Probing for productivity

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by Jim Barnes

The Problem: Wasteful quality control process

The Solution: On-machine verification

In-line measurement tools slash part handling time for Quebec mouldmaker


It’s a business that puts its money where its mouth is. It is “world-class, by any standard… They have nothing but state-of-the-art machine tools,” says Jean Zangao. For 40 years, DBM Reflex Enterprises Inc., Laval, QC., has supplied the automotive lighting industry with high quality reflex electroforms and other optical components as well as high tech moulds.

Jean Zangao, sales manager Americas, Hexagon Metrology Inc./m&h Inprocess, Burlington, ON, worked with the firm on implementing a sophisticated in-line measurement program.

DBM Reflex has three manufacturing facilities, including a 3,200 sq m DBM Lighting Solutions facility opened in 2008, says Martin Picard, in charge of training at DBM Reflex.

The firm uses an array of five axis CNC machine tools supported by CATIA CAD/CAM software and is certified to ISO 9001 and ISO/TS 16949.

Like many mouldmakers, DBM Reflex often produces one-off workpieces. That narrows the scope for developing production procedures during the manufacturing process considerably.

Wasteful process
The existing quality control process seemed wasteful to Picard. Parts were handled repeatedly, as they were removed from the machine, taken to the inspection department for examination and possibly returned to the machine for rework.

He felt that on-machine verification was the answer and the firm surveyed the market to determine what was available. Picard started to work with m&h Inprocess’ infrared probes.

“The first step was to prove the concept,” says Picard. He did some probing using macro programming on the machine. “I started out with square blocks. Then I used CATIA, which allowed us to do some easy shapes.” The testing phase took Picard a year.

“Once I proved to everybody–the machinists, the supervisors, the director, the manager and the owner of the company–that we can inspect parts right in the machine, they said ‘Okay, go,'” says Picard.

The next step was to acquire the m&h Form 3D software and familiarize himself with it thoroughly.

Picard, a former machinist, was impressed with the software’s ease of use, saying it was clearly designed for machinists. “It’s easy–what you see is what you get. You get the results and you can prove it to the QC department your customers or your boss– or yourself.”

“The software was originally geared toward smaller operations where they didn’t have a lot of money to spend on large metrology systems. They just wanted to make sure that the part was good before they removed it from the machine,” says Zangao. “For the majority of our customers, the operator himself is doing the programming.”

The CAD model of the workpiece is imported into the software, which references it against on-machine measurements. It allows post-process, complex verification.

Zangao says skilled operators can learn the software in a couple of days. “It’s pull-down menus, it’s pick and choose–you select what you want to measure with the mouse. The software writes the program that will go on the machine tool,” he says.

Once communication is established between the machine and the computer, “they talk back and forth to each other,” says Zangao. “You send the information to the machine, you measure with the control and the information is sent back to the computer. You have the measurements that you’ve asked for on your screen immediately.”

The system can then print complete reports, including graphics, measurements and any deviations. “You’re getting a total report,” says Zangao.

The software was integrated gradually on several machines with the quality control department, engineering department and machine operators all involved in internal process development.

Picard had a communications task to deal with. “I had to explain to all of the staff that this would be a better tool for everybody,” he says.

He was the key figure in implementation. “A few years ago, I was a machinist. I talk on the same level as them. I understand what they need, and they understand–now–that this is a gain for them.”

He personally trained every machinist on the software. “I had spent so much time myself with the software, that I was the best person to provide training,” he says.

The project was a major success from the shop’s point of view. “Now, I wouldn’t be able to remove it. If I tried, they’d hit me,” says Picard with a laugh. “It’s like security for them.”

The probes are being used to set up workpieces and handle pre-process and post-process verification, right on the machine. “They are verifying very complex shapes, angles and positions on those components. It eliminates rework,” says Zangao.

The shop is definitely more efficient, but Picard doesn’t try to quantify the gains. “It would be easier to quantify if production runs were larger. As a mouldmaker, we only do the mould once, and each one is different. You can’t really generalize.” While the time savings is important, “the real gain is in the quality of the part,” says Picard.

Would he handle the implementation any differently if he had to do it over again? “Now that I know it works so well, I realize I didn’t need to test it so many times. You can trust it,” he says.

He also emphasizes the need to get staff buy-in. “In every job, there’s a human being. If you want to change something, they need time to accept the change,” he says.SMT

Jim Barnes is a contributing editor. [email protected]

DBM Reflex

Hexagon Metrology

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