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issue: June 2007 APPLIANCE Magazine

Testing Equipment
Testing Equipment Adapts

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by Leanna Skarnulis, Contributing Editor

When appliance OEMs sneeze, makers of testing equipment catch a cold. For every change an OEM makes in manufacturing processes or product specifications, testing equipment suppliers must adapt.

The SmartScope Quest 250 is a fully automatic benchtop multisensor dimensional measurement system from Optical Gaging Products Inc. It is said to automatically measures parts of any material, texture, opacity, color, or malleability.

It means always being poised for the next sneeze. “One of our product development strategies is to make sure that the measuring devices we produce are capable of measuring tighter tolerances at the time the manufacturing industry needs those precise measurements,” says R. Stephen Flynn, president of Optical Gaging Products Inc. (Rochester, New York, U.S.).

Today’s testing equipment has to meet OEM demands for automation and systems integration, and stricter requirements for product performance and durability.

Testing on the Shop Floor

Automation makes testing less labor intensive. “Manual dimensional measurement requires skilled operators using what may be handheld devices,” says Flynn. His company makes noncontact and multisensor dimensional measurement systems for testing a wide range of components, including compressor and medical equipment parts, and other parts made of metal or injection-molded plastic.

"Measurement results depend on the skill of that person and the time it takes to handle each part. With automatic machines using high-speed computers and motorized stages that move the part from position to position under program control, it’s possible for a person to press a button and walk away while the machine quickly does accurate, detailed measurements. The ability to run part programs for specifi c parts is important in a manufacturing environment because any system operator will get the same results. Accurate measurements don’t require a high level of skill."

A new tool in the UV curing process, the versatile Accu-Cal 50 radiometer from Dymax Corp. measures UV intensity, peak intensity, and dose from spot lamps, foot lamps, and conveyors. The device can also be used to monitor operators’ UV exposure to ensure compliance with ACGIH safety guidelines.

Automating testing equipment and integrating it into production makes testing and process control easier and less labor intensive. “Most suppliers make leak-testing sensors but do not build total systems,” says Dan Prill, product marketing manager at Interlaken Technology Corp. (Chaska, Minnesota, U.S.). “Appliance manufacturers were integrating sensors in-house. They needed someone to give them a total solution, and we have the systems integration expertise. We took this into account in designing our new line of leak-testing systems.” The testing control module communicates with other shop-fl oor control systems that would be pre- or postoperations in an automated production line. Optional features include material-handling and component-marking mechanisms for easy assimilation into automated production lines.

Interlaken custom designs production leak-testing systems around a customer’s specific production part and integrates the appropriate sensor technology that would be the best fit for a particular appliance component. “Usually it’s based on the type and volume of gas or fluid that will flow through a component,” says Prill. “With older technology, OEMs sometimes use testing at lower than operation pressure. Out in the field at operation pressure, the equipment can blow out. Our systems can test at operating pressure.”

The efficiency of bringing quality control to the shop floor versus taking parts to a quality control specialist can reduce errors and scrap. “Automatic CNC measuring systems measure more parts in much less time,” says Flynn. “Collecting measurement data and sharing it across networks is more efficient than in the past when skilled metrologists manually inspected each part. You wait for results of measurements, which you may find are out of tolerance. Meanwhile you’ve been making parts because it took so long to get the measurements. That’s forcing placement of testing machines onto the floor so the person making the part does the measurements. He gets feedback much faster than in the past and is better able to minimize scrap.”

The VTech (Alpharetta, Georgia, U.S.) MasSpec is an automatic helium leak detector for testing refrigeration components and complete refrigeration units, even in the presence of polyurethane foam. It detects helium leaks as small as 0.1 oz of R-134a per year. It requires just 10% helium concentration at atmospheric pressure. VTech is part of Galileo Vacuum Systems S.p.A., in Prato, Italy.

Flynn says a principal advantage of Optical Gaging’s systems is that video inspection technology is fast. It takes multiple measurements at once, which he says is unlike coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) that measure one point at a time. “Another advancement in our technology is the ability to combine measuring technologies on a single machine. For example, a single-point touch probe measures points that video can’t reach, and lasers scan across surface contours. Measurements from the different sensors are combined and compared with the part’s CAD fi le. Being able to perform multisensor measurements that used to require separate measuring machines makes you that much more productive because there is less part handling by fi xturing the part once and getting all the measurements you need.”

Testing for Performance and Durability

Another driver of change in testing comes from consumers’ higher expectations for performance and durability. OEMs must respond to remain competitive, and tighter-tolerance parts demand morecapable testing equipment.

Today’s appliances are more visible in the home, even used as design elements, and consumers expect them to maintain their looks. “Appliances are coming out of the closet, so to speak,” says Allen F. Zielnik, senior consultant for Weathering Science at Atlas Material Testing Technology LLC (Chicago, Illinois, U.S.). “Or out of the basement, laundry room, mudroom, and garage. Their environment itself is changing as homes feature natural daylighting with window walls, skylights and solar tubes, and new appliances that are designed for the trendy outdoor room life-style.”

The Airserco AGC-410 gas charger features computer-based control with adjustable inputs. Multiple customer parameters can be input, including gas charge pressure, pressure decay, vacuum level, vacuum decay, exhaust, and dry gas backfeed pressure.

Changes in materials for these appliances, whether for cost savings, durability, or appearance, drive adaptations in weatherability tests. The challenge is to replicate years of weathering effects at lightning speed. “Accelerated-durability tests, such as those for color fade of paint or yellowing of plastics, can help appliance manufacturers mitigate risk without sacrifi cing time to market and product innovation,” says Zielnik. For example, the Atlas Suntest line includes tabletop artifi cial sunlight models that can test to outdoor sunlight or typical window-glass-fi ltered daylight. Controlled temperature and humidity climate chambers such as the Atlas-Weiss WT and WK series test thermal aging of polymer, which can cause yellowing of plastics. The Atlas BCX and CCX corrosion chambers test coatings on metals and plastics.

Whether an appliance OEM makes changes to improve products, cut costs, reduce errors, or meet safety and environmental standards, testing equipment suppliers must be ready to adapt.


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