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issue: December 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Quality and Testing
Fast Checking

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by Lincoln Brunner, Contributing Editor

Quality must be uniform, and testing for quality must be quick and consistent.

Nobody’s perfect, but that hardly keeps appliance manufacturers from striving for perfection. And don’t the people testing their products know it.

With appearance being more important than ever to buyers, appliance makers are going to great lengths to ensure surface quality and uniformity across many material types. Testing instrument maker BYK-Gardner (Columbia, Maryland, U.S.), introduced two compact instruments in the past year that help manufacturers test for gloss and paint texture easily. The micro-TRI-gloss can test surface reflectivity at three different angles—20 degrees, 60 degrees and 85 degrees—depending on the gloss level of the paint. The micro-TRI-gloss complements the company’s spectro-guide, a color and gloss instrument that features a built-in 60-degree gloss meter.

The micro-TRI-gloss also has a built in probe to measure film thickness on ferrous and non-ferrous metal substrates. An important feature of the latest gloss meter is that a user cannot calibrate the instrument on a dirty surface. If the instrument picks up a fingerprint or other contaminant on the surface of the calibration standard, it will flash a signal asking the user to clean it before calibration.

The micro-wave-scan also allows manufacturers to take surface texture waviness tests off of the eyeball standard and perform them with a compact instrument that can be used on curved surfaces—unlike other instruments that require a flat path of about 10 cm to roll the instrument over.

“Before we developed the wave-scan, it was all subject to the human eye,” BYK-Gardner Service Manager Carroll Ball says. “The wave-scan takes that away.”

Not only do appliance companies need to ensure quality, they need to achieve uniform quality, no matter where the parts are made. As manufacturing has gone truly global, OEMs face a logistics picture that looks more like a constellation than a flowchart. For critical variables like surface color, gloss and texture, that translates to a need to unify testing among a galaxy of plants and suppliers.

“The biggest demand that comes up is really that single parts are manufactured all over the world, and then assembled somewhere else—in one place or a couple of places—and the overall appearance has to be the same,” says Uwe Lethaus, applications laboratory director for BYK-Gardner. “White is not just white. When you put appliances side by side, you see the slight differences. So color measurement is very critical there.”

The folks at color management software and instrumentation company GretagMacbeth would agree. The New Windsor, New York, U.S.-based company recently introduced two technologies within its Enterprise Color Management concept that are designed to help manufacturers develop colors more efficiently and cost-effectively.

The first technology is called profiling, around which the company has developed its NetProfiler and ProfileMaker software. NetProfiler helps manufacturers maintain the color consistency of their products throughout their supply chains by enabling color capture in a variety of devices: scanners, cameras, printers, monitors, and especially spectrophotometers. NetProfiler is included in the company’s Color iMatch and Color iQC matching and control software and also provides remote monitoring and calibration of spectrophotometers through the Internet. “This is especially useful for any manufacturer with a quality system such as Six Sigma or ISO,” says Richard Knapp, software product manager, GretagMacbeth Color & Appearance Business Unit.

GretagMacbeth is also using an open-source electronic color format, CxF, to make color data portable and enable other systems among the company’s suppliers to use color data. “CxF does for color control and reproduction what the PDF file format does for document management,” Knapp says. “While GretagMacbeth products inherently communicate with each other, should a company or supply chain have other color control brands, CxF allows them all to share color data.”

Where tying color consistency to software helps, so does uniformity in instruments, according to BYK-Gardner. With instrumentation, companies can solidify that unified process throughout their supply chain, “So the different suppliers buy the same instruments, and they’re comparing apples to apples,” Ball says.

Step On It, Charlie

The trouble is, the market also forces appliance makers to crank out perfection very quickly—which puts a greater emphasis on testing equipment makers to offer devices that perform several functions at once. Kevin Clark, CEO of test equipment manufacturer Vitrek Corporation (San Diego, California, U.S.), says his company’s hottest products are V4 and V5 electrical safety analyzers, which are used by numerous appliance makers to perform four different tests from one test connection. The units automatically do AC and DC hipot (withstand), high-current ground bond and insulation resistance testing.

Introduced in June 2005, the V5 is a hyped-up V4 with a scanner that automatically routes test voltage to up to eight different parts. The scanner is based on a high-voltage switching matrix that speeds up voltage testing while bettering accuracy. “Prior to having a solution like this, you would have to have a technician hold a probe on test point A and wait 2 seconds,” Clark says. “It’s awkward. It’s inconsistent.”

Vitrek says it already has a modified version of the V5 running on six different appliance production lines for a global OEM. A computer tells the test equipment which test to run and when to run it. The system automatically stores the results in a database. The OEM produces 1.5 million icemakers annually on the production lines monitored by the V5 units and projects production of up to 3 million units a year.

Exposing the Leak

Furness Controls has been improving leak detection. Furness (Indian Trail, North Carolina, U.S.), recently introduced its 700 series of leak detectors that combine a smaller size with more functions at a lower price. The new series includes low-cost instruments for simple tests as well as sequential multi-test instruments that can store up to 300 test programs with programmable inputs and outputs. Furness’ leak detectors all can communicate with PCs via RS232 serial hookups and can be controlled through a PC, if desired. The company’s testers can be used as a standalone device on a bench or as a fully automated, inline tester.

“The big thing is always cost,” Furness General Manager Dennis Teel says. “The instruments were getting more costly. We’ve got the same testing capabilities, we’ve got the same transducer, but they’ve improved the balance and the electronics—more features for less money.”

Suppliers mentioned in this article:
BYK-Gardner USA
X-Rite Inc.
Vitrek Corp.

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