The BMW Group has become the first company in the automotive industry to use computer tomography for the development, production and analysis of prototypes. This would make it possible to control the quality of all the vehicles it produces from the early stages of development. Four robots would perform scans of the prototypes while moving around the outside of the prototypes to produce several thousand cross-sectional images. These images can then be used for closer examination of the effect of new materials, bonding technologies and innovations.
Till recently, the vehicles needed to be dismantled for analysis. The use of CT makes it possible to conduct these checks while keeping the vehicle completely intact. The new X-ray system will be used at the BMW Group Pilot Plant in the Research & Innovation Centre (FIZ) in Munich, at the intersection between development and production.
Commenting on the use of the technology, Udo Hänle, head of Production Integration and Pilot Plant, said that the use of the new technology marks a major advance for the company it can help improve the quality of the vehicles. It is now possible to analyze the prototypes in detail without dismantling them and to examine them in a way that would not have been possible with conventional, static computer tomography systems. Using this technology, BMW would be able to integrate new technologies into a series vehicles even faster.
Michael Koch, head of Material and Process Analysis, added that though the company has been using CT and X-ray scans to check vehicle parts for many years, the use of the new technology would take quality assurance to an entirely new level. Designers and engineers can now analyze vehicles right down to micro-meter level.
This degree of detail is required in many situations including inspection of welds and punch screw connections, and of the condition of the body before and after painting as extreme temperatures can affect adhesive bonds. The findings from the scan can then be used as a basis for making targeted modifications to series production.
The scan is performed by four coordinated robots, with the robots moving around the vehicle, once it is in position in the system. The robots work in pairs and the data they collect is then put through a specially developed computer program which can calculate a multi-layered, three-dimensional image. This image is used for a detailed analysis of the internal workings of the vehicle, with the images giving information about objects as small as 100 micro-meters, which is approximately the width of a human hair.
Currently, engineers are engaged in researching how far Artificial Intelligence can be used to evaluate findings. By processing large amounts of data, the software can learn the many different patterns that occur, link individual items of data, and eventually reach a point where findings are evaluated automatically.
The engineering team at BMW Group collaborated closely with the Fraunhofer Development Centre for X-Ray Technology (EZRT) for a period of two years to develop the new system, the only one of its kind in the automotive industry.
Philipp Janello, project manager at the BMW Group said “Working with X-ray specialists and plant engineers, we were able to enhance the software of the test system with the help of comprehensive test measurements carried out on the vehicle body.” The result is a customized system that meets the requirements of the BMW Group.”
Hamid Moaref has always been fascinated by cars and the automotive industry. His family has a longstanding association with the industry and has been in the tire business for the past 35 years. Raised in Dubai, Hamid attended Capilano University in Vancouver where he graduated with a BBA in marketing before attending an intensive course in magazine publishing in 2005. He has been the publisher and chief editor of Tires & Parts magazine for the past ten years.
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