Data collection goes wireless

Cumbersome, manual data collection is fast becoming a thing of the past on the manufacturing shop floor

Comments Off November 17, 2010 at 11:07 am by

As metalworking shops look to competitive global markets, they find themselves in a world where standards are rising and tolerances are shrinking.  Consequently, a growing number are finding that timely measurement of the parts they manufacture is essential to meeting the demands of their customers.

AV Gauge & Fixture Inc., based in Oldcastle, ON, provides a wide range of positional gauges for the manufacturing industry.

“We build gauges and check fixtures for just about anyone who runs production. Any company that has parts coming out of a press or out of a mould and needs to ensure their parts are checked before they’re sent to their customers,” says Steve St. Pierre, manager of quality control for AV. “So basically we build a jig, they put their part in it, and it’ll check the shape, form, size, and make sure the features are there that need to be there prior to them being able to ship.”

Recently, a growing number of AV’s customers have started using UWave wireless data collection technology from Mitutoyo Canada Inc., Mississauga, ON, to improve their measurement capability. Collecting data on parts is, of course, nothing new. In the automotive sector that represents most of AV’s customers, the growing power of Statistical Process Control (SPC) software has strengthened the ability of quality practitioners to keep tabs on a wide range of quality parameters. Many parameters, however, demand many measurements, and until recently, the physical process of data collection was cumbersome, and often involved manual steps.

“I think the OEMs are pushing their customers to control their processes much better, and their tolerances are tighter than they used to be,” says St. Pierre.  “Our customers are getting more advanced. They want to learn, and they are using this data to make their own processes better, not just to show results to the customer. So it’s really two-fold.  If you look up any SPC processes, that’s what it’s really about. The customers that are savvy will use it to make their company run better.”

“Data collection has been around for a long time,” says Gary Sinasac, sales and application specialist with Mitutoyo Canada.

“Basically it started with somebody taking, for example, a measuring micrometer or caliper, taking a reading and writing down that number on a sheet of paper. Once there were 100 or so numbers written on a piece of paper, they would take it in and somebody would type out those numbers to an SPC software program, and do all the number crunching.”

There were two problems with this method. The writing and re-typing of each number created opportunities for human error, and when the recording task became large and repetitive, errors were inevitable. Timing was the other factor—by the time the numbers got into the system, the part that was measured had likely already shipped, so real time control was not practical.

“That was the old way of doing it,” says Sinasac. “Then we came up with interface boxes, where the tool could be connected. That eliminated having to enter numbers by hand. But the drawback was that it in some situations was hard-wired and this didn’t suit certain customer needs.”

The Mitutoyo UWave uses an RF transmission frequency to prevent interference from plant equipment.

The use of wireless to eliminate cables was the next stage. The UWave product uses an RF transmission frequency that prevents interference from factory equipment. The 20 m range gives operators and quality assurance practitioners the flexibility they need to maintain reasonable workflow patterns.  This is particularly important when measurements of multiple parts are going into the system simultaneously.

“One example is a plant in Woodstock, ON, where they have an SPC station on the shop floor,” says Sinasac, “and they have a number of stamping parts that they make there, and there may be five or six checking fixtures around this SPC station. So the operator, when he’s ready to collect data for one of the parts, goes to that fixture, and sticks an indicator into the SPC port, pushes a button, and downloads it into the Measurelink Real-Time software. When another part is produced another operator will come in with his part, and check that part on a different gauge, and push the button and download the data into the same computer—the same software.”

Once the data is collected, it can be analyzed using Mitutoyo’s Measurelink software, or the data, which is ODBC compliant, can be transferred to desktop applications like Excel, or to enterprise level applications.

St. Pierre sees wireless data collection as part of a continuing trend. “You look at all the kids walking around with phones in their hands and they’re in communication with everyone around the world,” says St. Pierre.

“When they bring their mindset into the workforce, I think it’s going to change things even more.” QC

Jacob Stoller is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

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