Automotive Plant Improves Quality with Borescopes

General Automotive Manufacturing Co. LLC (GAM) produces machined metal parts used in fuel systems, hydraulic assemblies, brake systems, and gas and diesel engines for clients such as Caterpillar, International, Mercury Marine, Stanadyne, Cummins, Actuant and Sheppard.

The company (www.gamfg.com) has been in business since 1950, andspecializes in machining componentss from carbon, alloy and stainless steels, and bar stock, cast or extruded aluminum.

Its range of expertise means that General Automotive handles all types of components and materials, from gray iron and ductile iron castings to stainless steel forgings, and can provide the fixtures, machine tools and tooling for even very complex components. The company uses the same machining processes of products throughout a wide range of material, heat treat, plating and geometric shape and size requirements. In addition to the traditional manufacturing processes General Automotive also offers in-house honing, lapping, ECM, glass beading, assembly and testing of customer products.

In some instances, General Automotive found burrs and other part defects that its manufacturing team had not detected before the parts were final inspected by its quality department, so it had to reprocess “blindly” because it couldn’t “see” the defect at the manufacturing cell level. That reprocessing was expensive and time-consuming. The problem was obvious: Burrs, sharp edges and other defects can be extremely detrimental, especially to mission-critical parts.

“If you have sharp edges or small burrs, they can erode and eventually clog a system, preventing it from working properly. That’s especially true in hydraulic and fuel systems, which have extremely small openings that can become clogged,” Gary Kosterman, quality manager for General Automotive said.

Without a more effective inspection process, the company would continue to spend more time and money than necessary to undertake the vital containment of defects.

General Automotive wanted to do several things.

• It needed to find inspection tools that could be used inside deep bores and in small-diameter holes.
• It needed to report defects and process problems much more quickly to manufacturing teams in order to assure no incidence of defects and meet its promise of 100 percent ontime delivery of orders.
• And, it needed a tool that it could use both in the quality lab and on the manufacturing floor.

General Automotive’s need went deeper than just satisfying its customers. The company is committed to a "zero defect" philosophy, even empowering employees to prevent shipment of product to customers if there is any quality concern. So the company’s culture made imperative the solution of the problem at hand.

To assure the success of its zerodefect and on-time-delivery quality policies, General Automotive’s quality engineering and metrology teams worked together with Gradient Lens Corp. to find a solution. Gradient Lens (www.gradientlens.com) offers portable borescopes – called Hawkeye Precision – that can go anywhere in a manufacturing plant. The borescopes fit conveniently into multiple work cells where necessary, Kosterman said. Each cell could include a lathe, machining center and gun drill, and is a selfcontained manufacturing center that includes a visual inspection station.

The inspection stations are equipped with a Hawkeye borescope, a portable or fixed light source and often a video system (with camera and monitor) connected to the borescope. The system allows operators to view part images on screen rather than through the scope, which reduces eye strain for operators who might spend a good deal of their day visually inspecting components. The monitor also provides a larger viewing image, which makes detecting imperfections easier and group viewing possible.

More importantly, the system provides immediate detection capabilities at the point of operation and allows containment of defects early in the manufacturing process. For example, if a gun drill operator receives a part from the machining center and detects a bad surface finish or large burr in a deep hole produced at the machining center, the gun drill operator can immediately raise a red flag to contain the problem.

“This cell concept vs. batch process also allows our operators to have direct input in process improvement,” Kosterman said.

Although the borescope’s primary function is checking machined parts, engineers also use them to diagnose the cause when an assembly line machine is having trouble.

General Automotive engineers have found that the borescopes save them time and labor, as well as giving them the accurate images they need. Ultimately, borescope visual inspection gives the company a cost-effective way to continually increase quality standards without slowing down production.

Says Kosterman, “The scopes help with our mission of 100 percent on-time delivery because we can use them for many different kinds of inspection on the floor, instead of having to take a component into a lab for inspection.” Early detection, he adds, “is key. Containment is easier, as is changing the manufacturing process when we need to.”

General Automotive’s visual inspection process also helps in customer relations, according to Kosterman: “The borescopes help demonstrate capabilities not found in most other manufacturing facilities. Customers are impressed with our inspection capabilities that the borescopes provide.”

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