In 2018, the BMW group announced that it would be the first automotive company using computed tomography (CT) to improve methods of prototype development, production, and analysis. The company embarked on the project to integrate this technology into its procedures, resulting in the faster development and production of prototypes, as well as opening the door for the potential development of automatic evaluation through AI.
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CT to bring significant benefits to automotive companies
Previously, automotive companies had dedicated valuable time and resources to dismantling vehicles to perform analyses on them. But, with the advent of CT use in this industry, car manufacturers can perform these analyses without the time-consuming dismantling process, using CT to analyze the in-tact vehicle. This use of CT was first piloted at the BMW Group Pilot Plant in the Research & Innovation Centre (FIZ) in Munich.
While this is the main benefit of using CT in the automotive industry, it has several more applications that are likely to impact the sector in the coming years and beyond.
The applications of CT that can benefit automotive companies
The checking of vehicle parts was the primary reason why CT was incorporated into BMW’s processes. Previously, CT had been used by the company for several years to check the quality and function of specific vehicle parts. Therefore, the first application of CT in the automotive industry was established many years previously, in the non-destructive analysis of separate vehicle parts.
Now, this application of CT has been taken to the next level as the technology is now being used to analyze vehicles in very fine grain detail. As discussed above, CT can be used to effectively analyze entire vehicles without the need to take them apart first. This type of analysis is allowing engineers to analyze vehicles at the micro-meter level, a grade of analysis that was unprecedented. Automotive companies require this level of detail for many reasons. For example, punch screw connections and welds need to be checked, and the body condition of the vehicle needs to be assessed before and after painting. Also, the effect of extreme temperatures needs to be analyzed to check how the adhesive bonds are affected. The data collected from these analyses are then used to inform engineers and designers on what areas they need to target modifications.
To gather all this information using CT, four coordinated robots move around the vehicle, working in pairs. Each pair of robots send x-rays through the vehicle to the robot on the other side, collecting data that is reconstructed by computer software, generating a multi-layered, three-dimensional image. These images are then used to provide fine-grain details on the condition of the car, allowing for detection of objects as small as a human hair.
The impact of this application is that prototypes can be analyzing at great speeds without the need for taking the vehicle apart. Also, it gives experts a far more detailed view of the vehicle than was ever possible previously. BMW sees one of the biggest potential benefits of this application is that it will allow engineers to integrate new technologies into vehicles with speed and ease.
Finally, the third application of CT in the automotive industry is that of enabling the development of automatic evaluation using AI. BMW’s engineers have been working on how AI can be used to evaluate the data collected by the CT scans. The team has found that software can be trained to learn many distinct patterns from large amounts of CT scan data, making it possible for the system to gradually evaluate findings automatically. This would be incredibly beneficial for the automotive industry, leading to faster analyses of vehicles with a significantly reduced reliance on expensive resources, such as the time of human workers.