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4 Things You Should Know About Monitoring Surface Quality Remotely

Written by Pierce Geary

The way we work, live, and fundamentally interact with each other inevitably changes over time; sometimes those changes come much more rapidly than we anticipate or hope to see. Even at the best of times, though, preparation and efficiency can be invaluable principles to suffuse workflows and processes with. In manufacturing, this is abundantly true.

The global distribution of supply chains, broadening of team locations, outsourcing of critical functions within an organization and the digitization of data and communication has opened up the entire world to even small to medium-size manufacturers. Large corporations and small outfits alike are dealing with the need to act quickly across large expanses of space without losing valuable time or project momentum. The many ways the world is changing, unforeseeable global pandemics notwithstanding, are causing companies to not only need to plan for remote work but to quickly implement it.

There are many benefits to companies to employ a remote workforce but a lot of manufacturing companies don’t have much of a choice either. That’s where preparedness comes in. Companies that are outfitted with communication and data-sharing capabilities that easily traverse long distances can be more agile when changes to industry and surprises arise-- uncertain times demand quick responses.

When controlling manufacturing processes, like cleaning and adhesion processes, very often the duties fall across departmental lines. When it cannot be guaranteed that teams and departments are working in close proximity to one another, it’s important to create a common language around operations like failure analysis and process monitoring. The engineer responsible for evaluating the output of a washing system or the quality of assemblies from component reception to the final build may not be on the premises where these operations are taking place.

Here are four key things to know about monitoring surface quality in manufacturing to ensure reliable adhesion, consistent cleanliness and high product performance; and do it all without being in the same facility.

1. The First Thing You Need to Know About Monitoring Surface Quality Remotely

The first thing you need to know about monitoring surface quality remotely is that it should be done. Most importantly, all manufacturers who bond, coat, seal, print, paint and clean need to have process checks in place throughout their production process to ensure ideal material surfaces are being created for strong, reliable adhesion. Additionally, as was stated previously, the need to be able to effectively carry out operations from afar is critical to keeping production moving and keeping teams efficient. So, these go hand-in-hand: the need to monitor surface quality, and the need to do it from a distance.

For more information about creating an adhesion process that can withstand global shifts and streamline communication, download our eBook: Predictable Adhesion in Manufacturing Through Process Verification

Surface quality is essential to reliable adhesion and most manufacturers who do testing for surface quality usually do so at the R&D laboratory level. However, most of these tests don’t translate well to the factory floor and don’t correlate in a meaningful way to the subjective, destructive, sight-based tests that might be done in production. Also, the tests in the lab might not be adequately reproducing production environments and all of the contamination possibilities therein. When this is the case, as it often is, adhesion processes are not safe guarded from potential issues and technicians are not prepared to catch problems when they do arise.

This isn’t due to a lack of willingness to prevent problems and solve issues when they happen, it’s primarily due to a lack of available testing methods that are useable on the production line, offer quantitative data-driven analysis of material surfaces and are sensitive to the properties of surfaces that are most important to ensuring adhesion works properly.

Adhesion relies on the chemical composition of each surface that is being joined together to be precisely controlled and complementary at the molecular level. Testing methods that are sensitive to what is present on surfaces at the micrometer and nanometer levels are more readily able to accurately predict if the surface is bondable or not. 

An appreciation for the very vulnerable, delicate and critical surface needs to be developed before proper testing can take place. You need to know what you are testing and looking for before you can have certainty that data shared between remote teams will be useful. One of the keys to a great remote workforce is trust in the information being shared. The better that information is, the better chance teams have of doing their jobs well regardless of whether the quality inspection and data analysis are happening in the same place or not.

2. Create a Common Language 

For remote teams to be most effective there needs to be clear and consistent communication between them. Generating actionable data around surface preparation, cleaning, treatment and subsequent bonding, coating and painting operations can be the difference between needing to send a quality engineer halfway around the world or not. 

Putting quantifiable values on chemical cleanliness also establishes a common way of understanding the quality of parts coming in from suppliers. Being able to communicate exact parameters of cleanliness upstream through supply chains gives manufacturers a powerful management advantage.

Some industries, like aerospace manufacturing, rely on third parties to conduct maintenance and repair work. With a clear and fast way to communicate surface quality, companies can rest assured that their repair teams and contractors will be able to meet any standards for performance and streamline communications.

3. Critical Surface Quality Monitoring Can be Done Remotely

Luckily, there are inspections that can be done directly on real parts in production that can supply real-time, quantitative data in a shareable format

Say a production team in Tennessee or Michigan is experiencing seals breaking on an engine block and they need to communicate this to a quality assurance team in Japan or Korea. With the right inspection equipment measuring the chemical cleanliness of the surfaces being treated, washed and sealed, this information can be relayed in mere moments. 

When production lines are outfitted with fast and accurate inspection stations at each Critical Control Point that provide trackable data, then determining the root cause of adhesion and cleanliness issues from anywhere becomes possible. Critical Control Points are any place in an adhesion process where the quality of a surface can change, whether intentionally or not. When each of these points are determined and monitored, it allows for the entire process to be mapped out in a way that process engineers working anywhere in the world can have insight into what is occurring throughout the entirety of the manufacturing process.

The inspection systems capable of this kind of process monitoring can flex from the laboratory to the production line with ease, bridging the gap between those teams as well. 

4. Save Time, Money and Build In Flexibility

Last, but certainly not least, is that having efficient remote teams is a financial boon to companies. 

The information that is available on production lines for development and process engineers is extremely valuable. Being able to extract that information without having to physically be in the facility can save manufacturers hundreds of thousands of dollars in the cost of travel alone.

Also, when inspection equipment that allows remote teams to gather the information they require to develop and scale new products isn’t being used, this can cause costly delays in getting to the production stage. These delays can also result in finding out there was an issue when it’s much more expensive and time consuming to fix. Fast and critical learning across remote teams allows for preventative measures to be implemented so problems are stopped before they exist.

The continued diversification of supply chains, the increased automation on production lines, the digitization of processes and the ever-changing global economy all require that companies remain flexible and responsive to the needs of remote teams. Highly accurate, fast, quantifiable surface quality inspections provide that adaptability by keeping everyone on the same page to ensure adhesion processes are strong and reliable. 

For more information about creating an adhesion process that can withstand global shifts and streamline communication, download our eBook: Predictable Adhesion in Manufacturing Through Process Verification

Predictable Adhesion in Manufacturing Through Process Verification

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