QMT Features: April 2013
Hands on quality at VW and BMW
Leading car manufacturers are now using the latest optical 3D measurement to improve vehicle quality.

With the ever increasing need to develop manufacturing processes and reduce costs, the world’s leading vehicle manufacturers are constantly on the lookout for innovative ways to improve vehicle quality. In particular, manufacturers strive for more flexible measuring solutions, enabling vehicles to be measured in ways that have never been possible before so engineers can understand more about the design and assembly of vehicles.

The traditional methods employed in vehicle production for measurement tasks such as vehicle chassis, body-in-white assembly and vehicle interiors, are often quite cumbersome and time consuming. A typical example is vehicle body measurement, which requires components and assemblies to be brought to a measuring room where they are measured on expensive and inflexible coordinate measuring machines. This often means bottle-necks form, as a CMM is often slow and unsuitable for carrying out investigation operations.

Some companies have employed semi-portable devices, such as measurement arms or laser trackers, but these too have many limitations such as low accuracy, a high degree of dependency on the operator, limitations due to line of sight or an arm being of limited size.

The HandyProbe optical CMM from Creaform is a handheld, wireless and arm-free portable CMM, comprising a handheld probing device that can measure to a high degree of accuracy in any environment. Key benefits of the system are the fact that it incorporates Creaform’s TRUaccuracy technology, which has the ability to monitor the measuring environment and dynamically track the object being measured. This effectively makes the system impervious to the measuring environment, so that it performs with equal speed and accuracy anywhere – in a measuring room, on the shop-floor, on the assembly line, inside a machine tool … literally anywhere.

TRUaccuracy is based around the system’s ability to automatically update the measuring coordinate system if there is any movement at all within the measuring environment, for example due to vibrations from nearby equipment such as stamping presses, or even if the part being measured is moved during measurement. This is achieved through the use a high accuracy optical tracking device, known as the C-Track, which dynamically tracks a few simple, low-cost targets that are applied to the object being measured. The position of the targets is triangulated continuously, such that any movement is recognised and updated automatically. This method also means the tracking device can be moved, thereby totally eliminating the problems often found using arms and laser trackers of being unable to see or reach a measurement point – the user simply moves the optical tracker to a convenient location and continues measurement.

The HandyProbe itself is ergonomically designed to be lightweight and extremely easy to use. The handheld device incorporates a standard CMM-type stylus for probing the measurement points, with 3 programmable buttons enabling remote operation of the system. Being completely wireless and having no limitations like those associated with a measuring arm, the HandyProbe can be used in any orientation such that the whole part can be measured easily and quickly. The HandyProbe can even be fitted with angled probes to speed up measurement of awkward fittings, bearing seals, undercuts, gap and flush, etc.

These clear advantages over existing technologies are now being employed by leading automotive companies such as BMW and Volkswagen. The new Rosslyn BMW assembly plant in Pretoria, South Africa, has successfully integrated a HandyProbe portable CMM into its manufacturing process, where they are building the new BMW 3 series range of cars. The system has been installed in the company’s Vehicle Quality Control Department, enabling a wide range of vehicle measurements to be taken on the assembly line.

The Handyprobe can be supplied as a complete solution including advanced metrology and analysis software, however in the case of BMW the system was supplied with a simple “plug-in” for use with BMW’s existing CMM software, providing 100% compatibility with other measuring systems within the Group. This resulted in a drastic reduction in the need for operator training – in fact, operators only required 2 days training before they were fully competent with the new measuring system.

Following on from this success, BMW continued to investigate the use of Creaform’s portable measurement technology, culminating in the purchase in late 2012 of further HandyProbe systems for BMW’s primary car plant in Munich. The decision to invest in the HandyProbe was taken after extensive testing of the system along with the MetraScan portable handheld 3D scanner, which can be easily added to an existing HandyProbe. The system was selected primarily due to the ease of use of the system and the speed with which measurements could be acquired, especially for complete car bodies. Of particular significance was the fact that the handheld MetraScan scanner was also purchased in favour of the traditional white-light systems that have been in use at BMW for several years. This was due to the speed with which a handheld scanner was able to acquire surface data on complex surfaces to an accuracy that was well within the required parameters and with a comparable quality of data to the white light system.

Further success of the HandyProbe has just been announced with the purchase of 5 HandyProbe systems at Volkswagen’s main vehicle plant in Wolfsburg, Germany. The systems have been purchased as a pilot project to develop an in-process solution for the measurement of vehicle bodies and interiors on a moving assembly line. The system involves the setup of a virtual “measuring room” incorporating multiple C-Tracks, through which the assembly track will pass such that operators can take measurements anywhere on a vehicle without having to move or relocate the tracking device. This will be used for the measurement of the front-end assemblies and the cockpits of the latest VW Golf family of vehicles.

The final solution will be deployed to enable parts to be measured on a vehicle while it is being assembled on a moving production line at up to 4m per minute. Using the TRUaccuracy dynamic tracking of the HandyProbe, the fact that the vehicle is moving along the line will have no effect on the measurement or its accuracy. Two pairs of C-Track optical trackers will be placed either side of the moving track so that the HandyProbe is available for measurement at all times. The fifth system will be used to provide a single mobile CMM for measurement at other points on the production line. This flexibility of the system was a key factor in VW’s decision to select the Creaform optical CMM’s.

Creaform is rapidly becoming the first choice technology partner for some of the world’s leading automotive and transport industry manufacturing companies. Their advanced optical technologies are being employed at more and more OEM and supplier sites in areas such as design, reverse engineering, prototyping, simulation, manufacturing, quality control and design for the aftermarket. Creaform’s UK partner, Measurement Solutions of Peterborough, has seen a drastic increase in interest in the HandyProbe optical CMM. Managing director, Iain Caville, comments

“The HandyProbe represents a significant leap forward in measurement technology. Old technology devices such as arms and laser trackers have proven to have too many limitations when used in real manufacturing environments, and invariably end up back in the measurement room, defeating the whole point of buying a portable measuring system. Due to the HandyProbe’s ability to maintain high accuracy in any environment, and the fact it can be easily upgraded to incorporate the MetraScan handheld scanner for ultimate flexibility of measurement, we truly believe that Creaform have developed the next generation of measurement devices, destined to become the new standard in 3D measurement.”

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