Manufacturers have long faced a dilemma. Given the critical nature of the final products they build, all parts and sub-components need to be free of defects. However, manufacturers need to keep their costs down and efficiency up in order to remain competitive in the marketplace. These conflicting objectives have allowed ‘check fixtures’ to become prevalent. Simply put, a check fixture is a device that, when fixed in place, allows production parts to be inspected by comparing the part to the geometry and features of the fixture. These fixtures, used in conjunction with hand tools to take any additional required measurements, have long provided a balance between part integrity and the need to keep costs down on the manufacturing floor. Nevertheless, check fixtures have several drawbacks: 1. Upfront Time and Expense: Upfront expenses are typically anywhere from $40,000 – $140,000 to design and build a check fixture with potential costs being even higher if the part is large, complex, or needs to be reworked before final release to the factory. 2. Difficulty Acquiring Quantitative Data- Traditional check fixtures make it nearly impossible to collect individual part attributes and characteristics quantitatively so that statistical analysis can be run, trends identified, and manufacturing processes adjusted before parts fall out of spec. 3. The Uniqueness of Each Check Fixture - For every individual part a company builds which requires a check fixture, a brand new one needs to be designed and fabricated. 4. Space Constraints & Maintenance Costs - Once a program is completed or there is an interruption in the production of a particular part, check fixtures must be stored for further use, sometimes for an indefinite period of time. This often means hundreds or even thousands of square feet devoted to storing check fixtures. ThErE’S A BETTEr Way— Given the expense and limitations of check fixtures as well as the large time investment required to make and maintain them, it is not surprising that some companies have turned to the latest technology to help them eliminate check fixtures from their processes. The solution that many of them have found is combining modular tooling, which can be used to build holding fixtures, with portable CMMs (Coordinate Measuring Machines). Modular tooling can consist of a base plate with tapped holes set up in a grid pattern that allows screws, standoffs, clamps and other holding and fastening items to be attached to it. In other versions plates with parallel rows of T-slots are used to position the part which is then held by self-wedging tension clamps or some other similar method. These items can be fastened in an almost unlimited number of different ways in order to hold thousands of different parts. A set of modular tooling large enough to hold tabletop sized parts usually requires a relatively small upfront investment usually on the order of $5,000 or less. However, even though this provides a convenient way to hold parts, without a better measurement method the modular tooling does not provide a lot of additional value to the manufacturer. Check fixtures still need to be built, verified, maintained, and stored in the same fashion as before even if their final form is somewhat simplified because the modular tooling provides an easier and more efficient holding method. To get rid of the fixtures themselves, portable CMMs are crucial. Portable CMMs come in many forms, the most common of which are articulating arms, laser trackers and hand-held 3D laser scanners (which are articulating arms with laser scanners positioned at the end of them). The choice of which technology to use is dependent upon the parts being measured and the information needed from the parts. The costs to purchase, install, and shakedown these solutions can range from as low as $20,000 up to approximately $150,000 depending on the individual manufacturer’s needs. To a large extent, the startup costs are a function of the part size; the larger the part, the higher the startup costs. This is analogous to the costs associated with check fixtures themselves. In general, the larger the manufactured part, the larger the required check fixture and the more the check fixture costs. This means that in almost all cases, the modular tooling and portable CMM solution will pay for itself after it eliminates the requirement for the first check fixture that would have needed to be built if the CMM solution was not in place. ArticulAting Arms These devices use an internal coordinate system to calculate position data of a spherical probe. This probe is located at the tip of the last in a series of three tubes connected end to end that protrudes from the base. The tubes are connected by freely rotating joints. This gives the arm its name – the product looks like and moves similarly to a human arm, except that the portable CMM can boundlessly rotate while the human arm has limited rotation. Points in space are digitized by touching the probe to a feature and pushing a button to capture the point’s location. The sphere’s diameter is known with a high degree of certainty which allows the software to account and compensate for it. This ensures that features such as diameters of holes are measured accurately and do not add the probe diameter to the measured value. Articulating arms usually employ a robust inspection software package that allows previously hard to measure items like true position, concentricity, and hole to hole distance to be quantified in less than one minute, thus rendering the check fixture obsolete in most cases. LAser trAckers Laser trackers also measure the position of a spherical probe, but unlike an arm, the probe is not connected directly to the laser tracker. This probe, commonly known as a Spherically Mounted Retroreflector (SMR), is usually handheld or mounted on the end of a machine tool or robot. The laser tracker emits a laser beam which is bounced off of a retroreflector or corner cube mounted at the center of the probe. The return beam reenters the laser tracker where the distance to the target can be determined using interferometry or phase shift analysis. In addition, the horizontal and vertical angles to the probe are determined using precision angular encoders attached to the mechanical axis of a gimbaled beam steering mechanism. Using the two angle measurements and distance determined using the laser, the laser tracker can report the coordinate location of the probe to extremely high accuracy levels. In addition, the laser tracker can follow or track the target as it moves in real time. This unique feature, coupled with the laser tracker’s ability to measure points up to measure hundreds of points per second enables the user to digitize data on complex surfaces and measure the location of moving objects. Hand-Held 3d lAser scAnners These devices mount on the end of a traditional articulating arm CMM and project a laser line on the part to be inspected. The part reflects the light back toward the scanner where some of it is captured by a camera. The distance between the laser and the camera is known with a high degree of certainty. Through standard triangulation methods, three-dimensional locations can be determined. By employing a typical laptop or desktop computer, enough data is captured to allow software to create a 3D model of the part which can then be compared directly to the CAD model of the part. In addition to being able to quantify features, dimensions, and GD&T callouts, individual points can be quantified in terms of their deviation from the model. By utilizing modular tooling fixtures and portable CMMs, manufacturers can eliminate the need for many or all check fixtures in their factories. The solution pays for itself as soon as a check fixture that would normally need to be built, is no longer required. In addition, the modular tooling and portable CMM solution eliminates the need for storage, maintenance and rework costs for check fixtures not currently in use. However, and perhaps most important of all, the portable CMM solution yields actionable, quantifiable data that manufacturers can use in a six sigma and/or lean manufacturing environment to improve their products and become more profitable. FArO technologies, inc. www.faro.com (800) 736-0234 firstname.lastname@example.org
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