Laser-Scanning an Industry Game ChangerSat, 09/01/2018 - 10:09
Q: What role does Nikon Metrology play in the Mexican and global automotive industry?
A: Although we have always had distribution operations in Mexico, we formally entered the country in 2016 with the establishment of a technical center in Queretaro. Nikon used to focus only on microscopes and lenses but in 2009, the company acquired the Belgian group Metris thus integrating coordinate-measuring machines (CMM), laser-radar equipment, X-ray computed tomography (CT) and laser-scanning technology to its portfolio. Nikon Metrology’s penetration in the automotive sector is mostly due to this acquisition. With our original equipment we would be limited to laboratory inspections and material testing. Now, we participate in body-in-white production with most OEMs in the market and we collaborate with many of their suppliers as well.
Q: What is Nikon’s bet on innovation within the metrology segment for manufacturing operations?
A: We see greater opportunity for companies to embrace laser-scanning equipment over tactile probing solutions. Our high-speed laser technology in CMMs, portable arms and scanners allows clients to collect data faster and make better manufacturing decisions. This development helps us set Nikon apart from all the other metrology companies in the market. We also see a need to improve nondestructive testing. In the past, to check for internal defects in a component you had to grind it down. Using X-ray CT, companies can test components without having to alter them, not only analyzing them visually but also comparing their structure against a solid model.
Nikon is also betting on a large-scale laser-radar solution with its MV331 and MV351 products, which we think could be a game changer for the industry. Unlike traditional technology where probes approach the component and take multiple samples, our laser-radar technology has the capacity to shoot a beam from 30m or 50m away depending on the model and take accurate measurements. Furthermore, the equipment has the capacity to rotate 360° and it can be mounted on a robot to complement its working space. This technology has been used for many years in the aerospace sector and we are now adapting it to the needs of the automotive industry. Instead of clients having to use large CMMs to scan a body frame, they can use a laser-radar solution mounted on a robot on a rail to scan the entire system. Thanks to its flexibility, clients can even put another station on the other side of the laser-radar to scan another frame and maximize the equipment’s capabilities. In the end, samples are as equally precise as with tactile probing but they can be collected almost five times faster.
Q: How open have automotive companies been to replace their traditional CMMs in favor of laser-radar equipment?
A: OEMs do extensive testing before implementing new equipment, so we spent a lot of time with them to make sure our systems complied with their needs. One of the advantages was that we had already implemented this technology in the aerospace sector, which is no less demanding. We had to adapt our solutions to the reality of the automotive industry but there were many companies with a more forward-looking vision that were open to testing our offering and moving on from tactile probing.
Q: How do you promote these disruptive solutions among clients that are just starting to implement technology in their operations?
A: We have sample lines at our technical centers in Michigan to demonstrate how the technology works. Clients need to understand that it is not only faster but it can even reduce the number of workers needed on an assembly line. The programming interface is also quite straightforward and is compatible with several manufacturing software packages such as PolyWorks and Metrologic. The most challenging thing has been finding capable integrators to match our technology with robotics and other automation solutions. It is one thing to have a static unit and another to have it mounted on a robot on a rail.