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AI interview with Mark R. Munch, Ph.D., EVP, Metrology and Instrumentation at Veeco Instruments

U.S.-based Veeco Instruments Inc. is a leading provider of metrology and instrumentation solutions for scientific research and industrial markets, including the automotive industry. A few months ago, the company released its NPFLEX™ 3D Metrology System for characterizing surfaces previously difficult to measure due to size or part orientation. The NPFLEX combines the industry-leading performance of Veeco’s non-contact, white light optical profilers with a unique open-access design to enable rapid, three-dimensional data acquisition and analysis on a wide range of large samples for precision machining applications.

The NPFLEX utilizes a break-through gantry design to provide over 300 degrees of access for large samples. The unique option of a swiveling optical head permits routine investigation of highly curved shapes and beveled edges. The system’s white light interferometric technology provides greater accuracy, repeatability and, more importantly, data density than is possible with contact instrumentation. Other standard features include long working distance objectives, a proprietary objective crash-mitigation system, automation and field-stitching software, and patent-pending, ultra-uniform dual-LED illumination. The NPFLEX enables rapid characterization and provides over 1000 critical parameters including radius of curvature, lead angle, bearing ratio, wear, corrosion, and other key factors.

A fundamental element of Veeco’s solutions is its comprehensive Vision® analytical software package. With over 200 tools to quantify and visualize surface data, the Vision software provides a vast range of data processing capabilities, such as interactive 2D and 3D displays to visualize surfaces; data analyses for roughness, histogram, microwaviness, and homogeneity; as well as advanced data filtering and masking techniques. Optional stitching software can be used to automatically join multiple datasets, maintaining high lateral resolution over large areas.

Donald Cohen, Ph.D., of Michigan Metrology LLC, has been using Veeco’s surface profilers extensively to gain insight into the function of critical automotive engine parts, such as cylinder bores, crank shafts, pistons, and various transmission and braking elements. In many instances, he found that the surface texture correlated directly to friction at component interfaces and their propensity for wear. For example, he has utilized this technology to assist brake manufacturers in reducing noise and vibration resulting from the interaction between the brake rotors and friction pads.

Automotive Industries caught up with Mark R. Munch, Ph.D., Executive Vice President, Metrology and Instrumentation, Veeco Instruments Inc.

AI: Tell us about Veeco’s solutions for engine and automotive component manufacturers.

Veeco has been working with manufacturers in the auto industry for a number of years now. We provide 3D metrology solutions for the characterization of surfaces related to all aspects of the automobile. Our instruments are used in the analysis of everything from engine bores, break pads, and sensors to paint coatings and cloth seats. Veeco’s optical interferometers have investigated most of the surface topographies that could have significance in quality, performance, appearance, and/or efficiency.

A majority of research with our instruments has been in understanding friction and wear of materials─addressing tribology issues that directly apply to automobile performance.
Veeco is utilizing that experience and moving into production QA/QC environments to address manufacturing needs for more efficient products and cost effective production.

AI: So you are saying that metrology has a direct link to automotive manufacturer’s efficiency and cost savings?

Yes, and this is true in particular for 3D surface metrology with white light optical interferometers. Nearly every moving part or load surface in an automobile benefits in efficiency and performance from 3D surface metrology. For example:
• Brake pad surface investigation for greater inclination to wear.
• The seating of valve seats within the head to ensure no leakage points and degraded combustion─the surface texture of the seats is critical.
• The “stick-slip” issue at camshaft and tappet interfaces─spots where roughness becomes important because of the number of surfaces in action with each other. Surface texturing impacts lubrication and the compatibility of the surfaces to one another.

As for cost savings, perhaps the simplest example of this is a production floor manager’s ability to measure the tool markings on his/her machined parts and accurately gauge when to retool. The cost savings in limiting scrap and only retooling when needed can be tremendous. One can monitor the quality of machining in a very quick and statistically valid way with the 3D optical metrology system.

AI: What makes 3D optical profiling different from other metrology techniques?

First and foremost, it is a non-contact technique providing accessibility, accurate nanometer level results, and a complete picture of the surface topography. We are able to access areas on complex parts that cannot be reached with contact techniques like CMM. Optical interferometry is not limited by probe size or position either. Not to be confused with optical comparators, optical interferometers offer accurate quantitative values for roughness, texturing, wear, along with the conventional 2D measurements.

Most contact 2D techniques are slow for the amount of data they produce. They certainly have their established place on the production floor though. It is common to see a CMM measuring part dimensions to a production CAD model. We see optical interferometry as a complimentary tool providing a faster, very specific analysis to a manufacturer’s metrology repertoire. Along these lines, the ISO standards committee has been working on 3D ISO standards to potentially replace the typical Ra value so many default to now.

AI: How then does white light optical profiling, and in particular NPFLEX, address the critical metrology needs of automotive component manufacturers?

Historically, optical interferometry has been restricted to the surface analysis of small parts. Nowhere has this been as restrictive as in the automotive and aerospace industries. NPFLEX provides the solution. It was designed to bring high-quality interferometry into the machining world. Where a manufacturer would have had to specially design or tailor an instrument for this in the past, NPFLEX has an open worktable and adjustable optical head that is flexible for most form factor parts. Creating that room for larger components has really opened the flood gate of ideas on how and where to use optical interferometry in a machining environment.

Prior to NPFLEX large components were either cut down to a manageable size, which ruled out placing the technology in a production line, or even worse some parts were not measured at all because of the impossibility of fitting them on the profiler or accessing the surfaces of interest.

As manufacturers begin to narrow in on the importance of surface texture for efficiency and cost savings, Veeco delivers NPFLEX, a product that will easily handle their critical parts and open the door to the more informative world of 3D metrology.

AI: What are some of the products/technologies Veeco is working on for the auto industry?

The NPFLEX 3D metrology sys tem is the foundation from which other products will develop with targeted applications for the automotive industry. Veeco is constantly investigating the needs of precision machining customers to find those opportunities where our technical developments will intersect with industry needs. We are listening to some diverse voices within the automotive industry from the small tier 2 suppliers to global automobile manufacturers. All are looking for clear, concise solutions that will make them more appealing to their customers. Over the next year, Veeco will respond to these requests as we roll out a series of focused solutions.

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