Production times for automotive fuel pipes improved with optical inspection

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A manufacturer of fuel storage and fluid carrying systems for vehicle braking and powertrain applications has made significant time savings after installing an optical gauge for the measurement of its formed tubes, pipes and wires. TI Automotive's Fuldabrück site in Germany, which specialises in manufacturing prototypes of fuel pipes, is using Aicon's optical tube measuring system, TubeInspect, to measure its plastic fuel pipes.

The plastic parts are processed by thermal forming, the contour of which is measured in two stages: once directly after thermal forming and a second time after the assembly of add-on components like flanges or brackets. Daniel Bock, quality engineer at TI Automotive (Fuldabrück), commented: 'With TubeInspect we can give our suppliers support for the production of the bending moulds at an incredibly early stage. Already the first manufactured pipe is measureable without any difficulty. As a consequence, our suppliers are instantly able to manufacture the bending moulds in an accurately fitting way.'

In the past, these measurements were conducted with the help of gauges and other mechanical inspection tools. Bock said: 'The drawback of traditional methods is that the measuring results depend very much on the operator. Moreover, the reports derived from these measurements don't comply with the current requirements in respect of verifiability.'

TubeInspect is an optical gauge for the measurement of formed tubes, pipes and wires. For acquiring a pipe's geometry, the object to be measured is simply placed in the optical measuring cell. By capturing the tube with several high-resolution digital cameras TubeInspect measures 3D geometry accurately in a few seconds. The results are reported in a way that is easy to understand.

Usually, plastic pipes are a challenge for measuring machines, because the material is flexible, meaning that straight lines fade into curved parts fluently. In order to get precise measurement values for a comparison of nominal to actual data, the measuring system must take into account the elasticity of the plastic pipes. In TubeInspect's software, the user can now chose an elasticity value specific to the material. This value reflects the flexibility of the pipe. Thus, TubeInspect's measuring results are highly accurate.

TI Automotive noted the enormous time savings gained using TubeInspect. Each prototype of a new plastic pipe can immediately be measured with the system and TI Automotive can detect deviations from the nominal pipe geometry very early in production.

Bock remarked: 'Our customers want to have a proof of the pipe's accuracy. TubeInspect outputs a coordinate table that can be controlled by everyone – that means also by our customers. As some of our customers, for example Volkswagen, also own a TubeInspect system, we even profit from synergy effects.'