Portable CMMs Carry the Day

Plasan chooses the FARO QuantumS ScanArm to inspect for big launches and big parts

Ryan E. Day

December 11, 2019

Headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Plasan North America (PNA) manufactures metal, composite, and ceramic-composite components for defense and commercial applications. PNA brings decades of process experience to bear in creating the world’s most advanced armor, metal components, and fabrications.

Challenge

PNA has a vision to become the global leader in armor solutions based on innovation and quality. This vision spurs growth that regularly challenges the company’s quality team to grow right along with production. Accelerating product development forced PNA’s quality department to reassess the capability of its current inspection equipment.

“We were facing some pretty aggressive timelines on launch activity,” explains Tony Bellitto, quality manager at Plasan North America. “We were scheduled to launch 140 new part numbers, and most of them included GD&T [geometric dimensioning and tolerancing], not just basic measurements.”

Some of the parts PNA manufactures are of considerable size and weight, which posed further challenges.

“Some of these products are up to eight feet across,” says Christine Foley, senior quality engineer at PNA. “One of the underbelly parts we produce for tactical vehicles weighs about 2,500 pounds.”

The large armor parts have multiple bends, which are formed in a brake press. The sheer size and weight of the part complicates the inspection process.

“We’re dealing with multiple bends in up to 12 millimeters of ballistic steel,” says Foley. “And some of these parts have a surface profile tolerance of 60 thousandths of an inch.”

Looking at the long-term strategy for PNA, the quality team saw that the production status quo wouldn’t work. “It was clear that verifying tolerances with a typical fixed-CMM would not be the most efficient solution for inspecting the larger parts we produce,” says Bellitto.

“A traditional fixed-CMM has its place,” says Foley. “But some of these parts are so heavy they require an overhead crane to lift them into the brake press. You can imagine what they might do to the granite table of a fixed-CMM, not to mention the floor space required to house and operate one. On top of that, there’s just no way we could physically get these parts into the enclosed environment that fixed CMMs require.”

Solution

PNA chose a 4 m QuantumS ScanArm outfitted with a FAROBlu Laser Line Probe HD high-definition camera as a main weapon in its inspection arsenal. The FAROBlu uses the most advanced complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology to deliver fast frame rate (the number of times per second that the camera gathers new data on the part being scanned) of up to 600 frames per second.

“The QuantumS is so much more efficient,” says Foley. “I seldom have to leapfrog with it. I can either reach all the features that I need to on the part, or only have to move it once, which significantly reduces both time and the risk of measurement errors.”

In some situations, dimensional measurements are being made while the part is still on the brake press.

“Especially when we’re doing prototypes and first-offs, having Christine there verifying and working with engineering to make the corrections in real-time drastically reduces the time to get that bend correct,” says Bellitto. “Most of our layout work is done near our brake machines on purpose. The flexibility and mobility of the QuantumS is a real asset.”

PNA relies heavily on its QuantumS for launch activity and any incoming subcomponent verification, similar to submitting production part pre-approval processes (PPAP) or first-article inspections (FAI).

“We have a couple programs that we run on a day-to-day basis for features like welded fixtures that have to be qualified every six months or once a year,” explains Foley. “There are many nonfixtured parts that we have to inspect before they go out the door, so we may measure at the component level first, and then once they’re welded, either I go to them or they come to me for final inspection on the end product.”

FARO’s world-class customer service was a key factor in PNA’s decision to invest in the QuantumS.

“One of the reasons I'm such a big fan of FARO products is their customer service,” admits Bellitto. “Christine and I have worked together for seven years in the quality inspection arena; we understand customer service. It’s a big part of repeat business. That is what we strive for with our customers, so when we received the level of service that we did from the FARO reps Elliott, Mason, and Bryton, it said a lot about their commitment. They were more concerned with our needs than theirs.”

Outcome

PNA’s quality department is discovering a multitude of ways the FARO equipment enhances operations.

“We’re building a lot of post-launch dimension verification into our processes,” explains Bellitto. “We’re also verifying our gauging fixtures with our QuantumS as well as utilizing it to build checks and balances right into our processes, so it’s getting a lot more use than just product verification.

“As we’re advancing our quality department, our thought process is to use the ‘repeat build’ inspection programs,” he continues. “As we build a library of programs, we can train operators at an intermediate level vs. an advanced level to take over that responsibility. The FARO CAM2 software is very intuitive and user-friendly for new users.”

The portability factor of the QuantumS facilitates easier and faster fixture verification.

“We have a laptop that’s connected to our scanner via wi-fi, so I do everything cordless when I go out on the floor,” says Foley. “I just wheel it out to the area where the larger parts are. It's nice. In fact, I had to explain this to some of our upper management team, because they were insisting that we needed a fixed CMM. I said, ‘Why would I waste the real estate for a fixed-CMM enclosure when I can take the QuantumS out to the part and get sufficiently accurate measurements there?’”

“In our manufacturing processes, we have quite a bit of material movement through our facility,” says Bellitto. “The ability to inspect out on the floor significantly reduces that issue.”

Return on investment

Accuracy
“We’ve had a government source inspector come in—very knowledgeable and educated on GD&T—and comment that he’s seen significant improvement in our data accuracy and reporting.”

Speed
“Using the QuantumS has reduced my dial-in time by about two-thirds,” says Foley. “On average, a PPAP would take me about two days because, on some of these parts, there can be a little over a thousand measurements that I have to declare. Where setup used to be an hour or two, it’s now more like 20 minutes. The accuracy is just point on, and when I can see those numbers and know how accurate it is, and see how easily I've aligned to the CAD, it’s just been a blessing.”

When asked to evaluate the FARO QuantumS ScanArm on various criteria, Foley and Bellitto gave the following ratings:

Criteria

Rating

Accuracy and repeatability:

Excellent

Speed of measurement

Game changer

Ease of use

Game changer

Portability

Game changer

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.