Surface Inspection
Monday | 15 January, 2018 | 10:52 am

Spot check

Written by By Gretchen Salois

Above: During setup, the operator uses the 3D model to select inspection points and then punches holes.

New technology offers users affordable peace of mind

January 2018 - When you sit down at the steering wheel, everything on the dash is strategically placed to help the driver experience both safety and convenience. The cross beam at the front of a car is the backbone to the dash instrument panel that holds everything from the HVAC, radio and steering wheel, to airbags. The puzzle pieces won’t fit if everything is not exactly where it should be.

Although it already employed 2D inspection software, Calsonic Kansei Corp. wanted a more reliable method of testing the steel cross beams it cuts to ensure that, when car manufacturers like Nissan receive the final product, everything fits according to specification.

“We needed to upgrade to 3D inspection for the cross car beams, which are made from mild carbon steel,” says Jacob Gonzalez, production engineer at Calsonic Kansei in Shelbyville, Tennessee. The auto supplier’s headquarters are in Japan. “If a bracket is moved even slightly to the right or the left, the fit and finish won’t work. It’ll be defective material. We can’t afford to be even a millimeter off.”

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VisionSoft3D Robotic Metrology is an affordable blue light inspection technology capable of scanning small area surfaces.

Hole location control using VisionSoft3D inspection software from Total Controls Inc. in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, changed how Calsonic Kansei approaches its parts. “We told [Total Controls CEO] Steve Baldwin what we needed and he was excited to help us. We quoted with a few places but Total Controls won out,” Gonzalez recalls.

Low-cost sensors

VisionSoft3D Robotic Metrology Inspection Cell makes blue light technology an affordable option for large assembly inspections, says Baldwin. “While other companies boast their success in non-contact, large-area scanning systems, few offer a system designed for the small to large manufacturer with a limited budget,” he says. “Small-area scanning allows us to utilize lower cost sensors to achieve similar results to systems costing five times as much.”

Initially, Total Controls was tasked with building a system capable of validating 3D coordinate hole measurements for a new Nissan steering member for Calsonic North America. “Although I had envisioned most of the features included in the software, I never expected us to achieve them all,” Baldwin says. “Once we realized the potential for the software, we quadrupled our investment in R&D to obtain the final product.”

VisionSoft3D allows 3D models to be imported and displayed in the setup and inspection screens. During setup, the operator in charge of punching holes uses the 3D model to select inspection points using a simple point-and-click approach. “Once all points are selected, VisionSoft3D auto-generates the robot path program and initializes a SQL setup record containing the coordinate location data along with tolerance specifications for each point,” explains Baldwin. “Our auto-calibration routine helps to further reduce the manual setup of the robot and sensor.”

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VisionSoft3D is compact and easy to maneuver around a shop floor.

Quality assurance

Before, Calsonic Kansei performed spot checks. An operator manually went through the pin gauge to check where each hole should fit. “Depending on the operator, a pin can be forced, implying that the placement is OK,” Gonzalez says. “That approach can skew data to make it fit. A robot takes the operator out of that process and gives us real data we can trace. We no longer rely on an individual operator’s perspective.”

At Calsonic Kansei, Gonzalez says it previously took operators 15 to 20 minutes to inspect holes. “With the robot, it inspects the same amount of holes in only 45 seconds depending on which program we run. We no longer spot check, [but] we can check more frequently.”

Previously, manual inspection was not recorded. “There was no consistent traceability,” Gonzalez says. Without a database to enter inspection results, “that information was lost. Now we can always go back and verify.

“You can’t mess around with quality,” he adds. “When Nissan found out we could add a quality check without adding a person, it made everyone happy.”

As a result of the quick turnaround inspection software, Gonzalez says Nissan requested that some of its other suppliers begin inspecting their components as well. “Nissan went back to their other suppliers—welding, car frame, exhaust component manufacturers—and asked them to implement VisionSoft3D inspection software as well.”


Once the CAD model is loaded, the program is generated and automatically sent to the robot. “The majority of that programming is already laid out by the software—it makes it more operator friendly,” Gonzalez says.

During the actual execution of the program, once a part is scanned into the system for inspection, the 3D environment is used to rotate and zoom in and out on each inspection, allowing the user to fully understand the inspection process as data is being collected and evaluated, says Baldwin.

“A second, smaller window captures the point cloud data created by the sensor for each inspection,” he explains. “Inspection data with images are stored for traceability purposes and can be accessed for analysis through the history screen where data can be exported to Microsoft Excel with built-in CPK and XBar/R charting.”

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The VisionSoft3D inspection tool is also shop-friendly. “It’s compact—I can move it around the shop where I need it or put it somewhere out of the way,” Gonzalez says. “We can check more than we used to and provide the accuracy expected.”

VisionSoft3D’s built-in flexibility allows it to be integrated with various robots and sensors. “Over the next few years, we will be designing additional drivers and sensor interfaces to offer the software to [production line] integrators or end users for in-house builds,” Baldwin says.

Total Controls says interest was “overwhelming” at Fabtech 2017 from corporations spanning multiple industries worldwide, including automotive, defense, heavy equipment, agriculture, HVAC, off-road and water sports, furniture, among others.

Baldwin predicts the software will become popular once more people learn of it. It is only a matter of time before VisionSoft3D “becomes the first choice by many manufacturers,” he says. “The future of physical gaging with expensive GO/NO GO checking will diminish. Cost of tooling, labor, and the human error factor through this type of inspection can no longer be justified with [other] gaging technology.”

According to Gonzalez, “When Calsonic starting making steering members [cross bar beams], we set out with the goal to be a global benchmark for quality. We had to develop improved inspection techniques which lead to the [further] development of robotic inspection.” That goal has been realized and is setting a new standard, both vendor and client say. MM


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