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Quality control and assembly verification for automotive lines

Thyssen Krupp Krause Automotive using robot mounted inspection system

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Cognex vision standard solution on automotive assembly lines

For ThyssenKrupp Krause GmbH based in Bremen, Germany, a company competing on a global scale, using vision to optimize quality control throughout the production line creates key advantages in terms of quality and cost-efficiency.

The company has a successful track record as a supplier of complex automation technology developing and manufacturing assembly lines for the automotive industry. Thyssen knew they would have to create an added value on their production lines in order to satisfy their customers and maintain global success. They decided to turn to vision technology. Why did they choose Cognex as their supplier?

Quality comes first: a chain is only as strong as its weakest link
The automotive industry and its suppliers have strict requirements with respect to the reliability, cost-efficiency and quality of production facilities. If recommending the integration of technologies such as vision to the production line from the start, ThyssenKrupp needs to be sure that the quality control they are deploying down the line is 100% reliable. The result is an optimised quality assurance system throughout the assembly line (Integrated Quality Assurance, IQA) which integrates relevant company communication and database management. Based on the idea that "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link", the IQA requirements are very strict.

Vision technology has become a central element of the quality assurance system and an important factor in the optimisation of different production steps. When choosing a vision supplier ThyssenKrupp Krause wanted to satisfy three major criteria:
-100% reliable vision tools and algorithms
-User-friendly operation and installation
-Quality, global technical support

Cognex vision: the global solution
When they chose Cognex, the company found a globally-oriented partner who was able to meet these requirements far more effectively than any competitors. "This company has already installed hundreds of thousands of systems throughout the world, is extremely experienced and offers an highly efficient international support program," notes Dr. Trittin, who was involved in the decision to select Cognex as a supplier.

Six years of successful vision solutions and more to come
Between 2001 and the end of 2006, more than 320 vision sensors from the In-Sight® vision system product family and around 24 PC-based systems with VisionPro® vision software were integrated at the Bremen site. In 2007 alone, the Bremen site will have installed a total of 120 In-Sight systems. For example, several in-Sight vision systemsare placed on robotic arms on the assembly line in order to verify engine motor assembly.

Why does this company place so much trust in one single supplier of vision systems?

A vision solution for any application in challenging industrial environments
Complex production lines demand a wide range of vision tasks to be reliably carried out. These tasks are largely concerned with quality control. The working environment can prove challenging and so robust vision systems that could withstand variable lighting conditions or a dusty atmosphere were required. Cognex can supply a reliable vision solution for almost any task based on their library of vision tools including powerful software such as PatMax® technology. PatMax is integrated into both the new In-Sight vision sensors and PC-based VisionPro systems. PatMax uses the basic geometric structures of objects such as edges, dimensions, shapes, angles, curves and shading to localise them. By analyzing the geometrical data of features and their spatial relationship to each other Patmax can define the position of an object while coping with changes in the position, orientation or scale. Other Cognex vision tools are based on this technology including PatInspect® , PatFlex® and OCVMax™ - a system for advanced character verification. This base of proven, precision tools are part of a range of Cognex products guaranteeing advantages that are easy for the customers of ThyssenKrupp Krause to understand.

Product-focused flexibility
ThyssenKrupp needs be able to accommodate the wide variety of different product models manufactured by their customers. Therefore the vision system must also be flexible. The company maintains an in-house vision laboratory where staff produce feasibility studies and develop solutions for difficult tasks that require advanced vision applications. Throughout the process chain, all vision applications are connected as part of the quality assurance system allowing requirements for complete traceability to be met. Product traceability is, however, only one part of the quality management system. 2D code readers are used on a production line to trace which part was installed while other readers are used to determine the correct part for assembly. For example, injection pumps of a particular kind are matched to the corresponding injection nozzle control module. This prevents production errors further down the production line.

Ease-of use
Staff at the plant are not machine vision experts. The vision systems must therefore be easy to operate. Cognex applications and their parameters can be easily adapted by means of simple set-up. The development environment is intuitive and the vision tools are integrated with the production controllers. The In-Sight Explorer development environment is a reliable, convenient solution for programming networks of vision sensors and integrating them into the automation process and into company communications. The fact that they communicate via an integrated Ethernet interface makes them easy to use and is familiar ground for users.

A global network
Customers of ThyssenKrupp Krause are based all over the world and may also have subsidiaries in different countries. It is not uncommon to have a system integrator working on site. As a result, the global aspect and easy integration of the vision system supplier is critical. Cognex has a diverse network of system integrators based all around the world adding security to a customer investment and ensuring the same vision hardware and software products are used everywhere. Components can be replaced at any time improving flexibility and cost-efficiency.

Building on vision success: next stop – aircraft assembly
Cognex vision products are now standard offerings on all assembly lines delivered to customers. Thanks to their experience in developing complete production lines with IQA for the automotive industry ThyssenKrupp Krause now intends to use its expertise and technical capabilities in other industries. For a year, the company has been working on projects for the aviation industry with the aim of developing production lines for the complete assembly of aircraft segments. The integration of a quality management system and the corresponding organisational structures are also important factors. The company has also developed and produced complete systems for logistics companies which are able to carry out fully automated unloading of containers.

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