<b>Comparator Increases Confidence</b> Seabrook International is a leading contract manufacturer of highly-engineered precision instruments, implants and other devices primarily for the orthopedic implant industry. Headquartered in Seabrook, NH, and founded in 1973, Seabrook International has more than 80,000 square feet of manufacturing space operating seven days per week. As part of Seabrook International’s continuous improvement program, the quality department is always on the lookout for new metrology hardware and software that promotes ease of use, repeatability and powerful features. The department uses automated and traditional coordinate measuring machines (CMMs), optical comparators, height gages and hand gages to inspect its parts. The company’s search for alternative methods of inspection led to the discovery of Certified Comparator Products (Beavercreek, OH), whose unique take on optical comparators provides the simplicity and ease of use of a standard optical comparator with the capability of an automated CMM and full-blown metrology software. Christopher Whalley, senior quality engineer, received a personal demonstration of the CC-14 benchtop optical comparator from Certified Comparator Products. After getting a good idea of the machine’s capabilities, Whalley purchased the CC-14 through L.F. O’Leary Co. Inc., Certified Comparator Products’ dealer in New Hampshire. The TruLight all-LED technology and eCAD electronic overlay charts provided the right combination of ease of use and advanced features that Seabrook International was looking for, as well as a level of flexibility that was not previously available. The comparator’s TruLight technology is bright enough to create a photorealistic view of part surfaces, where features such as engraving and laser marking show up with unprecedented clarity. The LED ringlight with variable intensities and directions is useful for quickly changing lighting scenarios and highlighting specific areas of features such as holes and edges. With eCAD’s electronic virtual overlay charts, Whalley’s team potentially now has an unlimited amount of digital overlay charts. And eCAD allows the team to perform more complex inspections more quickly, even for someone who has never used the system before. Additionally, the computer numerical control (CNC) capability of the machine and the embedded edge detection allow the user to perform inspections as if using a standard optical comparator, gain the abilities of a CMM and then play back the exact sequence of measurements, effectively “programming” the machine. “It’s a simple and efficient way to perform the kind of inspection that would otherwise be considered time-intensive and relatively difficult via standard techniques,” Whalley says. Whalley’s eight-person team has backgrounds in quality control and inspection and performs the inspections on the medical devices. “Despite the high level of technology, the machine is highly accessible in terms of usability,” Whalley says. “The more user-friendly a machine is, the more likely the QC team is going to use it, and really use it to its full potential.” Whalley envisions everyone in the quality control department being able to write programs for automated inspection. “We’re incrementally building a program base, and each program results in a permanent reduction of cumulative inspection time. It really depends on the part though. Because we have to accommodate such a wide array of designs, inspection methods can vary significantly. There have been time reductions as great as 75% in a few individual cases, although that’s not the general rule.” The addition of the CC-14 optical comparator to Seabrook’s range of inspection equipment gives the company increased confidence in the quality of its parts and inspections. <b>Contributing to Quality</b> In the competitive mower blade industry, price and quality are keys to a successful manufacturing business. The increasingly specific requirements of lawnmower OEMs trickle down to blade manufacturers such as Blount International (Portland, OR), which produces nearly 2,000 different OEM and aftermarket blades, including its own Oregon brand line. To continuously optimize quality while controlling costs, Blount uses a ShapeGrabber Ai810 3-D laser scanner as part of its forming process. Implementing the scanner has led to quality improvements and decreased lead times of about 30% in the first year of use. <b>IMPROVING EFFICIENCIES IN QUALITY INSPECTION</b> Blount has always used traditional methods of measurement such as calipers and height gages to verify the conformance of its mower blades to specifications. During the forming process, blade airlifts and offsets are tailored to specifications. When nonconformance issues are identified, adjustments to the machines are made, and another part is formed and measured again. Seeking a more efficient means of measuring key product attributes, Blount chose the ShapeGrabber Ai810 with Geomagic software. The solution met six key criteria. They include: • Ease of use. Only a handful of personnel at Blount were able to perform the manual measurements, creating bottlenecks. Now, the Ai810 scanner is used by 50 operations personnel. The average training time required on the scanner is one hour per person. • Flexibility. Using no fixtures, the ShapeGrabber scanner is able to measure all of the key product characteristics of interest to Blount, across 1,800- 2,000 unique blade designs, which range from 12 to 36 inches in length. • Versatility. Blount also uses the scanner in design and development of tools, and for more efficient capability studies on tools and die. • Speed and accuracy. The ShapeGrabber scanner met Blount’s existing measurement accuracy (up to 0.003 of an inch) while improving inspection speed by 30%. It requires just eight minutes to scan a complete blade compared to 15 minutes doing so manually. • Training and support. Blount received product training from ShapeGrabber and internal training is now handled by a Blount staff member. ShapeGrabber provides ongoing support and annual system calibration services, which assist Blount in maintaining its ISO 9001 registration. <b>QUANTIFIABLE BENEFITS AND A CULTURE OF QUALITY</b> In addition to reducing the time involved in quality inspection and eliminating quality control bottlenecks at Blount, the ShapeGrabber scanner also has contributed to other improvements. Blount verifies certain characteristics of its blades using the criteria, in control and capable. In the first year of using the scanner, Blount saw a 30% increase in conformance in those areas. Lead time on mower blade production also has dropped by nearly 30%, from six days to produce a blade down to just over four days. Engineering Manager Brian Brunk attributes this to improved product quality. Brunk also says that the scanner has had an unexpected side effect in terms of supporting a culture of quality. “The scanner has engaged the people who use it more than they were engaged before,” he says. “Now, we see employees taking more of an ownership of the products and their quality throughout the manufacturing organization.”
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