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  • Writer's pictureJeff Johnson

XPlanar Makes Optical Inspection Fly in Automotive Quality Assurance System

Built around Beckhoff’s adaptive automation solution, XPlanar, this modular inspection system accelerates quality control – while shrinking machine footprints and providing flexibility for the future


In manufacturing, the less time it takes for inspection, the better. Quality assurance bottlenecks are especially apparent when working with different components and in high-mix low-volume (HMLV) production. So stoba Sondermaschinen GmbH set out to solve this challenge with its InspectorONE optical inspection system.


InspectorONE is based on deep learning and features the XPlanar “flying motion” system from Beckhoff to enable adaptive material handling flows. In one application, for example, the system allows an automotive supplier to achieve extremely short cycle times of just 3 seconds when inspecting high-pressure injection valves. That adds up to inspection of roughly 6 million parts per year in three-shift operation.


A stoba inspection machine with Beckhoff XPlanar
The XPlanar intelligent transport system supports the compact design of stoba’s testing facility.

Based in Memmingen, Germany, stoba is a custom machine builder focused on automated production. The company’s proven track record and profound know-how in this area are key differentiators, according to Michael Berkner, a sales expert for laser technology at stoba.


“This expertise is built on extensive experience in laser material processing, which requires high precision and the optimal combination of automation, laser technology and optical test systems. The result is the InspectorONE test system – a self-learning machine for the visual inspection of all kinds of components and products,” Berkner says.


Modularity is also a crucial factor here, explains Simon Mohr, laser technology expert at stoba: “Depending on the application and testing process, the system includes not only different types of stations, but also different numbers of stations, such as camera systems for surface inspection, and measurement technology for component measurement or code readers. This can be defined on a modular basis according to application requirements, just as XPlanar as the central handling unit can be optimally adapted via the respective number of tiles and movers.”


Intelligent transport delivers quick, error-free testing

An industrial automation inspection system with the Beckhoff XPlanar
The floating and flying XPlanar movers transport the components through the testing process in an optimized 3-second cycle.

The InspectorONE currently being implemented is an optical testing machine for high-pressure injection valves. This system has been specially configured for an automotive supplier and is directly integrated into the end-of-line manufacturing. Robots load and unload the valves onto XPlanar movers.


XPlanar provides complete flexibility in conveyance for transporting valve assemblies through the inspection processes. Using electromagnetic levitation, the free-floating and flying movers speed the components to various camera and measuring stations as needed in a process-optimized manner. Making XPlanar the core of the InspectorONE solution enables incredibly short inspection times for different components with a number of key advantages over traditional inspection systems:

  • Complete 360-degree rotation simplifies full inspection of each part on just one XPlanar mover.

  • Multiple movers per system support simultaneous inspection of different components on one machine.

  • Parts are inherently traceable due to mapping of movers in the fully integrated Beckhoff control system.

With these advantages, the automotive supplier possesses the tools to more effectively detect any surface defects, contamination, particles in liquids or air bubbles in the material, guaranteeing greater part quality. In addition to the XPlanar advantages, the automated system is equipped with machine vision cameras and deep-learning software. So it continuously improves its capabilities, optimizing for faster component scanning and enhanced detection of features or anomalies.



XPlanar boosts speed and flexibility


CP29xx multi-touch Control Panel from Beckhoff
A CP29xx multi-touch Control Panel from Beckhoff enables convenient machine operation and process control.

The XPlanar movers not only transport the components to the individual inspection stations, but they also optimize the process flow due to the many degrees of freedom in movement. According to Simon Mohr, the rotation of the mover simplifies and accelerates component measurement from all sides. This fits with stroba’s objectives behind the selection of the transport system.


“XPlanar enables short cycle times, which would be difficult to achieve even with a rotary indexing machine. It is also an extremely flexible and easily customizable modular system,” Mohr says. “The floating movers represent a wear- and abrasion-free material handling technology, which makes them ideal for use in clean rooms. This would not have been feasible with linear guides or rotary indexing machines.”


