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Inline Measurement Delivers Improved Manufacturing Process Control

Inline Measurement is commonly understood as automatic measurements executed within a manufacturing process. If measurements are included within an automatic manufacturing process they are deemed in-process measurements while if integrated within a manufacturing line then the process is considered inline. If the measurement operation it’s separate from the manufacturing line then it’s deemed as being offline. Typically offline measurements necessitate the products being removed from production process or production line, inspected as a discrete operation, with inspected parts either returned to their next production operation, discarded or identified as finished inspected parts.

Inline Measurement

Integrated inline CMM

Inline Measurement suggests that the measurement device, or integrated sensors, are situated in a flow-through system such as a a sensor integrated into a manufacturing line, that continually monitors product parameters passing through the station. While inspecting the inline measurement system should be capable to measuring shape and dimension to judge the product conformance.

Inline measurement occurs without the skill of an operator and can be repeated for a large amount of products. When human operators are thrown into the mix the question of skillset becomes an issue. However, when the process becomes automated there are less chances that mistakes will be made. Furthermore, consistent automated monitoring helps to identify when unacceptable products appear which helps when tracking a products traceability.

Integrated inline robot inspection

In the production environment measurement conditions can be very demanding while measurement results increasingly play a central role. Precision is key – finding defective products on a production line can only work if the tolerance testing during the production process is precise enough to reliably segregate out the products that are deemed to fall outside tolerance levels.

Inline systems should be accurate regardless of work environment. Inline measurement should be precise even if a temperature shift occurs; some system use a ‘golden part’ as a reference allowing measuring systems to perform comparative rather than absolute measurements. Typically Inline measurements rely on automation and precision of machine mechanics.

All About The Sensors

Inline integrated smart sensor

Inline measurement can take many forms, from the fully integrated robotic measuring systems employed with the automotive industry for complete vehicle body inspection along its welding and assembly operations, to individual smart sensors added to a manufacturing process to control an individual critical aspect of the manufacturing process. Increasingly inline inspection is being added to manufacturing lines to improve product quality, enhance process control, and thus improve productivity. In reality ‘its all about the sensors’; sensors perform the measurement task and can be static, mounted upon a motion device to move them in and out of measuring position or integrated with a sophisticated multi-axis motion device such as an inline integrated CMM or a 6 axis industrial robot.

Inline integrated smart sensor

Smart Sensors

A Smart Sensor performs both the programmed measurement task and the processing of the measured result, within its integral processing unit, negating the need to communicate raw-data back to a central processing unit which adds latency, costs and sophistication to the inline measuring system. Today, Smart Sensor’s are engineered for easy integration, simple programming and real-time feedback of computed results allowing adaptive process control – the essence of Industry 4.0.

Smart sensors are the drivers of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT) in manufacturing. Once implemented at scale, the combination of sophisticated sensors and increased computational power enables new ways to analyze data and gain actionable insights to improve many areas of operations resulting in responsive and agile production processes ensuring and enhancing manufacturing performance.

Deep Learning Provides Automated Inline Surface Defect Inspection

Thousands of components and products made for automotive, aerospace, medical, and consumer electronics have specific demands on surface quality, both for cosmetic and functional purposes.  Many components rely functionally on the quality of the surface with defects affecting both product performance and reliability.

Inline surface defect inspection

Complex geometries, especially in combination with surface finish, including highly reflective surfaces, are now possible to inspect automatically inline with the recently introduced ZEISS SurfMax R. The solution-based system utilizes custom ZEISS optical technology and machine learning providing reliable, consistent visual defect inspection, that integrates into manufacturing workflows, enabling process feedback and preventing defective parts from reaching customers. The SurfMax R  is designed to provide inspection of complex part geometries including multiple variants of a part within a given part family.

Inline inspection will increasingly become integral in automated manufacturing processes however the critical quality of individual parts, fed into the automated process, will still be required to be quality assured whatever their manufacturing source.