Yoshihiro Iida from FARO talks about the growing measurement and inspection needs in Thailand’s automotive manufacturing industry. Article by Stephen Las Marias.
FARO is one of the leading providers of 3D measurement, imaging, and realization technologies. Headquartered in Florida, USA, the company develops and manufactures solutions that enable high-precision 3D capture, measurement and analysis across a variety of industries including manufacturing, construction, engineering and public safety.
For the Asia Pacific region, FARO set up its headquarters in Singapore in 2005. The next year, the company established a sales office and customer support services in Thailand.
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“We have been here for more than 10 years now, serving Thailand customers for 3D measurement solutions,” says Yoshihiro Iida, senior regional marketing manager for Japan, South Korea, SEA, and ANZ, for FARO, during an interview at the recent METALEX 2019 exhibition in Bangkok, Thailand. According to Iida, this is mainly due to the inspection needs driven by the huge automotive manufacturing industry in Thailand, in addition to the overall metalworking and mould making industries.
For the automotive industry, parts are now getting more complicated, especially their geometries. “Previously, many people used hand tools, such as callipers. This made the inspection processes very difficult, and it was also highly dependent on the person’s skills,” says Iida. “With parts getting more complicated, there is now an increase in needs for inspections.”
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So, these manufacturers tend to use 3D measurement machines, such as the fixed CMM. “But with fixed CMMs, the investment tends to be high, and it is also more difficult to set up,” says Iida. “FARO offers portable measurement solutions, which allows manufacturers to do the measurement onsite. This makes inspections easier and reduces time spent on inspection processes.”
Bright Outlook Despite Automotive Manufacturing Woes
Thailand’s automotive market reached 1,007,552 units in 2019, according to data from Toyota Motor Thailand and Federation of Thai Industries (FTI). The figure is down by three percent compared to the previous year, mainly due to the continuing downbeat economic sentiment brought about by the US-China trade war.
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This is the fourth time in the history of the Thai automotive market to hit over one million-unit level, even though the market showed a sharp decline in the latter half of last year, especially from September. For 2020, FTI is having a conservative outlook for car production, with forecast output of 2 million units.
Nevertheless, this trend has not dampened demand for inspection systems. “For automotive manufacturing, inspection doesn’t stop. They continue to develop cars, as such they still have a need,” says Iida. “They are dealing with more complicated parts now, so they are seeing greater demand for inspection.”
A lot of companies are still having inspection challenges, according to Iida. “Let’s say for inspection purposes, a lot of people still use hand tools, especially the small businesses. But this method requires specialised skills which usually only the senior employees or senior engineers possess. For new staff or junior engineers—while they may be able to carry out the inspections, accuracy can sometimes be affected as it depends on the skills of the engineers,” explains Iida.
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Investing in fixed CMMs can enable manufacturers to measure and inspect parts. “But aside from the heavy investment for a fixed CMM, and it can also take time and a specific skill set to set up the machine and parts for measurement,” he says.
The parts or objects need to be in the inspection room, before setting them up for measurement in the fixed CMM. However, the problem here is that when the parts being measured are too big for the CMM or have complicated geometries. “It is not easy,” says Iida. “If the part is small, you can easily carry it and bring it to the inspection room for measurement. But imagine the big parts or the heavy moulds — these cannot be carried easily to the inspection room. You would also need to consider safety issue. Sometimes, if the parts are too big, such as heavy machinery or equipment, it can take up to one hour or two hours to complete a task.”
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On the other hand, he notes that the company’s portable measurement solutions and devices can be brought on site, and users can measure immediately. “You don’t need to carry your parts or objects to the inspection room. We can measure on site. Imagine how much time and effort you can save,” says Iida.
In addition, with the increasing number of younger engineers joining the industry, it would also require significant investment to train them to have specialised skills. “Contrastingly, the FARO measurement solutions are easy to use. Even junior employees will be able to use them immediately inspection,” says Iida. “We will also them deal with inspection, so that they can focus on other important things.”
FARO Innovations and Trends
Among the recent inspection innovations from the company is the FARO 8-Axis Quantum FaroArm. According to Iida, this solution can help reduce installation time by 40 percent.
“The FaroArm can measure complicated shapes or parts with an integrated 360 deg rotating platform, easing the entire process,” says Iida.
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One of the trends in the metalworking industry right now is digitalisation. A lot of companies are adopting digital approaches, according to Iida, but he notes that unless you have data, you cannot go into a data-driven strategy.
“Let’s say, your company has some existing parts, but you don’t see or possess the design data. In that case, the FARO measurement solutions can help users reverse engineer existing parts by scanning and creating a CAD data. Once you have data, you can re-use them. We can help digitise things, and that is the step towards Industry 4.0, towards a smarter manufacturing environment.”
Iida says the automotive manufacturing industry may remain uncertain for now due to the US-China trade war. “But we still see growing demand for inspection for automotive parts, and also 3D modelling, for digitalisation,” he says. “As long as there is a need for reliability and quality measurements, FARO is going to be there.”
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