Manufacturing pneumatic tires for automobiles is a complex multi-step process, with many components assembled in numerous steps, all of which must be done with precision to ensure that a quality product is delivered to the consumer. The consumer has very high expectation levels regarding tire safety and performance, and several major recalls of unsafe tires have cost manufacturers significant expense and damaged reputations. A complicating factor for tire manufacturers is the vast variety of tire sizes and designs required by vehicle manufacturers, which mandates rapid changeover in all facets of the tire assembly process.
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Having been involved in the machine vision industry for over 40 years, it has been fascinating to follow the many iterations of laser-based displacement sensing. These changes have included an evolution as it has evolved from analog to digital operation, and from basic capabilities to today’s simple-to-use all-in-one measurement systems. Laser displacement sensors, which measure the distance from a sensor to a surface, superseded traditional displacement sensors, primarily dial indicator gages and LVDTs (linear variable displacement transducers). These traditional sensors were based on technologies that used a mechanical contact on the surface being measured. Contact measurement techniques are very effective and inexpensive for many common applications, but for in-line and high-speed applications, contact sensors have serious limitations. These include limited frequency response, potential damage to finished surfaces, errors due to deformation of soft materials, and errors from tip wear and dirt contamination.