Inspection Lab Uses New Technique to Expand

Can a portable measurement arm transform a company? Yes, it can--if the company is a leader in the quality control and inspection business like Dimensional Inspection Laboratories (DIL) of Fremont, California. After acquiring the FaroArm, the company expanded its services to include on-site inspection and, in less than one year, increased its revenues by 20 percent.

The FaroArm is a three-dimensional, portable measurement arm manufactured by FARO Technologies in Lake Mary, Florida. FARO Technologies is a developer of 3D measurement solutions for a variety of industries.

Manufacturers hire DIL, a leader in contract inspection for more than a decade, to perform first article inspection of castings, forging, plastic injected parts, tooling, fixtures, and machined parts. The company also inspects aircraft lofted contours, turbine blades, and sheet metal assemblies.

For years, DIL could only inspect parts that customers could feasibly transport to the lab. As a result, DIL had to turn down inspection jobs for large parts used in the automotive, aerospace, and foundry industries. With the acquisition of the FaroArm, DIL can now do on-site inspection of parts of unlimited size and weight. "Before, we were limited by the work envelope of our conventional coordinate measuring machine (CMM)," says Albert Faccini, General Manager at DIL. "Parts had to be shipped to us for inspection, but now we can go to the customer site. The FaroArm has added a new dimension to our lab."

Not only has the FaroArm enabled DIL to perform on-site inspections, it has also expanded and improved DIL's overall inspection services. For example, DIL can now provide customers with faster response time, fully digitized three-dimensional CAD images, and CAD-to-part inspection. For DIL's inspectors, part measurement has become quicker and more user friendly.

In the past, part measurement required DIL inspectors to place a part on a fixed, conventional CMM, and manually measure various points. It was difficult to check a number of key dimensions because of the complex size and shape of some of the intricate parts the lab inspected.

One customer with such complex parts, Macaulay Foundry in Berkeley, California, has benefited from DIL's expanded inspection capabilities. The foundry was working with extremely large sand castings. DIL assisted the foundry with first article inspection and reverse-engineering services.

"The foundry needed faster and more efficient part inspection, especially on complex parts," says Faccini. "In the past, an inspection of this type would typically take more than 100 hours. With the FaroArm, we cut the inspection time by 20 to 30 percent."

Faccini continues, "One of the most important benefits of the FaroArm is the CAD-to-part data it provides. For instance, the FaroArm generates a drawing file that can be manipulated. With the FaroArm, we can provide our customers with better CAD data at a lower cost."

The Macaulay Foundry project spurred DIL's purchase of a Silver eight-foot FaroArm, which features an eight-foot spherical-diameter measuring envelope with a single-point accuracy of 0.003 inch. If a part size, such as Macaulay's castings, exceeds the reach of the arm, the DIL operator can simply move the FaroArm to a new location and realign the part to the CAD model and resume measuring.

"The portability of the FaroArm was central to the success of the Macaulay project," says Faccini. "The arm has allowed us to perform economical, remote inspections, which has opened a new world of opportunities for our company."

The seven-axis portable measurement arm is made of aircraft grade aluminum and features precision bearings and rotary transducers at each of its joints. The base of the arm is a mounting plate that permits direct attachment to a stable base such as a transit stand or a rigid fixed surface even on the part itself. This allows DIL to set up the arm faster, even in remote locations. The FaroArm is also temperature-compensated, allowing for the variability of temperatures in remote locations.

DIL also acquired FARO's magnetic base as part of its FaroArm equipment arsenal. The magnetic base provides DIL with a simple and effective means to mount the arm on metal surfaces. Whenever DIL is called upon to measure large metal castings, for instance, the FaroArm is secured directly to the part for added safety and stability.

In the Fold

Since the Macaulay Foundry job, DIL's FaroArm has been employed on a number of other projects. For instance, DIL recently used the FaroArm to help reverse-engineer vintage automobile exhaust manifolds for a local salvage company.

Using the FaroArm, a DIL inspector collected points by touching the probe of the articulated arm along the surface of an existing vintage manifold. The DIL operator captured data as individual points. The three-dimensional information gathered included the XYZ position and IJK orientation of the probe. As the data were collected, AnthroCAM immediately drew the manifold's features on-screen, providing easy comparison with the existing measured parts from collected data. Then, AnthroCAM automatically converted the raw data generated by the measurement process into engineering-quality drawings.

According to Faccini, AnthroCAM's easy-to-use icon-based commands and logical, intuitive menu structure made this reverse-engineering job simple and cost-effective. "With AnthroCAM, we were able to 'reverse-engineer' the manifolds for which the scrap yard had no technical drawings," says Faccini. "With the reverse-engineering data, we produced a manifold pattern, and a nearby foundry used the pattern to build a casting for the production of new manifolds."

From hole patterns to complex curved surfaces, AnthroCAM translates 3D measurements into visual quality control information. As points are collected, DIL operators received instant feedback regarding the quality of the measured data. The software also features a scanning option to map more complex geometry. Furthermore, AnthroCAM's special features and functions can be automated using the software's learn mode. Learn mode is a prerecorded series of measurements designed to enable any operator to execute the program and perform measurements quickly. The software incorporates the full power of AutoDesk's Mechanical Desktop and operates on both Windows 95 and Windows NT.

"We are advanced inspectors. For us, the software is very easy to use," says Faccini. "However, with the Windows interface and technical support provided by FARO, this software would be easy for anyone to use-even if they were not advanced inspectors."

The Ultimate User

"Because we are a contract lab," Faccini says, "we take on all the measuring jobs that our customers find too troublesome to handle themselves. For instance, one day we are measuring rockets, and the next day we are measuring buses. That's why we have accumulated the knowledge, expertise, and equipment to do so many different jobs effectively."

In 1997, DIL put their inspection acumen to work for Gillig Corp. of Hayward, California, a manufacturer of buses. At Gillig, DIL used the FaroArm and AnthroCAM to help the company redesign its school buses. "Gillig is experimenting with new manufacturing techniques to make their buses more streamlined," says Faccini. "They needed a way to inspect new parts. In the past, the company did very little part inspection. With the help of the FaroArm, they now have a tremendous amount of quantitative data that tells them exactly how close their design shapes are being held."

In today's computer-based design world, the ability to measure manufactured components against complex CAD data is one of the most important attributes of a measurement system. The FaroArm and its AnthroCAM software enables companies to take advantage of this data in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

DIL is planning to add an additional FaroArm to its tool chest next year. "Our FaroArm is so busy and so cost effective, we will be buying another arm soon," says Faccini. "We have such a large need for this technology that we could buy another arm tomorrow and employ it full-time."

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