ISA Interchange

Welcome to the official blog of the International Society of Automation (ISA).

This blog covers numerous topics on industrial automation such as operations & management, continuous & batch processing, connectivity, manufacturing & machine control, and Industry 4.0.

The material and information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. ISA blog posts may be authored by ISA staff and guest authors from the automation community. Views and opinions expressed by a guest author are solely their own, and do not necessarily represent those of ISA. Posts made by guest authors have been subject to peer review.

All Posts

How Does Adding a Laser Scan Head Improve Manufacturing Quality?

Manufacturing quality expectations are rising as consumers grow accustomed to higher standards, and supply chain disruptions make material loss a bigger issue. Strengthening inspection processes is a key part of enabling this improvement. Adding a laser scan head to machinery is an excellent way to do that.

Laser scanning is far from new, but it’s far more accessible now than in years past. This accessibility will only grow as technology advances, so manufacturers should consider this equipment when improving production quality. Lasers enable higher standards through several smaller improvements.

Here’s how adding a laser scan head improves manufacturing quality and boosts efficiency and operations.

Higher Accuracy

Laser scan heads’ accuracy and precision are their strongest advantages in manufacturing quality. Manufacturers can adjust beam sizes to one-thousandth of a millimeter, making it possible to detect surface defects invisible to the human eye.

Optical measurement techniques like laser scanning have the added benefit of avoiding mechanical contact with the parts they analyze. As a result, there are fewer outside forces to affect their position or otherwise interfere with measurements. That lack of touching also means lasers maintain peak performance and reliability for longer stretches.

These accuracy improvements allow manufacturers to consistently spot minute defects. They can then get a more realistic picture of their error rates, informing more effective changes to upstream workflows to eliminate problems at their source. Over time, these adjustments will result in significantly higher inspection pass rates.

Faster Measurements

Lasers scan parts faster than other methods. Even relatively slow pulse rates still produce reliable readings within a fraction of a second. Other optical analysis methods and mechanical alternatives can’t match that speed.

Laser systems can further improve measurement speed by covering more areas at once. A single laser scanning stripe can cover more than 7 inches in one pass, generating thousands of data points. Even scanning objects from different angles enables substantial time savings.

While speed isn’t the most mission-critical factor in improving manufacturing quality, it’s impactful. The faster a measurement is, the fewer bottlenecks thorough quality assurance processes create, justifying additional measures to inspect parts and products. Higher speeds also let manufacturers increase throughput without sacrificing inspection reliability.

Versatility

Laser scan heads are also highly versatile. Measuring length or checking for surface imperfections may be the most straightforward use cases, but lasers can monitor far more. Manufacturers can also use them to measure vibrations, color, temperature, volumes and fill levels.

This versatility means lasers can generate a far greater range of data points in one scan than alternatives. More information leads to more reliable analytics, enabling real-time error correction to prevent defects and minimize material waste. When real-time adjustments aren’t possible, data analytics can reveal where errors originate for more informed workflow changes.

Because lasers don’t contact the surfaces they analyze, they can also measure various materials and shapes without adjustment. As a result, manufacturers can improve their quality control processes across all production lines with the same technology.

Small Form Factors

A more easily overlooked advantage of laser scan heads is that they’re often small. Modern technology can generate lasers without much hardware, letting scanners feature compact form factors without sacrificing reliability. That size makes them easier to implement.

Manufacturers can equip a laser guidance system to a robotic arm without requiring additional space around the machine. The equipment can work more accurately with minimal disruption to the production line or workflows. That ease of implementation makes significant quality improvements more cost-effective, encouraging buy-in from management and creating faster ROIs. 

Laser hardware’s compact size also enables easier automation. These tools don’t need as large or powerful robotic systems to move, making them more cost-effective to automate. Because automation minimizes risks of human error, lasers’ small form factors can boost quality assurance reliability.

Ease of Use

Manufacturers can further reduce risks from human error through laser scanning’s ease of use. Because few outside factors can substantially interfere with the measurements, factory calibrations are often sufficient for most use cases. Removing the need for specialized configuration lets manufacturers implement this equipment with fewer mistakes. 

Operating a laser scan head is similarly straightforward. The scanner’s software handles all calculations and measurements, so employees only have to start the scan or use a hand scanner to move the laser head around the object. Fewer complex tasks for naturally error-prone humans mean fewer chances for mistakes to happen. 

Human error is one of the biggest obstacles to high production quality. Lasers’ simplistic setup and operation account for these mistakes, letting manufacturers provide reliable quality assurance without lengthy, expensive training.

Minimal Maintenance Requirements

Laser scanning can also improve manufacturing quality by reducing maintenance concerns. The contactless technology does not experience the wear and tear mechanical alternatives do. Similarly, fewer factors can affect their zeroing, reducing recalibration needs.

This reduced need for recalibration and repair ensures lasers deliver the most accurate results over longer periods. Required maintenance doesn’t take as long. As a result, using lasers for quality control processes means lines can achieve maximum uptime with fewer errors, ensuring better returns.

These minimal repair requirements also have financial benefits. Manufacturing equipment maintenance can cost as much as 37.5% of total ownership expenses, producing substantial downtime. Reducing the need for ongoing repairs gives laser scanning more time and room in the budget to spend on process improvements to prevent defects.

Laser Scan Heads Unlock Manufacturing Potential

It’s easy to view quality assessment as a tradeoff between efficiency and reliability, but new technologies let manufacturers achieve both. Laser scan heads are accurate, fast and versatile, enabling improvements across multiple workflows with minimal disruption. Few alternative methods can claim to achieve the same benefits within a similar cost range.

Manufacturers that want to optimize their quality control processes must consider this potential. Effective implementation of laser scanning technology can take quality assurance to the next level without creating unnecessary production bottlenecks. Those benefits become increasingly difficult to overlook as consumer demands and supply chain pressures rise. These expectations will only increase, and companies implementing laser scan heads will rise above the competition and stand out in the crowd.

Emily Newton
Emily Newton
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine celebrating advances in science and technology.

Related Posts

Ask the Automation Pros: How Can We Compute Startup Tuning for New Control Valves?

The following discussion is part of an occasional series, "Ask the Automation Pros," authored by Greg McM...
Greg McMillan May 28, 2024 7:00:00 AM

ISA Offers Thought Leadership for the Automation Profession

One of the greatest joys of serving as president of the International Society of Automation (ISA) is bein...
Prabhu Soundarrajan May 24, 2024 9:54:34 AM

How Much Does Rework/Repair Really Cost?

Production cost is fairly easy to determine, or is it? Determine the number of operations, the cost of la...
Grant Vokey May 21, 2024 7:00:00 AM