Green Marks the Measuring Spot

May 19, 2003
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If manufacturers across the country have one common complaint it is they can't find enough qualified employees. It does not matter what industry or region of the country, businesses have struggled to find trained employees who can step right in and do the job. To all the manufacturers who have had trouble finding technically trained staff to take precise measurements with portable articulating arms, Faro Technologies has one thing to say -- you don't need them, pretrained that is.

Faro (Lake Mary, FL) says it has made computer-aided manufacturing measurement easy to learn with its new 3-D gage for process control called Control Station. Within 10 minutes, a "man off the street" can learn to take precise enough measurements to pass gage repeatability and reproducibility (GR&R) requirements, regardless of the worker's metrology background, said Simon Raab, president and CEO of Faro. The operator needs little training, because during the measurement process they are visually guided on a touch screen display to all required measurement points on the part. A green dot on the computer image of the part tells the operator where to place the tip of the probe that is attached to a new or retrofit Faro portable articulating arm. A red dot tells the worker to move to the next part program.

"The touch screen gives simple but clear instructions on where to place the probes to get the measurements," said Raab. "We developed the Control Station with the idea that it should be as easy to use as an information kiosk you might see in a supermarket. Our rule when we were testing the product was that within 10 minutes the trainee should be able to pass GR&R."

Part-specific measuring programs, called Softcheck Tools, are individually developed by a Faro design team. Manufacturers send Faro detailed specifics about the part to be measured, including computer-aided design (CAD) programs, part drawings or schematics, and the Faro design team develops the part programs. Most Softcheck Tools can be returned within 24 hours, but highly detailed measurement requirements may take longer, said Raab. The Control Station can be updated with new Softcheck Tools via the Internet, e-mail or overnight courier, and can include preprogrammed routines, graphical and audible instructions and one-touch operation.

"A customer may have five holes and one hole has changed," said Raab. "We provide the Softcheck Tools that have been modified to their specifications. It is like having your own engineering, metrology and programming personnel on staff."

To develop the Softcheck Tools, Raab said new customers are interviewed by a design team member to get needed information for fast program turnaround time. "We need to know such things as what they want to measure, how many features it has and what they want the report to look like. This allows us to put information into our system to generate Softcheck Tools quickly."

For security conscious companies, Faro says that it has developed a secure site to keep the data. Also, companies who are leery or do not have e-mail or Web access can submit the part data on paper or other non-electronic format. The company says it can also act as a library keeping the Softcheck Tools for companies as they are needed. "The only difference is that unlike a library that just keeps the books," said Raab, "we also write the novel."

Raab said that one of the Control Station's potential benefits is that it might replace check fixtures for some companies, which for companies such as General Motors Corp. costs hundreds of millions of dollars each year, he said. This is compared to the Control Station, which cost $56,900 and includes a FaroArm, a touch-screen computer and five Softcheck Tools. To update or create additional tools costs $250 per program.

"With a check fixture, the measurement process is one dimensional, slow, complicated to learn, dependent on the user and if there is a change in the part then the fixture has to be changed," said Raab. "With this system you can eliminate the check fixture by simply going to the place where the part is made and making a measurement there."

The Control Station can be used in a go-no go situation or to track overall trends. Softcheck Tools produce graphical reports that can be designed to show immediate results, as well as cumulative results and comparisons of past measurements taken of same-type parts. The data can be fed into any ISO or QS programs, said Raab, which can help with recordkeeping. Point specific tolerance data can be obtained and charted.

The system is also networkable, which allows secured access to the Softcheck Tools anywhere in the plant. It can also be programmed to allow authorized users to gain access to graphical reporting and see full statistical process control (SPC) data for the part and how it is trending. The operator, who may not be in a position to interpret the information in this graphic format, only sees what is needed to do their job.

"We can output a customized data format along with standard reports that come out with Softcheck Tools so they are easy to integrate with the SPC package," said Raab. "And, since the system is based on an open architecture, the software packages can go right into directories where data is stored to get what the data needs."

While the articulating arm can be detached and moved to different process locations as needed, the Control Station is normally kept in a single spot. The system is a little heavier than a portable computer and its base plate has been designed so that it can be clamped anywhere. It has a place to store the touch- screen computer as well as the Faro Arm. It was designed so that one man could handle it.

Considering the difficulties that many companies are having finding qualified employees, needing only one person to do the job can be important -- even if that person doesn't have the skills coming into the job.

SPECS

  • Little operator training is required. A green dot tells the operator where to touch the probe and a red dot tells the operator to go to the next measurement program.
  • Provides immediate access to process control information.
  • In most cases, Softcheck Tools can be delivered or revised within 24 hours.
  • CAD programs, which are transparent to the operator who may not be able to read them, can be integrated into Softcheck Tools.

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