Switching from a coordinate measuring machine (CMM) to a laser scanner helped an automotive aftermarket parts manufacturer get instrument panel overlays and automotive infotainment video products to market four weeks faster. The laser system compressed the time needed to define the geometry of mating interior parts.
Automotive OEMs typically give aftermarket producers a short period of time to measure new modelswith the one that brings products to market first often winning the highest market share. When engineers at Infinity Products used a CMM to measure interior components, the limited number of points that they were able to acquire meant several weeks were usually required to convert the data into a surface model.
Recently, the company switched to a portable laser scanner that they can easily carry to the OEM’s facility and collect millions of data points in several minutes. Collecting so many points reduces the amount of time required to produce a finished CAD surface model to under a day, so the company’s designers can get to work much faster than before. The greater number of points also improves the accuracy of the model, which speeds up the downstream design process. “And in this business, the first company to market always picks up some extra sales,” said Troy Graphenteen, engineering manager, for Infinity. “Our portable laser scanner helps us generate additional sales by beating our competition to market.”
Infinity Products designs and manufactures products for the automotive aftermarket, including overhead consoles that mount DVD and VCR screens to the ceilings of automobiles, decorative instrument panel overlays and other products. For example, the company produces consoles for mobile video products that fit all of the most popular makes and models of sport utility vehicles and minivans in colors that will complement most vehicles. Mobile video overhead products feature drop down TV systems that are packed with features and built for the road rather the living room, so that rear seat passengers can watch DVDs and play video games.
Critical role of reverse engineering
The challenge for Infinity Products for its instrument panel overlay and mobile video lines is to quickly reverse engineer the roof panel of a new automobile model so that the company can provide a console that perfectly matches the vehicleand get it into production ahead of potential competitors. Shortly before the vehicle launch date, the OEM typically notifies aftermarket suppliers that a prototype vehicle will be available for measurements and gives them an opportunity to make an appointment.
In the distant past, Infinity would send an engineer with hand gauges to measure the critical areas of the vehicle. When the engineer returned, the measurements would be turned over to a designer that would be responsible for developing the geometry of the console. It usually took the designer a couple of weeks to create the geometry from the limited number of measurements that could be collected with manual gauging. It was very difficult to accurately reproduce the roof panel, so several design iterations were often needed to get a good fit.
Several years ago, the company acquired a portable CMM and began bringing it to measurement opportunities. The CMM provided more accurate measurements than could normally be achieved with manual gauging and also took quite a bit less time per point measured. But the engineer still needed to move the CMM probe into position for each point that was measured, with the result that typically only a few hundred points could be obtained in the allotted time.
The accuracy of the measurement was highly dependent upon the ability of the operator to move the probe into just the right position, touching but not depressing the interior panel. The engineer brought back a file that contained the measured points and a designer converted it into a surface model using PTC Pro/ENGINEER CAD software. This modeling took several weeks because the relatively small number of data points dictated a great deal of trial and error in fitting the surfaces. It was also very difficult to get the surfaces exactly right, which meant that the geometry typically had to be readjusted during the downstream design process. Often, prototypes didn’t quite fit, so the mold needed to be modified or replaced, creating further delays.