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Fast Track Certification Using 3D Scanning Leads To Reshoring

Several American global technology companies specializing in consumer electronics, computers and online services are bringing a portion of their manufacturing back to the U.S. following rapid certification of American-made product packaging by NVison, Inc., a Texas engineering services provider. The swift certification resulted in a faster time to market for new electronics devices. 

These tech companies have tight specifications for things such as mobile and tablet packaging, which require certification from suppliers that their inserts meet stringent measurement demands. When Asian suppliers were unable to produce parts which met specifications, the tech companies turned to American suppliers and contacted NVision, Inc. to provide the necessary inspection and certification. NVision, a U.S.-based suppler of 3D non-contact optical scanning and measurement, laser-scanned the packaging inserts for several product lines and provided digital files certifying that manufacturing specifications were passing quality standards. The speed and convenience of the process resulted in a decision by the tech companies to permanently return some of their production to the U.S.  

Made from a variety of materials such as polypropylene, polycarbonate, and paper and pulp materials, the packaging of mobile devices must meet a number of functional requirements. These include the need to snugly and securely house and protect the device and its accessories in an insert tray while not adding significant bulk or damaging the device’s mechanical controls, such as volume buttons, ring/silent switches, and more. The insert may also, depending on the device, require the inclusion of slots,  indentations or other spaces to accommodate protruding parts of the device and/or hold  instructions or related electronics. Since the inserts are placed in an inner box, which must fit tightly inside the outer, covering box, meeting all dimensional tolerances is critical.   

“The design and manufacture of consumer electronics packaging is easy for most of us to take for granted,” says Steve Kersen, President of NVision. “While we can easily appreciate the complexities of the device itself, we usually don’t give too much thought to the numerous requirements that its packaging must meet.”

After Asian suppliers were unable to provide product to meet specifications, the tech companies reached out to American suppliers and also contacted NVision, which offers turn-key solutions for in-house inspection as well as contract services to deliver inspection reports. NVision has worked with packaging experts for over three decades.

After discussing certification requirements, the companies began shipping the suppliers’ packaging, along with their own original design files, to NVision for inspection and comparison. In total, hundreds of insert styles for multiple different products were scanned. For the bulk of the scanning, NVision chose to use its HandHeld scanner.

Capable of capturing 60,000 separate measurements per second and accurate to within +/- one-thousandth of an inch, the HandHeld scanner is particularly well-suited to precision measurement. Its ability to accurately inspect for tight tolerances is so well-regarded that its results have even been used  in court cases as expert evidence in determining the existence of product flaws and charting their timeline in the manufacturing process.  

Able to capture 3D geometry from objects of almost any size or shape and attached to a mechanical arm that moves about the object, the HandHeld scanner lets the user gather measurement data rapidly with superior precision. As the object is inspected, the scanner generates a point cloud consisting of millions of “points,” each point being a specific location on the object’s surface. Together with each point’s x,y,z coordinates and i,j,k vectors, the point cloud comprises an exact duplicate of the object’s surface, down to the most minute detail. 

Scanning of the packaging was accomplished quickly. Noting the manufacturing precision required of the suppliers, Kersen says, “Even one or two hundredths of an inch deviation from the design can, at any point, render packaging unusable, as it may prevent the device from fitting snugly in the insert, not provide enough storage space for accessories, or make it difficult or impossible for the insert to fit into the box.”

After completing the scanning, the NVision team used the scanner’s integrated software to convert the point cloud to an STL polygon. The STL file was then compared to the CAD master models provided by the client. After NVision certified packaging compliance, manufacturers were able to begin full-scale production.

One unforeseen, but welcome, result from the scanning was that some manufacturers, citing the ease and convenience of the certifications, moved much of their packaging manufacturing operations from Asia back to the U.S. “This proves that the U.S. has both the production and inspection technology to successfully compete with the most prominent global competitors,” says Kersen

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