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BAE Systems - FARO Laser SMX Tracker

BAE Systems : 04 June, 2007  (Application Story)
Military vehicle manufacturer, BAE Systems Land Systems use a laser tracker and portable arm systems to improve product and process consistency.
BAE Systems Land Systems is a global company engaged in the development, delivery and support of advanced defence and aerospace systems in the air, on land, at sea and in space. With over 3,500 employees located in the UK, USA, Germany and the Netherlands, BAE Systems Land Systems currently has an order book approaching 1bn.

The BAE Systems Land Systems plant at Scotswood Road, Newcastle- upon-Tyne produces a mix of military vehicles, including the Titan and Trojan engineering tank support vehicles. These are part of a SMART programme for the British Army to design. and manufacture 66 new engineering vehicles.

Also manufactured are Panther 4-wheel mine protector vehicles. Currently, BAE Systems Land Systems are prototyping the Terrier CEV, the next generation air-transportable armoured combat engineer vehicle for the Royal Engineers.

Achieving consistency of product has been greatly helped by the employment of a FARO Laser SMX Tracker and portable arm systems within the build process. About 80 per cent of the cost of a finished vehicle, which includes the various military technologies fitted on the vehicles, is bought in. The core work is done on-site at the huge, mile long Scotswood plant - hull structures fabrication, hull and component machining and suspension and drive systems. In addition, a lot of component part spares work is produced, such as suspension systems for Challenger tanks.

The raw material, specially hardened Armour steel plate up to 5 metres in length and up to 65mm in thickness, is fabricated into basic hull structure, which then goes down to the machine shop for some intermediate machining. It next goes back to the structures department to be finished off and put into a position to start receiving the goods at end of assembly, where system fitting and testing takes place.

Paul Hagan, Production Manager at Scotswood explains the process: 'Sometimes there are flatness problems with goods supplied. Using the trackers at the Goods Inwards stage, we've found a ripple in some of the steel plates. We are then able to return the goods to the supplier as unacceptable. Now the suppliers are taking more time and effort to level the plates before they come in to us. When we start a new job, every plate that goes through the machining process has to be checked off on a first article approval -Tracker and the FaroArm are used in the main. Once happy, the programme is signed off and away we go. There after, periodic checks are carried out on some of the plates to ensure they are still within spec.

The vehicle structures are all hand built and fairly large. The Tracker is used to check some critical but quite complex dimensions on jigs and fixtures. We've had one or two issues when we first started our latest project, the Terrier CEV. Some fixtures came in from a supplier with certificates of conformance but when we integrated the parts, there were one or two issues. Some of the angles we were working with were compound angles - impossible to measure conventionally. With the Tracker, we were able to confirm the fixture dimensions and resolve the issues with the supplier. The benefits of using a Tracker in terms of set up time and getting measurement results is significantly quicker than with standard tooling. On a standard operation to check a fixture out, you've got to be talking about 50% in savings over traditional methods.

A vehicle has a fighting compartment to the front, an engine compartment to the rear, plus some other apertures, into which equipment is fitted. We use the Tracker to identify the sizes we require. The Tracker then confirms these critical dimensions in the larger space envelopes. The space envelopes on the vehicles themselves span distances of between 3 and five metres with a build accuracy of 1.5mm (achieved using jigs and fixtures).

Some of the critical dimensions on the Terrier are set from the centre of the drive compartment because the space envelope for some of the systems to be located in that compartment is so tight. Being a small compact fighting vehicle, you try and put in as much as you can in a tight envelope. The key datum in the vehicle is called the Final Drive Datum. All the points come from the FDM, which is marked in two planes. We spend quite a lot of time checking critical dimensions on subassemblies because of the tightness of the envelopes.

There is a significant amount of MIG welding going on, which can cause distortion - that's where we really see the benefit of the tracker. We put the tracker into the compartment at key stages to identify where the distortion is. This allows us to put in measures, such as fixture adjustment, to prevent further distortion closing that space envelope up. It's an on-going process to highlight any areas where we are going to have problems.

When it comes to welding the cab on to the hull, again, welding can create a lot of distortion. We need to maintain the distance across a two key internal features, consisting of planes at compound angles and alignment through bore centres, difficult to measure by conventional techniques. Using the Tracker allow us to do that and delivers a fifty per cent improvement in the checking all the compound angles. At this early stage on the Terrier project, we're looking at a reduction in distortion of the bottom hull of at least 10 per cent With component checking, you tend to find with the new CAD systems, a lot of the dimensions are taken from positions which are unavailable to the naked eye - datums and alignments are located in space - without the laser trackers it would be very difficult to obtain the dimensions.

Design on some of our products is done at Newcastle, but on the Terrier project, we are working with our colleagues at BAE Land Systems, Leicester who are the design authority. We can get CAD information very quickly from Leicester, download the CAD IGES files into the tracker and portable arms systems, which allows the operators to tie in the measured data with the nominal models. To have that information on the shopfloor to the guys who are operating the measuring instruments is great - they don't have to go running around after engineers, to try and download information and so on.

Remarkably, the laser tracker operators were previously fabricators, who have been taken from the shopfloor and trained up to use the tracker. They claim no inspection background other than self verification that they've carried out on their own jobs. Their training development is ongoing.

Using the tracker and arms gives us confidence in our build. It shows us that we can achieve what we say we're going to achieve in certain dimensions. It also highlights issue where we need to re-think certain set-ups, make adjustments before we weld and so on. For the future, we've got to come to terms with the capabilities of the equipment - we're only scratching the surface'

Land Systems, Newcastle also have three FARO portable arm systems, generally used in the inspection area. The arms are used on machine tolerances of 0.25mm, but tighter in some instances. The Faro Gold and Silver portable arm system are used for smaller components and sub-assemblies.

A new, higher spec FARO Platinum Arm featuring a 3D scanner head is used for more complex parts. Using the 3D scanning head, it measures form and surface, looking for high and low spots on castings prior to machining. For example, 100% inspection of the final drive casting for the Terrier is carried out. The drive is a complicated casting with a lot of machining operations to take place on it - three different operations on three different machines.

The toolroom is a significant user of the FARO portable arms. We do our own internal fixtures and jigs. which will be made up and checked using the FaroArm.

Brendan Coyne, Quality Today
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