Self-Serve Metrology Fills ESCOs Quality-Control Expectations

Dec. 10, 2009
Ferrous foundry streamlines its new product development processes with a CMM package that combines an articulating arm with laser scanning, and achieves maximum surface inspection of any large workpiece.

Oregon-based ESCO Corp. has been designing, manufacturing, and distributing cast metal products for mining, construction, power generation, and aerospace applications for almost a century, and today the group’s operations around the world exhibit lean manufacturing practices and continuous improvement through quality management systems that are critical to its customers.

Recently, ESCO’s Dimensional/Gage Dept. set out to streamline quality control for new product development, based on metrology hardware and software. The department hoped that the new tools could provide high usability, portability, and ondemand inspection.

At the time, the Dimensional/Gage Dept. ensured product quality in two ways: physical gauging and soft gauging. In physical gauging, fixturing on the shop floor that is used by the manufacturing department to assure a product is built to specifications. The fixturing is developed, designed, and built in-house and distributed to all facilities. In soft gauging, software, CMMs, and CMM programming inspect products in a process-controlled environment for the rigors of new product development.

ESCO wanted a solution that could measure very large parts that fall outside of a CMM’s measurement envelope. “We needed to add a new tool for in-place measurement of our large parts that required no upfront programming,” said Taylor Finley, Dimensional/Gage engineer. “Many engineers working on new product development need to do a quick inspection by themselves without having to go through an operator or an engineer to program a one-time inspection. We wanted a system that an engineer with little or no experience could learn to operate quickly.”

Finley explains that it takes a lot of experience to run a CMM and program the associated software; sometimes it may take up to two years to train an operator. He points out that the parts in question are becoming more complex, with intricate contours that create a challenge to measure and verify.

In order to find the proper program, a survey was sent out to engineering and manufacturing teams, and the results pointed to a desire for the inspection systems to go farther. Engineers and manufacturers wanted the ability to bring inspection equipment to the part, and to speed up the process of bringing a product to market.

“In a group discussion, we floated the idea of this self-serve (metrology) system,” said lead engineer Alex Rizzuti. “It was an idea that would work with the right piece of equipment, and the majority of our team got on the band wagon.”

ESCO selected the Romer ( ScanShark V5 laser-scanning system. It is comprised of a seven- axis Infinite 2.0 portable CMM, a ScanShark laser scanning probe, PolyWorks software, and a computer. The combination of the articulating arm measurement with the laser scanning enables maximum surface inspection of any large workpiece. The non-contact laser scanner collects more than 458,000 points per second for detailed inspection of both geometric and surface features in a fraction of the time of probes with lesser capabilities. Also, the Romer Infinite seven-axis scanning arm has a hemispherical measuring envelope of 18 ft., operating like a human arm. Its Zero-G counterbalance offsets the weight of the carbon-fiber arm and scanner for one-handed operation from any position in the arm’s reach, above and below the midline.

This self-service model also helps ESCO with another concern: speed to market. “For continuous improvement and shortening time to market, work simply cannot sit around in queue,” added Rizzuti. “So, the self-serve model without the programming upfront is key to our effort. An engineer needing to verify a part can book the scanner when they need it, and acquire the data in a day.”

In addition, 15 engineers are master users of the program, due to the short learning curve. “We spend about a full day of training stretched out over a period of 3-4 weeks to learn how to use the systems and the software’s post-processing tools and analysis features,” said Finley. “The Romer ScanShark and the PolyWorks software have been very adaptable to our in-house standards and procedures. With this model, we can get an inspection in 24 hours, taking a fraction of the time to scan our parts, without upfront programming and practically no setup time.”

Rizzuti added that the best part about the software is that ESCO can customize the desktop for its engineers, removing tools from the menu that aren’t being used to further streamline the process. “We can give our engineers exactly what they need for the job at hand so there is no veering off the path,” he said.