Robotic in-line quality inspection for changeable zero defect manufacturing

Abstract: The growing customer demands for product variety have put unprecedented pressure on the manufacturing companies. To maintain their competitiveness, manufacturing companies need to frequently and efficiently adapt their processes while providing high-quality products. Different advanced manufacturing technologies, such as industrial robotics, have seen a drastic usage increase. Nevertheless, traditional quality methods, such as quality inspection, suffer from significant limitations in highly customised small batch production. For quality inspection to remain fundamental for zero-defect manufacturing and Industry 4.0, an increase in flexibility, speed, availability and decision upon conformance reliability is needed. If robots could perform in-line quality inspection, defective components might be prevented from continuing to the next production stage. Recent developments in robot cognition and sensor systems have enabled the robot to carry out perception tasks they were previously unable to do. The purpose of this thesis is to explore the usage of robotic in-line quality inspection during changeable zero-defect manufacturing. To fulfil this aim, this thesis adopts a mixed-methods research approach to qualitative and quantitative studies, as well as theoretical and empirical ones. The foundation for this thesis is an extensive literature review and two case studies that have been performed in close collaboration with manufacturing companies to investigate how in-line quality inspection is perceived and utilised to enhance industrial robots. The empirical studies also aimed at identifying and describing what opportunities arise from having robotic in-line quality inspection systems. The result of this thesis is a synthesis of literature and empirical findings. From the literature review/study, the need for enhancing quality inspection was identified and a multi-layer quality inspection framework suitable for the digital transformation was proposed. The framework is built on the assumption that data (used and collected) needs to be validated, holistic, and online, i.e. when needed, for the system to effectively decide upon conformity to surpass the challenges of reliability, flexibility and autonomy. Empirical studies show that industrial robotic applications can be improved in precision and flexibility using the in-line quality inspection system as measurement-assisted. Nevertheless, this methodological changes and robot application face the hurdle of previous and current management decisions when passing from one industrial paradigm to another (e.g. mass production to flexible production). A discussion on equipment design and manufacturing process harmony and how in-line quality inspection and management can harmonise such a system was provided.

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