TE Connectivity Enhances Digital Platform with CT Data Analysis

Manufacturer gains critical insights using Volume Graphics software throughout design, simulation and manufacturing.

Virtual and physical quality workflow (L-R): Design part and define quality measurements; generate digital reports and simulation feedback to design, if needed; visualize and evaluate part from PMI; use AI within simulation and scan programs to optimize parameters; CT scan sample parts for real-world deviations. Post-design: prepare inline inspection macros and scan, analyze and evaluate. Post-production: analyze field return parts and provide design feedback, resulting in continued improvement. (TE Connectivity)

As impressive as interconnected digital-platform benefits are for traditional CAD/CAE/CAM disciplines, computed tomography (CT) data analysis for quality inspection has greatly expanded its reach and purpose within today’s growing digital landscape. CT data-analysis software is making the central tools of design, simulation and manufacturing – normally used well upstream of it – even better in their roles.

Simulation serves a quality-measurement workflow early on by predicting material behavior and testing design parameters. A final CT production scan of this automotive charging inlet also informs the simulation about new variations and manufacturing distortions. (TE Connectivity)

The establishment of Model-Based Definition (MBD) is increasingly guiding engineering beyond drawings and hybrid approaches. The move away from manual readings of data to MBD creates deeper and wider information threads throughout product development, from Product Manufacturing Information (PMI) files to machines and other programs.

It’s not just geometric annotations and manufacturing instructions that travel on digital threads. Companies are creating information loops to design, simulation and virtual testing that improve accuracy, conformance to specifications and shorten time-to-production. These new development cycles are reinforcing a 40-year trend toward earlier and earlier decision making and less late-stage, at-production validation of products and methods of manufacture.

Benchmark for quality inspection

It makes sense that a company like TE Connectivity, which is engaged in connectivity and sensing solutions for EVs, aircraft, digital-intelligent factories and more, would invest in MBD and advanced inspection methods. That “engineered” path brings to bear the advantages of ISO Geometric Product Specification (GPS) standards and virtual metrology against the limits of using traditional design workflows. Those workflows use drawings, 2D and 3D-digital systems and, while favorably less complex than MBD, can often lose information during model conversions and require high-effort, manual programming when creating quality-measurement programs.

Real-world molded sample of a high-power charging inlet combo body previously tested in Moldflow software. (TE Connectivity)

“GPS is the only way to build true model-based systems and exact mathematical definitions,” said Alexander Stokowski, development director at TE Connectivity. Stokowski, a certified Six Sigma Black Belt and lecturer for measurement technology and GPS at the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW), has been involved for a decade in digital transformation. “GPS is important in deriving the center axis of the part, getting a 90-degree measurement direction, detecting points – and if you are not precise in a mathematical way on this you can’t realistically create, let alone automate, a measurement system.”

For Stokowski and TE Connectivity, the journey toward MBD and GPS conformance and integration with CT data analysis began in the automotive-products division around 2012 with the first pilot projects. “By the end of 2013, two years after we began, we more or less made the decision to bring everything that was new-product development into the CT measurement environment – aiming towards a 100 percent ratio,” Stokowski said.

This decision, made early in the industry implementation of new ISO standards, sparked a close collaboration between PTC (Creo), TE Connectivity and Volume Graphics to create an integration around fresh ISO-compliant GPS capabilities.

CAD model of charging inlet with PMI quality annotations listing tolerances. No data conversion is needed from Creo; detailed CAD PMI is automatically imported directly into VGMETROLOGY. (TE Connectivity)

In addition, TE Connectivity’s principal engineer of molding simulation, Patrick Bertram, felt that inclusion of mold simulation simultaneous to the quality process was key to accelerating innovation cycles. Bertram then convinced suppliers Volume Graphics (VG) and SIMCON to create an automated interface between the measurement and simulation-optimization software sets.

The full, multi-vendor integration allowed for greater use of model-based annotations and PMI, leading to a looping of virtual test and real-world measurement results back to design and FEA-mold simulation, and forward to prototyping, First Article Inspection (FAI) and production.

AI and machine learning are powerful techniques for labeling, classifying quality data, localizing problems and segmenting defects for identification and action during automated CT inspection. (Volume Graphics)

“We surprised people by implementing standards well before their final release dates,” Stokowski said. “Why wait 3-5 years when the directions, such as how to display 3D annotations, are made clear in the ISO drafts?”

