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Ryan E. Day


Using 3D Scanning and Laser Tracker Technology for Large-Volume Measurements

Aluminum tech leader Wagstaff Inc. meets big challenges head on

Published: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 11:01

Sponsored Content

For manufacturers, big parts pose big challenges. How does one measure parts that are in excess of 15 ft and also have complex geometry? Design and inspection are part and parcel of all manufacturing operations, but as product size increases, and part geometry grows more complex, the challenges take on larger proportions.

Wagstaff, Inc. is the recognized leader in the design, development, supply, and service of the systems and equipment required to produce primary aluminum ingot and billet using direct chill (DC) casting methods in casthouses around the world. The team at Wagstaff is well acquainted with large-part inspection challenges.

Image 1: A Wagstaff casting cylinder being installed

“Some of the cylinders that we manufacture are nearing 30 ft tall,” says Jim Massey, quality assurance engineer at Wagstaff. “And then tables and bases and other equipment are upwards of 25 ft by 15 ft.”

Image 2: Each molding table is mated to a custom Wagstaff Mold Table Mounting System

Enter big challenges

The challenge, of course, is being able to get accurate measurements of all the surface features of parts that big.

“We were using rods and transit, wires, blocks, squares,” explains Janet McMillan, quality assurance manager at Wagstaff. “They’re not inaccurate; they’re just very manually demanding.”

Which translates to time and money.

“Let’s say you have two machined planes, one on the top and one on the bottom, and one plane may be hidden or inaccessible,” says Aleksandr Bakhtin, a quality assurance technician at Wagstaff. “In some situations, there’s no fast, efficient way to manually measure the distance from one to the other.”

Enter big solutions

“We began our FARO journey back in 2002,” says McMillan. “The owner of the company at that time went out to a trade show and saw a FARO Arm in operation and by the end of that year, we had a FARO Platinum Arm. Then we saw FARO’s Vantage Laser Tracker, which we also purchased. Together, the Tracker and Faro Edge Arm with scanning capability allow us to do large-scale measurements much faster and more efficiently than before.”

Image 3: As an operator scans from various locations, the laser tracker remains in place, and data continue to be sent to the same workstation.

Depending on the nature of the project or part being measured, Wagstaff uses their ScanArm and Laser Tracker in various configurations: When measuring smaller parts of under six feet, the ScanArm is typically used by itself. On larger parts when accurate measurements are needed, but not a lot of detail, the Vantage Laser Tracker is used without the ScanArm. For large parts in which accuracy and detailed measurements are needed to measure into the “nooks and crannies”, the Arm and Tracker are used together in the Super 6DoF TrackArm configuration. These highly-accurate measurement tools give Wagstaff the flexibility to quickly switch between using a 3D measurement Arm and Laser Tracker independently, and for Super 6DoF applications. Most of the time, the two devices are used independently, but the ability to use them together to measure across a single, large coordinate system is crucial.

“Manual tools typically measure point to point,” says Bakhtin. “Which doesn’t give you a good dimensional picture of what a complex part looks like, whereas with the FARO technology, you capture a 3D model of whatever you measure, and that gives you complete understanding of the shape, form, and size of the object. The real advantage is the 3D. It’s unbeatable.”

Meet the Super 6DoF TrackArm
Click here for FARO's free whitepaper on the ultimate large-volume measurement solution

Big innovation

Reading the history page on Wagstaff’s website is a lesson in a culture of innovation. Wagstaff Inc. has been innovating and improving constantly since the company got started in 1946 in a pump house behind George Wagstaff’s family home.

“Manufacturing specific widgets over and over is not our thing,” admits McMillan. “We engineer and manufacture to customer specifications. We are constantly trying to anticipate and exceed customers’ expectations to cast aluminum in bigger sizes, shapes, and new alloys.”

3D modeling with the CAM2 and Polyworks software is key to Wagstaff’s innovation efforts.

Image 5: (Top) Aleksandr Bakhtin scanning mating components to determine alignment issues. (Bottom) Screenshot of Bakhtin's scan as rendered in Polyworks.

Extra benefits

“The other thing the FARO equipment has over manual methods is the reporting capabilities, which are much more professional,” says McMillan. “That’s a nice addition. For some jobs, that kind of reporting has become part of the contract. For defect analysis, you need a lot of data, and the FARO has given us a lot more capability in collecting, analyzing, and reporting on that data.”

Internal customers
“Our own engineers are learning about the technology’s capabilities as they have questions in defect or capability analysis in their research and development,” reveals McMillan. “It’s our internal customers that are driving us to do more analysis.”

“The Tracker provides efficiency while at the same time providing a level of repeatability that we didn’t have with the manual methods,” says Massey. “Even with different operators, we’ll get very similar results using the tracker.”

“We create programs with the software to guide our operators through the measurement process and specifically tell them which features and how to measure,” says Bakhtin. “Each operator follows that same program, so repeatability is enhanced by the guidance that’s built into the program.”

Data you didn’t know you needed

There’s an old adage that says, “I didn’t even know the questions, let alone the answers.” Indeed, sometimes you don’t know which measurements you will need in the future. Without a complete 3D model, future questions of space and proportion will necessitate future measurements.

“We did a reverse engineer project here,” says Bakhtin. “I did a full laser scan of the part and provided some information to the engineers, which they had requested, and later there were more questions and other data needed. I just went to the model that I had scanned in and extracted what they asked me for. Once you capture the 3D data of your part, you can go back as many times as you want to extract information. Even years down the road, if that part isn’t accessible, you still have the data.”

This advantage is even more pronounced in the context of working offsite.

“We do fit-up inspections when we’re shipping a major project,” says McMillan. “Now we can save a model of what we measured and have data for all the equipment that gets installed out at a customer’s facility. When they order replacement parts or new sizes and tables and bases, we have that reference point to refer to.”

“I can personally see taking the ScanArm and/or Vantage Laser Tracker to a customer facility because they are portable, and you can fly them on a plane,” muses Bakhtin. “Let’s say a customer wants us to make some custom equipment for their facility. I can go out there, scan the area of operation, including the building and nearby machinery, bring the data back here, and we can design the custom piece of equipment specifically to fit what they already have in place. When something comes up that we hadn’t thought of, we can extract the data we need from the 3D model.”

For industry-leading Wagstaff Inc., investing in industry-leading technology has been worth its weight in... well, world-class aluminum.

Super 6DoF TrackArm

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About The Author

Ryan E. Day’s picture

Ryan E. Day

Ryan E. Day is Quality Digest’s project manager and senior editor for solution-based reporting, which brings together those seeking business improvement solutions and solution providers. Day has spent the last decade researching and interviewing top business leaders and continuous improvement experts at companies like Sakor, Ford, Merchandize Liquidators, Olympus, 3D Systems, Hexagon, Intertek, InfinityQS, Johnson Controls, FARO, and Eckel Industries. Most of his reporting is done with the help of his 20 lb tabby cat at his side.