so 27 seconds ago.” My daughter and I recently heard this catch phrase on a television commercial. We had a good laugh because there was some truth to it. We are living in a world of real-time updates, and it does not stop at news and social media. It extends to all facets of our lives.

In many ways, the fast-paced information age of the 21st century has added new demands on our attention, and shortened our attention spans. Did you know the parade scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off runs for more than 6 minutes? That final cut would be unheard of in a movie today.

Looking beyond its negative influence on society, real-time feedback can be incredibly beneficial when you consider its effect on manufacturing. Real-time information enables timely decision-making, streamlines processes, and dramatically reduces costs.

More than movies has changed during the past 25 years. While Ferris Bueller was belting out “Danke Schoen,” manufacturers at that time were handling large parts with even larger assembly fixtures. Depending on the industry, these fixtures (also referred to as jigs or tooling) have one thing in common: They are very, very expensive. Because these fixtures are used to secure parts into position for assembly, they must be built with more precision than the assemblies themselves. This means the tooling must be extremely accurate and stable, and built to comply with the most up-to-date assembly drawing. If a design is changed, the fixtures must also be modified.

The statement about the “design change” is the real kicker. A simple change in a design drawing can cost a fortune in reworked tooling for assembly.

The feedback loop for metrology data has progressed from days to hours to minutes to seconds. The use of measurement data found a new home—right on the factory floor. Real-time metrology information has opened the door to a whole new way to build assembly fixtures. At first, these new real-time metrology tools were used to build, check, and adjust the fixtures. Today, they are being used for something even better.

Typically, people in manufacturing think of metrology being used for quality assurance applications. But today, metrology is making its mark in metrology-assisted assembly. A few pioneering projects during the early 1990s has led to new assembly techniques. Many of the latest aerospace production lines use real-time metrology data to position, monitor, and verify their assembly processes. The fixed tooling of the past has given way to flexible tooling, all made possible by real-time metrology data.

In this application, the benefits of metrology surpass what a quality assurance role could contribute. Not only are parts assembled consistently with the highest possible accuracy, but they are also verified in situ before they are moved to the next process. The results are substantial savings in both time and rework. But the biggest benefit is realized when a design change is needed. Design modifications can be made with a few keystrokes in the software, which reduces downtime and eliminates tooling rework.

Flexible tooling is one of many opportunities for metrology-assisted manufacturing and assembly. With new capabilities surfacing every year, assembly processes continue to achieve higher efficiencies, which in turn yields higher-quality products. To see the latest advances in this technology, you can join us at the Coordinate Metrology Systems Conference (CMSC) in New Orleans, July 16–20, 2012. For more information, visit www.cmsc.org.

 

 

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About The Author

Chuck Pfeffer’s picture

Chuck Pfeffer

Chuck Pfeffer, director of product management, 3-D imaging at FARO Technologies Inc., is the chair for the 2012 Coordinate Metrology Systems Conference (CMSC) and has served on the CMSC Executive Committee for the past five years. He coordinated the conference workshops and participated on the Metrology Certification Sub-Committee. Pfeffer also is an active member of the Society for Manufacturing Engineers (SME) 3D Imaging Tech Group.