Robotics

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - CONTENTS -

THE BMW Group has in­tro­duced com­puter to­mog­ra­phy (CT) into pro­to­type de­vel­op­ment, production and anal­y­sis – a first in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try, says the car maker.

Thanks to this tech­nol­ogy, the full range of ve­hi­cles, from MINI to Rolls-Royce, can now be qual­ity- con­trolled even in the early stages of de­vel­op­ment. Scans are per­formed by four ro­bots which move around the out­side of the pro­to­type to pro­duce sev­eral thou­sand cross-sec­tional images. These are then used for de­tailed ex­am­i­na­tions of in­no­va­tions, new ma­te­ri­als and bond­ing tech­nolo­gies. Un­til now, ve­hi­cles have had to be dis­man­tled for anal­y­sis, but CT al­lows checks to be car­ried out with the ve­hi­cle com­pletely in­tact.

The new X-ray sys­tem is based in the BMW Group Pi­lot Plant in the Re­search & In­no­va­tion Cen­tre (FIZ) in Mu­nich, at the in­ter­sec­tion be­tween De­vel­op­ment and Production.

Udo Hänle, head of Production In­te­gra­tion and Pi­lot Plant, said the use of this state- of-the-art com­puter to­mog­ra­phy sys­tem is a ma­jor step for­ward for BMW as it will help the com­pany to im­prove the qual­ity of its prod­ucts even fur­ther. “We can now an­a­lyse our pro­to­types in minute de­tail with­out hav­ing to dis­man­tle them first. The new sys­tem al­lows us to ex­am­ine our ve­hi­cles in a way that wouldn’t be pos­si­ble with con­ven­tional, static com­puter to­mog­ra­phy sys­tems. Ul­ti­mately, this will en­able us to in­te­grate new tech­nolo­gies into a se­ries ve­hi­cle even faster.”

ANAL­Y­SIS OF IN­TER­NAL STRUC­TURES

Michael Koch, head of Ma­te­rial and Process Anal­y­sis, said BMW had been us­ing CT and X-ray scans to check ve­hi­cle parts for many years, but this lat­est sys­tem takes qual­ity as­sur­ance to an en­tirely new level. “We can now an­a­lyse our ve­hi­cles right down to mi­cro-me­tre level,” he said.

This de­gree of de­tail is re­quired for a range of rea­sons, for in­stance to check welds and punch screw con­nec­tions, and to ver­ify body con­di­tion be­fore and af­ter paint­ing, where ex­treme tem­per­a­tures can af­fect ad­he­sive bonds. Find­ings from the scan are then used as a ba­sis for mak­ing tar­geted mod­i­fi­ca­tions to se­ries production.

The scan it­self is per­formed by four co­or­di­nated ro­bots. Once the ve­hi­cle is in po­si­tion in the sys­tem, the ro­bots move around it. Work­ing in pairs, they send X-rays through it and across to their coun­ter­parts. The data they col­lect is then put through a spe­cially de­vel­oped com­puter pro­gram that cal­cu­lates a multi-lay­ered, three- di­men­sional im­age. This forms the ba­sis for a de­tailed anal­y­sis of the in­ter­nal work­ings of the ve­hi­cle, of­fer­ing in­for­ma­tion on ob­jects as small as 100 mi­crome­tres – ap­prox­i­mately the width of a hu­man hair.

En­gi­neers are cur­rently car­ry­ing out re­search to es­tab­lish how far Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence might be used to eval­u­ate find­ings. By pro­cess­ing large amounts of data, the soft­ware can learn the many dif­fer­ent pat­terns that oc­cur, link in­di­vid­ual items of data, and grad­u­ally eval­u­ate find­ings au­to­mat­i­cally.

TWO YEARS OF DE­VEL­OP­MENT WORK

BMW Group en­gi­neers and the Fraun­hofer De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre for X-Ray Tech­nol­ogy (EZRT) spent two years de­vel­op­ing the new sys­tem, which is the only one of its kind in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try.

Project man­ager at the BMW Group, Philipp Janello ex­plained that work­ing with X-ray spe­cial­ists and plant en­gi­neers, the car maker was able to en­hance the soft­ware of the test sys­tem with the help of com­pre­hen­sive test mea­sure­ments car­ried out on the ve­hi­cle body. The re­sult is a cus­tomised sys­tem that meets the re­quire­ments of the BMW Group.

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