Manually inspecting aircraft parts with depth gages can be quite time consuming, encouraging many producers to opt for faster, more automated processes. So, when military helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland needed to slash inspection times for panels on its Merlin helicopters, it chose the GapGun measurement device. AgustaWestland operators use Third Dimension’s handheld GapGun laser measurement system to quickly take detailed profile measurements of the depth of scratches on helicopter panels and aircraft gearbox components.
Maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) inspection times for interior and exterior composite panels plummeted nearly 90%.
“They wanted something that would relieve the operators and provide some traceability compared with the manual gages,” Third Dimension’s Product Manager Paul Waterfall explains. Before using the device; if an operator noted a scratch, employees would remove that panel, bolt on a new one, and ship the damaged panel to a metrology lab to be measured for go or no-go. The panel would then be returned to join the group of spares until needed. The process could take up to eight months since they waited until they had a batch of panels to ship, resulting in huge costs. “This device has metrology lab quality but with handheld capabilities. It can be taken anywhere,” Waterfall says. “If the helicopter lands and someone says, ‘Well, I’m worried about this,’ you can take the GapGun to the helicopter, get a measurement within a couple of minutes, and go. You don’t need to remove and replace a panel.”
The GapGun brings to the shop floor the accuracy and precision normally found only in a metrology lab. In 20 minutes, the device determines a part’s dimensional profile by taking a series of pictures of its surface. Operators can then establish whether scratch depths are within the required 0.15mm limit and verify whether the part needs to be repaired or replaced. “The data are also immediately transmitted to a back office so that you can keep a full record and traceability – by serial number, by operator,” Waterfall says. “That has really helped in understanding the manufacturing processes you’re using. You can pick up differences between different touch points easily.”
A noncontact, automated laser measurement system, GapGun assesses the dimensional integrity or profile of a part without touching the surface. The device’s graphical user interface (GUI) guides users through the process, requiring only minimal training. GapGun uses laser triangulation technology to collect measurements. It projects a Laser Components line laser or stripe across the part’s surface to determine the measurable feature. “When we incorporated lasers from Laser Components, we got a more uniform, consistent, and reliable product, which sped up our manufacturing process,” Waterfall states. “It provides a very consistent focus.” Simultaneously, the integrated camera system takes images of the static laser stripe. Once the system measures the angle between the camera and the laser projection, an algorithm calculates the surface dimensions that the laser and camera scanned. These data generate a digital copy of the surface. Software produces a point cloud using image processing to convert the profile images into a series of points that extrapolate the feature’s shape. These points allow the system to analyze the measured surface. Because a laser is structured light, measurement data is highly reliable and can be used as a stable light source for data analysis. Features of the component’s profile measured include angle, radius, edge break, and scratch. The measurements are then recorded for statistical process control and traceability and transferred to a computer, allowing operators to determine any possible mistakes in the production line in real-time.
A camera view of a laser projected onto a surface allows operators to see gaps or changes in patterns. For example, a scratch may be shiny or green or brown in color. Operators measuring different surfaces need to control the laser intensity and the camera sensor. The GapGun Pro’s VChange sensor interface allows operators to quickly remove, swap, and reattach sensors. The sensors’ dynamic ranges extend from extremely bright surfaces, such as soft chrome, to the darkest paints of carbon surfaces. Changing laser intensity and controlling the camera achieves the necessary accuracy in measuring various challenging surface finishes. The device’s adjustable laser cap can shorten or split the laser line to measure complex features.
This article is from the November/December issue of Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. Visit their website here: https://www.aerospacemanufacturinganddesign.com/.
Third Dimension announce their recent accreditation to ISO17025 by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS). The accreditation covers gap and flush measurements across the majority of the company’s GapGun Pro and Vectro sensor head range – covering FOV15 and FOV40 laser triangulation products – and is the first ever such accreditation by UKAS.
The ambitious project to achieve accreditation for the dimensional measurement devices started back in 2016. Each sensor head now undergoes a highly automated calibration and certification process. Full reporting of each measurement taken, as well as statistical summary data and the full traceability chain, are reported on each certificate issued. Others have been impressed with the work done, with Craig Davey, COO at Insphere, commenting:
“Achieving ISO17025 Accreditation for a non-contact dimensional device such as GapGun Pro is incredibly difficult to do – it is a real landmark achievement”
As a critical part of the quality inspection process for many aircraft and automotive manufacturers worldwide, Third Dimension’s GapGun Pro and Vectro feature measurement systems have long been associated with improving production traceability. For two decades, the instantaneous data capture and transmission back to data analysis and SPC software has eliminated transcription errors and provided certainty to managers and customers.
The non-contact device is now widely accepted in aerospace and automotive industries, but that does not mean the company is resting on its laurels. Each GapGun Pro and Vectro sensor head is already supplied with a certified, traceable artefact and a ‘head check’ software tool, to verify performance at the start of a shift, or when moving to a new vehicle or component. Achieving ISO17025 accreditation for Third Dimension’s calibration laboratory adds another level of certainty to the traceability chain, meaning that without a doubt, GapGun Pro provides the highest level of traceability of any handheld feature measurement device on the market.
Francois Froment, Third Dimension’s head of sales, emphasises the importance to the company’s customers of the landmark accreditation: “For most of our customers, unless they can prove the measurement is traceable, there is no point even trying to measure. Knowing that the tool they are using has clearly understood and defined capabilities, and that these have been assured to an international standard is a critical part of that process. Achieving ISO17025 accreditation will give many of our customers the confidence they need to realise the time and cost savings of GapGun Pro and Vectro to new production lines.”
Violet laser sensor heads use the shortest visible wavelength and enhanced software intelligence to lead the way in non-contact precision measurement.
Violet laser sensor heads extend the range of materials which can be measured by Third Dimension’s GapGun Pro and Vectro systems. Auto-makers now have a single tool for all inline gap and flush measurements, including light clusters, chrome headlights, tail lights, and all other common automotive surface finishes.
GapGun Pro and Vectro systems replace manual, contact gauges for reliable data quality and traceability.
Francois Froment, Third Dimension’s Head of Sales, reports high levels of early interest in the product: “I have taken the Violet Laser to automotive customers in the UK, Germany, Sweden and Belgium. There has been tremendous interest, with quality managers and production engineers alike seeing the potential for saving time and improving their manufacturing processes. This is definitely the most efficient solution in the market today.”
The violet laser sensor heads equip end-users including OEMs, Tier 1s and Tier 2s, with the highest measurement resolution system with unrivalled usability. Due to its highly ergonomic and lightweight design, the GapGun Pro is widely accepted by operators.
Violet laser sensor heads are a straightforward upgrade for existing GapGun Pro and Vectro customers, as they use the same VChange mechanism and do not require additional software licencing.
Proven to work on all common automotive finishes, the violet sensor heads have now been tested in more than ten automotive factories across four continents.
For more information:
- Third Dimension wins regional EEF innovation award
- Lockheed Martin presentation showcases GapGun helping with quality inspection of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
- Third Dimension launches pivotal new GapGun solution for fast, accurate and centred countersink measurement
- Non-contact laser measurement devices are saving manufacturers time, money and resources