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Best Quality Control Methods for Industrial Metal Finishing

Quality control is a critical element of all metal fabrication and industrial manufacturing, but metal finishing most of all requires stringent quality control methods for one reason alone: the finish is the first thing a customer sees.

While other aspects of production may fall short of requirements, industrial metal finishing – particularly as it applies to coatings and protective media – portrays the look and feel of the product that a customer is paying top dollar to achieve. At the same time, their significant spending on industrial goods may not meet the lifetime requirements they’re looking for if those needs aren’t met with consistency.

Basic Quality Control Methods

Quality control can be broken down into two components: inspection and statistical analysis

Inspection requires the examination of key quality control indicators for either every product produced or a sample of those products (at very large volumes) to ensure a statistically significant level of confidence in the quality of orders.

By one token, the sample method of inspection effectively “offloads” some of the inspection onto customers and their willingness to return goods. While this is common practice in large-scale consumer applications, it may undermine the credibility of an industrial manufacturer in more relationship-based B2B interactions. 

In statistical analysis, systematic samples of processes, acceptances and rejections of products and standardization of both the usual causes and consequences of quality errors (as well as the appropriate responses to them) are all required. Obviously, a statistical methodology that covers every aspect of a production process will enable a manufacturer to ensure the highest possible quality and consistency. 

At the same time, there is potentially a point of diminishing returns depending on the size of production runs. For instance, intensive statistical analysis that could, with broad application, be applied to large volumes of product would need samples of 100 or 1000 to have classical statistical confidence. For many manufacturers, production runs will often include parts produced in less than 1000 or even 100 units.

In these cases, inspection is the only reasonable way to get things done, but still labor-intensive. The best choice here is to prevent quality issues with more reliable processes.

How to Improve Quality Control in Industrial Metal Finishing

When it comes to industrial metal finishing, quality output often relies on the predictability and tolerances of each step in the metal fabrication process. You may have smelting, stamping, cutting, bending, welding or other processes which are highly intensive and one-to-one in terms of labor commitment. Automated systems exist to address these, but not often in a way that really enables high-mix low-volume manufacturers to accomplish more.

The one area in which industrial metal fabricators will apply a high-throughput process (due to unique process constraints) is industrial metal finishing. In this circumstance, contact finishing or large volumes of coating may be applied before products achieve their final state. At the same time, this aspect of finishing can be the most common cause of rework, rejection and returns. Here is where prevention is critical, and where robotic finishing can make a difference.

Robotic industrial metal finishing is uncommon but becoming more well-known as time goes on while labor shortages persist and customer expectations continue to grow. In improving industrial metal finishing through robots, you should look for three key factors:

  1. Consistency, reliability and safety of robot equipment (brands like ABB and FANUC can be great providers here)
  2. Reduced jigging or fixturing requirements – this work can be almost as time-consuming as other industrial metal finishing methods
  3. Limited or no programming 

For those familiar with robots, you may already know that this is hard to find – except that, today, there is finally a better way.

Autonomous robots can SEE parts as they are, generate programs and then execute them with limited human oversight – a new enabler in industrial metal finishing.

Why Autonomous Robots Are the Best Fit for Industrial Metal Finishing

Autonomous manufacturing robots make industrial metal finishing easier by automatically generating and executing their own programs according to the real position of your parts in your finishing booth. 

This means that you aren’t limited by the need to jig, fixture, or program — it’s all done for you in a way that prevents you from relying on uncertain skilled labor supplies or putting your existing workforce in danger with repetitive, dull, hot and unsafe work.

Results from a manufacturer who deployed autonomous robots. Here, the paint thickness was much more frequently on target, with higher consistency and reduced rework overall.

What’s more, with autonomous robots, you only need to pay a simple subscription fee to operate them, while you can design a cell and own equipment that fits your exact needs – or have it designed for you!

Autonomous robots are a true step forward for industrial metal finishing and quality control, not because they automate a critical aspect of the finishing process, but because they make it easier to adapt to your needs while maintaining quality and consistency in the long run – a true win for shops in high demand who simply can’t grow without new forms of capacity to carry them forward. 

With AutonomyOS™ and AutonomyStudio™, it’s never been easier to deploy an autonomous robotic system. Using 3D Perception with AI-based Task Planning and Motion Planning, manufacturing engineers and integrators can configure autonomous robotic systems for value-added processes that allow manufacturers to achieve more consistency and flexibility in production than ever before.

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