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GM Improves Plant Upgrade Efficiency Using 3D Laser Technology

3D laser scanning, a technology more commonly found on construction sites, is being used by GM to reduce the development of plant layout and design modifications by upwards of 50%. The technology uses lasers to scan the entire facility, from the roof trusses down to the plant floor, with the resulting data compiled into a graphical virtual 3D representation that can be viewed by the automaker’s manufacturing engineers throughout the world.

3D laser scanning, a technology more commonly found on construction sites, is being used by GM to reduce the development of plant layout and design modifications by upwards of 50%. The technology uses lasers to scan the entire facility, from the roof trusses down to the plant floor, with the resulting data compiled into a graphical virtual 3D representation that can be viewed by the automaker’s manufacturing engineers throughout the world. According to Bill Campbell, lead engineer responsible for research and development of new technologies for plant layout activities at GM, the automaker has already completed scans at 16 assembly plants, with a focus on the general assembly and body shop operations. “We scan an average of 2 million ft.2 per facility,” he says. The most recent facility to undergo the scanning project was the Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, plant, home of the 2009 Chevrolet Camaro. 

GM teamed up with Leica Geosystems (www.leica-geosystems.com) to develop hardware that would better accommodate architectural use of 3D laser scanning technology. “There wasn’t a pull from our industry, and I had to work with Leica to get them to understand what our needs were,” Campbell says. Laser scanners used in outdoor applications are high intensity, and OSHA safety regulations limit the intensity of lasers for indoor applications for human eye protection. GM’s physicists worked with Leica to develop a laser that is less intense, yet as accurate as traditional technology. Now, GM has acquired its own scanning system—a Leica HDS600.

Campbell says the benefits of using layout data derived from 3D scanning include reduced travel costs and less time wasted discussing whether certain pieces of equipment will fit in a particular area of the plant. In the past, engineers from several disciplines—manufacturing, product and architectural—had to physically visit the plant to assure new conveyors and other equipment would fit into certain areas; those validations can now be made in the virtual world—down to the exact placing of each mounting hole.

Working with its equipment suppliers, GM has built an XML-based “object library” containing a majority of its material handling, robots, tooling, and equipment that can be placed into the 3D plant data to determine whether the equipment will fit into a desired space. “Working with Autodesk and FactoryCAD we came up with an XML object tool kit that allowed us to build our own XML parametric objects,” Campbell says. Since the objects have already been validated for compliance with operating and health and safety requirements, there’s no need to delay install for traditional validation. Manufacturing engineers are prohibited from using objects outside the library, unless it is required.

Campbell says the next step is to add cost data to the system for each piece of equipment affected by the plant upgrade so that GM’s procurement and accounting operations can get a quick grasp on how much the changes will cost in real-time. “What we want to do is run a full bill of materials from these virtual layouts to determine what is each part number needed and then export the data and tie it into a cost system. We are almost there,” Campbell says.—KMK