Alternative concepts, such as a rotary indexing machine, would require significantly more mechanical design, according to Berkner. Here, XPlanar replaces a heap of expensive, space-consuming mechanical components through its high level of software functionality.


Measuring several parts at the same time in a rotary indexing machine is technically possible. However, this would require the complex coupling of corresponding rotational axes to even get close to the same level of 360-degree inspection. More importantly to the automotive supplier, this convoluted rotary indexing approach would make it impossible to achieve the required inspection time, especially when you factor in how long coupling and decoupling would take.


With XPlanar, it’s a different story. All this can be achieved simply using standard TwinCAT software functionality for 360-rotation rotation with the movers and motor tiles from Beckhoff.


XPlanar accelerates testing with higher reliability and less maintenance


A Beckhoff CX2072 Embedded PC
The CX2072 Embedded PC with directly connected EtherCAT and TwinSAFE terminals controls all motion and test sequences.

Improved functionality and a sleeker mechanical design aren’t the only advantages stoba reaped from implementing the adaptive manufacturing solution. “XPlanar eliminates mechanical abrasion, which makes for an extremely low-maintenance system overall. This has a positive effect, especially with the frequent product changes throughout the year,” Berkner says. “XPlanar also allowed us to achieve a particularly compact machine design, saving us around 15–20% in floor space compared to conventional systems.”


According to Mohr, the accessibility of the system has also improved for personnel: “The new design has made it possible to install the control cabinet under the XPlanar tile surface. This is the only way to ensure service doors can be fitted on all four sides of the machine, thereby facilitating optimal access to the system.”


The reduced need for maintenance also improves the overall efficiency of the system, as less maintenance ultimately frees up more time for effective testing. According to the stoba experts, this is also directly evident in testing operations, in that the floating product transport avoids abrasion and minimizes microparticle contamination in the components. In the event that particles of this nature are present, they are detected as an anomaly by the high-precision deep-learning software, even if it is not an actual component defect.


Software functionality increases adaptability

Beckhoff and Stoba engineering experts with the XPlanar mechatronics system
The team of experts: (left to right) Markus Günther, Head of Electrical Processes at stoba; Markus Gleich, IT Systems Engineer at stoba; Günter Herbrik, Technical Product Designer at stoba; Christopher Kleinert, Head of Beckhoff’s Sales Office in Kempten, Germany; Michael Greiner, Application Engineer at Beckhoff; Tobias Steidele, Trainee at stoba; and Michael Schneider, Electrical Planner at stoba.

The automotive supplier is now on cruise control with InspectorONE’s ability to meet the specified cycle time of 3 seconds – and an incredible throughput of 6 million part inspections per year. But beyond that, the solution futureproofs their manufacturing. Mohr also sees the high software functionality of XPlanar as a major advantage for adapting the test system to changing industry requirements and increased HMLV production.


“If you consider the long service life of the system as well as the different product life cycles, replacing mechanics with the software functionality of XPlanar becomes decisively more important,” he says. “A flexible system such as InspectorONE can be adapted to new components or changed inspection requirements over many years without much effort by simply replacing or adding the respective inspection stations. As far as the changed product transport goes, it is sufficient to perform updates via software.”



But the stoba team isn’t finished innovating with XPlanar. “This still has great potential for the future,” Berkner explains. “For example, we are looking into component-specific formulas for the motion profiles of the XPlanar movers so that we can test different components batch by batch without interrupting the production process. This would simply not be feasible with a mechanical conversion.”


Ready to refuel your HMLV production and inspection applications with adaptive automation technologies? Contact your local Beckhoff sales engineer today.


 

Jeff Johnson, Beckhoff's product manager for XTS and XPlanar

Jeff Johnson is the Mechatronics Product Manager for Beckhoff Automation LLC.

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