Automation is inherently fascinating. Robotic arms, programmed workflows and smart data. These innovations are populating the manufacturing space and are changing the landscape of production processes. Adhesion processes and surface quality inspection operations, in particular, have traditionally been accomplished through manual methods. This is changing, however, with the advent of more and more treatment and assembly processes being done through automated means.
Plasma treatment, corona treatment, coating operations, laser ablation, machining and tooling operations; all of these are increasingly being done by and with the aid of automated processes.
As manufacturing processes get more autonomous, surface quality inspection processes need to keep up. There is an abundance of value to measuring surface cleanliness and the chemical state of a surface using automated equipment.
The task of any surface quality inspection equipment and operations is to verify at each Critical Control Point (any step in the adhesion process where a material surface has an opportunity to change intentionally or not) if the cleaning, preparation and treatment steps are properly manipulating the surface. Being able to automate this validation infuses a new level of efficiency into production processes.
Historically, material surface analysis has taken place offline, typically in a laboratory setting or some place that wouldn’t disrupt the production flow. Historically, surface quality specifications have been created in the lab with the hope that they translate perfectly to the production line. More often than not, the production process is executed without a validation step to ensure that what was done in the lab actually works on the floor. Many cleanliness inspection tests are destructive to the part being inspected, when surface quality is even being evaluated in production, so samples have to be removed from the production line, tested elsewhere and ultimately discarded.
Installing an automated surface quality inspection system completely upends this need for offline evaluation. Equipping a robotic arm with a non-destructive surface quality measurement device directly in the flow of production instantly removes unnecessary steps and built-in scrap caused by traditional inspection methods. Additionally, if an in-line option isn’t feasible due to production configuration constraints, an automated check station that sits next to the production line is a great alternative.
Automated inspections, as a replacement for subjective, manual tests, removes the possibility of human error. Using a quantitative, repeatable measurement for surface quality verification is the first step to taking control of an adhesion process. Utilizing an automated process to conduct that verification elevates the level of consistency, reliability and objectivity.
When information about surface quality is available as immediately and quickly as it can be with an automated system the gears of communication begin to work more efficiently as well. Communication between processing equipment, communication between suppliers and manufacturers and communication within organizations all becomes more productive and clear when well-defined, quantitative data is gathered at speeds heretofore unavailable. Automation makes this possible.
Autonomous inspection systems that seamlessly integrate with Manufacturing Execution Systems allow for direct interaction between the inspection process and the surface manipulation processes.
An automated inspection point set up directly following a cleaning or activation step can track drifts in surface quality in real time. As parts make their way through an industrial wash bath the fluids retain what was removed from the surfaces and becomes less effective over time. An automated surface inspection post-wash can immediately flag the exact moment a material’s surface is no longer within the quality specification required for optimal adhesion performance. Operators can know within seconds when they need to change the wash fluids.
Anomalies can also be detected where they could easily slip through before. For instance, if a component has a uniquely unclean surface compared to the rest of the parts being processed, an automated system could detect this at any stage in production. This prevents unknowingly keeping unsuitable parts in the process flow that need to be handled differently than the rest.
When an automated surface inspection system is used, it creates a common language between suppliers and manufacturers as well as inter-departmentally within a company. A streamlined, quantitative evaluation removes confusion about whether an incoming part is meeting surface quality standards and helps get to the root cause of adhesion problems that crop up.
When surface quality data is collected digitally at the source of the inspection, it expands the availability of that information. As opposed to having to be manually entered into a database, automating the data collection means immediate action can be taken on meaningful results of quality inspections. There is no lag time between the verification step and implementing remediation or any other steps that may be called for post-inspection.
Automated surface quality and cleanliness inspection removes variables that increase uncertainty and volatility. When human error and subjectivity are out of the equation it is easier to satisfy rigorous regulatory standards for safety and cleanliness.
Data derived from an autonomous system can map out the entirety of a material surface leaving nothing to guesswork. This holistic information makes it possible to gain certainty that every part will meet adhesion performance requirements and that contamination is being mitigated and controlled.
Download the “Predictable Adhesion in Manufacturing Through Process Verification” ebook for more information on how setting up in-line surface quality inspections makes adhesion process control possible. Turning manufacturing processes into intelligent surface manipulation processes through automated surface quality inspections establishes a bright future for production companies.