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Inline 3D MAG Weld Inspection Solution

A leading German automobile manufacturer needed a high-quality, inline inspection system highlighting metal active gas (MAG) welds on suspension cradles used in a range of market-leading vehicles. The critical structural component which connects engine, axles and steering, cradle weld integrity is of primary concern to automobile manufacturing plants.

Close inspection of every single weld is required to ensure the cradles meet the very highest levels of safety and quality, with the presence of defects or weakness a potentially dangerous threat to the structural integrity of the car. A typical cradle requires an average of around 200 seams/welds to be inspected, with any cradles failing inspection sent to rework stations for manual rework of the defective weld.

The short cycle-time to meet production targets necessitates the use of an automated inspection system, which typically combines a highly accurate, repeatable visual measurement with an integrated system capable of analysing and classifying welds across multiple inspection stations.

JOSY provides high-speed, non-contact 3D visual inspection

SmartRay was invited to present its industry-leading JOSY inline inspection solution for evaluation against the incumbent weld inspection system. JOSY is a high-speed, all-in-one system for non-contact, 3D visual inspection of joining technologies. Its cutting-edge 3D metrology sensor, integrated, scalable operating system and intelligent, intuitive software tools have been specifically developed for the assessment of weld quality, capable of classifying typical welding defects.

The system exceeded customer expectations: JOSY performed faster than the incumbent inspection solution, with the sensor’s compact design enabling more welds to be reached; in the stations themselves, JOSY’s software offered more functionality for managing statistical data and managing rework stations effectively. With initial tests a success, the project proceeded to the feasibility of scaling up production. SmartRay’s expert team evaluated the manufacturing process and automation and integration requirements to demonstrate application feasibility, with the recommendation of a solution designed to meet the high-precision requirements of the cradle inspection process. Six different types of cradle required inspection: with each part requiring on average 200 inspections, each station was capable of inspecting more than 1000 individual welds.

To maintain production line speeds and process efficiency, the cycle time for inspection needed to be less than 40 seconds; these results had to be compliant with international and company standards, including ISO 5817 international standards, so required a measurement of exceptional accuracy and repeatability.

Inline Inspection

JOSY produces a full 3D visualisation of the inspected part

Eleven JOSY systems were installed, connected to robotic arms at a series of inspection stations. JOSY’s highly flexible system architecture enabled the installation of single, stand-alone inspection stations; one double system where two robots inspect in one station together, and six parallel inspection cells to perform a quasi-end of line inspection, where each was identically programmed.

Operating at speeds of up to 200mm per second, the systems provided fast, reliable inline inspection that supported the rate of production, enabling an impressive overall cycle time of less than 40 seconds. The process was aided by the construction of JOSY software inspection templates, which could quickly and efficiently customise to the specific inspection requirements of each cradle type.

The reachability of SmartRay’s 3D sensor, enabled by the sensor’s industry-leading compact size, is a key advantage of the JOSY system and was critical to achieving the customer’s welding requirements. The cradle parts included small, hard-to-enter areas, including welds in a triangle with a diameter as low as 120mm. This required a sensor and supporting cables to be small enough to reach into this small area, and pivot as perpendicular as possible – so compact dimensions of the sensor were critical. This had not been possible with the previous solution, but presented no problems for JOSY’s compact sensor. Owing to the compact size of the JOSY sensor, all welds on the parts were reachable and inspected without issue. In addition to the reachability of the sensor, the customer specifically required the inline inspection of critical hidden welds, in particular under a steel sheet with a concealed area. To reach this, SmartRay’s expert team innovated new vertical weld measurement functionality, enabling this complex weld to be measured in its entirety.

JOSY’s integrated control system collected data from all 11 systems, as well as connecting to the customer’s production management system. This enabled centralised data analysis for process optimisation and ongoing assessment of the production line. JOSY’s scalable system architecture streamlined system management, especially on the parallel inspection stations, where a single central PC directed slave controller units at each station – meaning operation was controllable in single operational steps, rather than repeated multiple times. This optimised system management by reducing system complexity and saving unnecessary time manually adjusting every station.
This evaluation enables more efficient optimisation, with the detection of unbiased welding stations and welds provided an objective norm-based (ISO) evaluation. The customer directly benefited from a measurable efficiency increase in both production line and maintenance tasks, and an ongoing reduction of manual rework – in all cases positively reducing time and cost.

Rework Station Optimization

The customer also required the inspection solution to help maximise the productivity of manually-run rework stations. Accordingly, JOSY’s flexible system architecture enabled JOSY to be easily integrated and configured to the precise rework requirements of the customer. JOSY’s insightful and intuitive software tools enabled efficient, high-quality rework to be carried out, but also allowed users to log and analyse statistical data more effectively. This facilitated a greater diagnostic capability for identifying areas of improvement, including in the welding process.

The overall workload of the rework stations was immediately improved, with JOSY producing 100% documentation data of all reworked parts, as well as offering an immediate data input method. According to Bernd Loroesch, the Business Unit Manager JOSY Weld Inspection at Smartray: “JOSY allows the customer to optimise their process for maximum efficiency. By supplying integrated statistics on operation, they are able to continuously oversee the status of the production line. Compared to the precursor cradle, the customer halves the number of rework stations.”

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