“STEP 214 and 242 didn’t work for our integration,” he continued. “We used the Application Programming Interface (API) in the Creo toolkit and ISO-GPS to establish our direct interface to VGMETROLOGLY and VGSTUDIOMAX software. There are customized, added special functionalities that let us reuse values derived from FAI. And that’s it: Geometric Dimension & Tolerance (GD&T) capabilities from Creo and VGMETROLOGY, along with the integration of VARIMOS from SIMCON – no other software is needed to interconnect design and simulation with quality measurement.”

The first goal of TE Connectivity’s digital metrology program was to ensure that the as-designed parts matched the as-manufactured parts. In most cases, this means working with molded products with normal center-tolerance concerns in the tooling and typical push-out marks and small flaws. Mold simulation and virtual metrology help identify and resolve both functional and cosmetic aspects of producing molds and plastic parts. FAI leads to a feedback loop where 3D-model and simulation, mold, and manufactured part are reconciled and unified with few-to-no discrepancies. From there, quality templates are created from the VG software for automated inspection.

TE Connectivity team includes (L-R) Patrick Bertram, principal engineer molding simulation; Alexander Stokowski, director Engineering Transformation, holding the first ECU project to be CT measured and digitalized; and Tabrez Ahmed Ajaz, manager CoE GD metrology. (TE Connectivity)

“Ten or fifteen years ago designers didn’t really spend too much time thinking about the details coming out of the mold,” Stokowski said. “And much of that is taken care of now with tooling software and the automation loop we are creating. The full data is there for our interdisciplinary teams to see and use quickly.”

Goal: Cut development times by 75%

“We are on target for a 10-day turnaround for design, simulation, scanning and producing a digital metrology report,” Stokowski said. “So much is now going on upfront. We want as much done as possible before we hold a physical part.”

Volume Graphics has helped TE Connectivity in this frontloading and looping of data with its Adaptive Measurement Templates. The templates can classify, localize and segment defects using AI and machine learning. They also automate much of the scan analysis and then capture information for metrology reports. TE Connectivity’s goal is to lower analysis time from 10 days to five.

TE Connectivity also is working to cut its mold and part development process to 25% of the time it took in the past. There always will be some manual tasks, Stokowski said – a hands-on refinement of GD&T, or times to debate an issue or resolve a digital discrepancy in the “thread” that links programs. In addition, resources are limited, so not every mold can go through Design of Experiments (DOE). But the company’s critical molds will use DOE and all new molds will pass through the VGMETROLOGY software.

Suppliers are taking on the new approach as well, with many having purchased virtual metrology systems of their own. Twenty-to-thirty percent of the external tool builders use the whole integrated digital system. Others go to scanning locations out-of-house and use the software internally. All tool builders do material compliance checking and basic measurements ahead of TE Connectivity conducting a full metrology report within its Centre of Excellence (CoE).

Stokowski expects that eventually TE Connectivity’s quality process will be adapted by all suppliers, but that vision is not yet near-term as cost and culture barriers exist for both GPS and virtual metrology. Meanwhile, his team and the CoE will work toward a future “push button” process even though they expect that it would apply to “seventy-five percent of our work,” Stokowski added.

As a result of its quality-process improvements, many advances and milestones have taken place for TE Connectivity:

  • All new injection-molded parts are implemented in MBD
  • 100% of injection-molded parts are scanned, and there are no more tactile measurements
  • Part specifications are created in Creo to ISO-GPS standards and converted to a 3D PDF as a neutral document, where needed
  • The integration between Creo and VGMETROLOGY software is direct
  • 75% of all product data is transported via PMI
  • Only isolated rework is done due to interface incompatibilities.

For final part inspection, the company has six scanners working inline in the EMEA region for injection-molded parts. The scanners and Volume Graphics’ software look for key dimensions and targeted areas of a part rather than at the whole of the component. Costs and time are factors; however, the upfront virtual design, analysis and testing of parts so early in creation – combined with checks during FAI – ensure that compliance has been met and rechecked on the factory floor.

“TE Connectivity’s quality tools and digital systems are telling us a lot about our products – how to improve them, why they behave in such a way, and how to spot and predict variation,” Stokowski said. “Most immediately, we are saving time and building great products that advance other fields such as e-mobility.”

Miles Parker, founder of Parker Group, wrote this case study and submitted it to SAE Media.