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Today's Flexible Multi-Purpose Inspection Systems: Process Setup, Process Control, and Product Traceability--All in One Platform
Wednesday, March 28, 2012 | William F. Loving, ScanCAD International Inc.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of SMT Magazine.

Introduction

Manufacturers in today’s environment face many challenges, including building products which, in many cases, are designed by another organization without adequate regard for manufacturability--with raw material coming from a variety of sources on a wide variety of machine types using many different processes. In addition, those working in the factory have a wide variety of skill levels and there is a constant need for training due to employee turnover and the introduction of new processes and equipment. It is a truly dynamic environment.

Many products, such as cell phones, PDAs, laptop PCs, etc., are steadily miniaturized, so the parts and associated feature sizes in the manufacturing environment are getting smaller and smaller. Technology is also changing very quickly so there is always pressure to get new products to market faster and faster. Furthermore, there is always pressure to reduce costs so that products can get to the market at lower and lower prices. Some application areas involve levels of compliance and regulatory requirements that are forcing automated inspection processes.

And, finally, this manufacturing needs to be performed in a clean, safe environment with little down-time and with as little scrap and rework as possible. In short, manufacturers today are facing unprecedented challenges.

For process setup and control, many manufacturers are using the same tools that have been used for decades, such as calipers, micrometers, gauge pins/blocks, microscopes, optical comparators, and coordinate measuring machines (CMMs). To meet the requirements of today’s manufacturing environment, new tools are needed along with the existing tools.

Fortunately, new, low-cost inspection systems are very flexible, allowing for many types of inspection to occur on a single platform. The same system can be used for process setup, process control, and product traceability. These systems can also be used for data creation as well as inspection. The new inspection tools complement the existing measurement tools.

Automatic Inspection

Automatic inspection for both process setup and process control is more important than ever before. Some manufacturing operations try to get by without inspection at all or by relying on manual visual inspection. For most companies, inspection, automatic or manual, is performed at the end of the line to simply sort good parts from bad. A better way is to ensure the parts are built correctly the first time to minimize the time, energy, and expense of rework and excess scrap.

Visual inspection is a difficult process and is usually very subjective; this relies on the expertise of the person performing the inspection and it is not repeatable from operator to operator. Now, with the miniaturization of parts, more complex geometries, different materials, etc. involved in many manufacturing operations, manual inspection is even more difficult and, in some cases, impossible.


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