3D scanner upgraded for automated composite inspection promises big benefits for aerospace and automotive industries

12 July 2018

A 3D optical scanner upgraded for the automated inspection of composites is being put through its paces at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) to see how it can improve shop floor productivity for the automotive and aerospace industries.

The Hexagon Blaze 600A uses three high-resolution cameras to capture digital imagery to generate 3D models of measured parts. Its enhanced projection technology means it can be used to scan shiny, black and composite materials without the need for surface preparation and compatibility with robotic installations means it no longer has to be manually guided by an operator, speeding up the scanning process.

Thomas Hodgson, Large Volume Metrology Technical Lead for the AMRC’s Integrated Manufacturing Group, has been reviewing the state-of-the-art technology and testing its capabilities as part of an AMRC Board funded project.

Based on Hexagon’s proven white light scanner technology, the Blaze 600A combines high-resolution digital imaging technology with blue light LED illumination to rapidly deliver high-accuracy freeform surface and feature data. The large measurement field efficiently captures high-density point cloud data, while the enhanced projection technology enables virtually any material or surface type - including shiny, painted and reflective surfaces, black parts and composite materials - to be scanned without the need for surface preparation.

“It offers a better understanding of the total part and total assembly performance,” said Thomas, who has been putting the kit through its paces in a special metrology cell set up at Factory 2050, the collaborative research and development facility home to the IMG.

“Traditionally, if you needed to scan something and it was composite or a shiny metallic part, the process is to use white spray which dulls the surface and allows it to be scanned. The problem with that is you have to clean the part and you have to buy the spray. It can be very costly.

“With this system, it’s not just cost-savings from a procurement point of view but it’s time saving as well because you don’t have to clean things and that’s quite a big benefit.”

A significant advantage of the fully automated system is it works at a greater speed – resulting in improved throughput and increased shop floor productivity.

“The way the system works when it is used manually is that an operator has to put positioning targets on the part being scanned, which are small white stickers that the 3D scanner uses to position itself and recognise the part and where it is. That all takes time,” said Thomas.

“When you automate the system, you can rely on the robot to provide the repeatability so you do a one-off scan with the positioning targets and for each subsequent scan you don’t need them. That’s the advantage it has over other systems that still require these positioning targets.”

Thomas said faster inspection rates could have huge benefits not only for automotive manufacturers but the aerospace industry too which is increasingly favouring the use of composite materials in aircraft production.

Tim Gears, Business Development Engineer at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, said the new Hexagon Blaze 600A cell at Factory 2050 is the result of a previous projects conducted with IMG and will have the capability to be reconfigured based on the specific requirements of customers.

Tim said: “Having collaboration between Hexagon and IMG has allowed easier, quicker and more affordable engagements for our existing and potentially new customers. Our aim is to create more active engagements and greater open access for our technology. IMG and the AMRC aids in executing such strategy.

“As a member of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, the AMRC has opened the door to work with any business, big or small. They have helped us prove-out automation or robotics, or new manufacturing processes at low-cost and with low-risk.

“My argument has always been the technology to achieve these goals already exists, improving not only production, but enabling flexibility, cost efficiency and enhancements in health and safety.

“We need smarter, flexible work cell solutions that enable you to add measurement stations as you need them, optimised solutions by mixing and matching different components or even sensors as necessary.”

The IMG is now scoping for more projects to test the technology for further applications. It is looking to explore statistical process control (SPC) on the system, where measurement data is used to understand what is happening within the process and flag up any potential problems and make interventions before something goes wrong.

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