QMT Features: October 2010
Schneider-Electric takes "quantum leap"
3D scan data processing technology enables design and engineering improvements through the ability to analyse functionality as a major element of an entire assembly’s analysis.

Although he’s not one for clichés, Rus Emerick, process improvement specialist at Schneider-Electric, endorses this one: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This concept, which dates back to Aristotle, is at the core of an approach called functional analysis that has implications throughout Schneider-Electric, a company with nearly 90,000 employees in 130 countries.

According to Emerick, functional analysis at Schneider-Electric took a “quantum leap” with the feature inspection capabilities in Geomagic Qualify software.  The software enables users to quickly detect, create and inspect geometrical features for tasks such as calculating size, analysing fit, comparing 2D and 3D features, and measuring point-to-point and feature-to-feature distances and angles.
 “Instead of looking at dimensions of individual parts, we are now able to analyse functionality as a major element of an entire assembly’s analysis,” says Emerick.  “We simulate how parts exist in the real world, especially how they relate to their mating parts.  We’ve saved a lot of time and material by validating our predicted functional conditions.”

Out of theoretical, into real
Emerick uses a hole and a pin as an example of how functional analysis works.  It is difficult and time-consuming to measure all possible cross-sections of the hole, and the 2D measurements often don’t have a close relationship to the fit of a cylinder into the hole.  The hole also might be constrained in its XY location relative to another location, which might restrain the possible size of an inserted pin.

Feature inspection in Geomagic Qualify acts as a virtual pin gauge, describing the wall location and recalculating the largest possible diameter of a pin that will fit in the hole, all the while maintaining the original constraints.  This gives users insight into the behaviour and fit of a functional cylindrical feature rather than just the centre location.

“When dealing with a part within an assembly, it’s the contact location, not the centre of the hole, that determines whether it will function with other parts as it is intended,” says Emerick.  “The ability to analyse fit takes contact datum out of the theoretical world into the real world.”

A surprising advantage of being able to analyse based on function is that many more parts can be accepted without compromising standards.  That’s because an assembly often functions like a team, with the whole working together to overcome individual weaknesses.

“In many cases when individual parts are measured, they fail to meet tolerances,” says Emerick.  “But an assembly can distribute tolerances throughout the chain of individual parts, and the assembly meets Six Sigma standards. This has tremendous cost and material implications.”

A positive pyramid
Thanks to company-wide adoption of 3D scanning and processing technologies, functional analysis has permutations throughout Schneider-Electric.  It drives a philosophy that Emerick calls “Design Anywhere, Build Anywhere, Qualify Anywhere.”

Schneider-Electric uses 3D scanning and processing technologies to close the loop between physical products and their digital representations.  The key tools for Schneider-Electric are Geomagic Qualify for quality inspection and Geomagic Studio for digital reconstruction.

Implementation of 3D scanning and processing within Schneider-Electric works a bit like a pyramid scheme, except in a positive way.  Approximately 50 “super-users” in seven regional centres – two in the U.S. (Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Columbia, Missouri), two in France (Grenoble and Angouleme), two in Shanghai, and one in Bangalore, India – head up training and implementation of Geomagic software.  The super-users combine an in-depth knowledge of Geomagic software with old-school inspection skills.

“These are grizzled veterans who are the modern-day equivalents of the old-time fact checkers,” says Emerick.  “They are the depository of years of knowledge and have a deep understanding of how things work.  They pass down the knowledge on how to do something well.  We’ve found that peer-to-peer mentoring develops the best users.”

At Schneider-Electric, 3D scanning and processing users are broken down into three categories:
• generalists, who use Geomagic Review, a free inspection review tool, for evaluation and new product development;
• experts, who use Geomagic Qualify for linear and GD&T part analysis, first and last article inspections (FAIR and LAIR), and basic reverse engineering; and
• specialists, who use both Geomagic Studio and Qualify for complete part/assembly analysis, Cp/Cpk (process capability) analysis, reverse engineering, and providing instruction and mentoring.

Cross-functional convergence
Schneider-Electric’s system is not only thorough, it spreads knowledge fast: Emerick says it took only six months after the introduction of feature inspection in Geomagic Qualify for the company to add functional analysis across multiple applications.

Under the “Design Anywhere, Build Anywhere, Qualify Anywhere” approach, analysis results obtained with Geomagic software are leveraged throughout the company.  It’s one data set, with multiple users and multiple solutions, according to Emerick.  Applications include design and verification, FAIR, LAIR, reverse engineering and documentation replacement, tool validation for predicting wear and making repairs, and functional analysis.

“The combination of Geomagic software and our system of training allows true convergence across all cross functions of product development,” says Emerick.  “We can use the same data set to answer different functional questions: How well did the supplier do its job?  Is tooling faithful to the design? Is the part engineered to specifications? Can parts and assemblies be manufactured efficiently? Was the tolerance analysis accurate?”

It was only recently that the answers to many of these questions were speculative.  Now, using a single data set, deep functional knowledge is available throughout the enterprise.  And, when it is time to replace a part, Schneider-Electric has a history of its 3D definition from each time it was scanned.

“Our virtual team around the world can see how different parts work with one another,” says Emerick.  “It’s not theory, but real-world facts displayed visually so all can understand.  That has incredible company-wide benefits, including major reductions in time to market, and in the case of part evolution, faster return to market.”l

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