Reducing Inspection Time on Complex Parts

FARO’s Cobalt Array Imager helps Hubbell speed up FAI and time-to-market

Ryan E. Day

July 9, 2018

First article inspection (FAI) is that critical step between design and production which verifies that the factory’s production line can manufacture a part on a mass scale. Aerospace, automotive, and medical device manufacturers cannot skip FAI. But, manufacturers of any durable goods that skip FAI do so at tremendous risk of delayed production and skyrocketing development costs.

Hubbell Inc. provides electrical, lighting, and power components to customers all over the world. If you look behind the scenes at anything from data centers to hospitals, utilities to single-family homes, whether commercial or residential, there’s a good chance you’ll see a Hubbell product quietly doing its job.

With inventory of more than 30,000 SKUs, Hubbell knows more than a little about the importance—and challenges—of FAI.

The challenge

Because FAI involves a complete review of all part characteristics by manufacturing engineers and quality engineers, it’s a very time-consuming effort. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a company to expend 24 hours of labor or more to complete a single FAI. Products with multiple components take even longer.

“When we go to approve a tool that makes a part number, those tools, because of our volumes, can have anywhere up to 16–32 cavities,” explains Anthony Papa, manager of test and measurement at Hubbell. “And that’s just for individual parts. So, you take a complete unit and there may be six or seven of those tools. It could take us sometimes up to a month to do inspection reports on all these tooling cavities. You also have to factor in the potential for measurement error with somebody taking 200-plus dimensions across the cavities. You find yourself with a lot of measurements and a lot of potential for measurement error.”

Hubbell was using industry-standard inspection tools—comparators, calipers, and micrometers—using whichever tool was most suitable for any particular application.

The Hubbell team knew that to maintain its competitive edge, it needed a faster, more efficient inspection process. This lead to investing in a hard-probe coordinate measuring machine (CMM).

“We were looking for a better solution, and also a solution that is scalable so that we can implement it down the road out in our factories,” says Papa. “We want the ability to measure and develop the inspection criteria here in our engineering center, then push it out to our factories so we have more uniform processes for incoming inspection, first inspection, last-piece inspection, whatever it may be. So that, no matter if a part is scanned in Connecticut, Puerto Rico, China, or North Carolina, it’s going through the same process.”

Then came the product redesign.

The pig and the python

“About two years ago we were facing a whole redesign of our signal pin-and-sleeve products,” explains Papa. “It was going to be at least 30 different catalog numbers, which then breaks down into all the component parts that go into those. We were facing up to 900 different part numbers that all had to go through first article [inspection]. We really started asking ourselves, ‘How are we going to get this done?’ It’s like, ‘Okay, the python has swallowed the pig, but now how do we get that pig all the way through the snake?’”

First article inspection was going to be a major hurdle in getting the redesign done in a timely manner.

“We had to find a way to speed up our first article inspection processes and also to improve the efficiency of doing first article inspections on multicavity parts,” says Mike Esposito, senior manager of manufacturing engineering. “Traditional inspection techniques for multiple cavity tooling require multiple inspections, so we were looking for an application that could be programmed once for multiple measurements.”

The team began looking into laser-inspection solutions that facilitated solid 3D modeling.

“We formed a team of different types of engineers,” says Papa. “We had design engineers, quality engineers, and manufacturing engineers, and everybody was weighing in on what our needs were. It was a team effort.”

Investigation of available solutions revealed offerings limited by size capacity and overly complicated implementation requirements.

“One thing that concerned us was we would have to hire somebody to write Python programs and all kinds of stuff,” confides Papa. “It was going to be so labor intensive, it was crazy.”

The solution

“I was looking for a turn-key solution,” admits Papa. “I wanted something that just got us there quickly.”

The Hubbell team eventually chose the FARO Factory Robo-Imager Mobile.

Specifically designed to maximize productivity and simplify workflows, the FARO Factory Robo-Imager Mobile significantly reduces cycle times for inspection and eliminates scrap and costly rework. The system utilizes the FARO Cobalt Array Imager, a metrology-grade 3D sensor with blue light technology, capable of quickly capturing high-resolution measurement data for dimensional inspection on parts, assemblies, and tools.

“We were looking first for the function and the variety of things that this product can do,” says Esposito. “We wanted to make sure that for an investment of this size, that the functionality was there and it was able to take in all the breadth of line that we can throw at it. Because we have products ranging from the size of a quarter to the size of a small ice chest.

“We did our research and narrowed it down to three companies,” explains Esposito. “One product had size constraints on the machine that you could put into it. The other company we did not feel was adequately suited to train us. And when we visited FARO, we left there with all positives. We were comfortable with the equipment, we were comfortable with the variety of product that we could run through the equipment repeatability, and we were satisfied with the reliability of the equipment. We’ve had positive experiences with FARO products in the past, and that played into our decision.

“Basically, we needed a solution that would allow us to do more with less,” continues Esposito. “Same amount of resources, but more products being run through inspection. The Robo-Imager allows us to do that.”

FARO Cobalt Array Imager

One of the “resources” getting more done is the Shelton, Connecticut facility’s resident 3D metrology expert, Kanatasak Yooprasert, an image operator.

“I find [inspections] are easier with the Robo-Imager because all the software is [integrated],” says Yooprasert. “You don't have to jump from software to software, and the only programming I have do is for inspection sequencing. The [support teams] are really helpful. Every time I call, I always get my questions answered.”

“We’re lucky to have someone like Kanatasak,” says Esposito. “He has the background and was able to pick up on this quickly, ask intelligent questions, and get results quickly.”

The benefits

“Hubbell is one company that, if you buy a Hubbell product, you bought the best,” states Papa. “And that’s how I view buying FARO, too. If we buy FARO, we’re buying one of the best products out there, and we’re going to get top-notch support.”

“The FARO technology allows us to get to market faster, and allows us to shorten our product development cycle, which in turn allows us to increase the amount of product development that we do in a year,” explains Esposito. “It was a big improvement from a time point of view. If we didn’t have this FARO imager, [the product redesign] would have taken much longer.

“All these things help us service our customers better, prevent down time in our factories, and prevent delays in our product development process. Ultimately, it benefits our customer—and ourselves.”

Click here to schedule a FREE 15-minute personalized live web demo of the Cobalt Array Imager,
or call FARO at (800) 736–0234.

About The Author

Ryan E. Day’s picture

Ryan E. Day

Ryan E. Day is a Quality Digest contributing editor and principal administrator of the company’s content marketing program, which brings together readers and solution providers. With a varied career from mechanic to artist to inventor holding a U.S. patent, but a journalist at heart, he’s produced freelance feature articles, op-ed pieces, ad copy, and display communications.