Assembly Root Cause Analysis: A Way to Reduce Dimensional Variation in Assembled Products

J. S. Carlson, R. Söderberg. International Journal of Flexible Manufacturing Systems, April 2003, 15(2), 113-150.


The objective of root cause analysis (RCA) is to make the trouble shooting dimensional error efforts in an assembly plant more efficient and successful by pinpointing the underlying reasons for variation. The result of eliminating or limiting these sources of variation is a real and long term process improvement. Complex products are manufactured in multileveled hierarchical assembly processes using positioning fixtures. A general approach for diagnosing fixture related errors using routine measurement on products, rather than from special measurements on fixtures, is presented.

The assembly variation is effectively tracked down into variation in the fixture tooling elements, referred to as locators. In this way, the process engineers can focus on adjusting the locators affected by most variation. However, depending on the assembly process configuration, inspection strategy, and the type of locator error, it can be impossible to completely sort out the variation caused by an individual locator. The reason for this is that faults in different locators can cause identical dimensional deviation in the inspection station. Conditions guaranteeing diagnosability are derived by considering multiple uncoupled locator faults, in contrast to previous research focusing on single or multiple coupled locator faults.

Furthermore, even if an assembly is not diagnosable, it is still possible to gain information for diagnosis by using a novel approach to find an interval for each locator containing the true underlying locator variation. In this way, some locators can be excluded from further analysis, some can be picked out for adjustment, and others remain as potential reason for assembly variation. Another way around the problem of diagnosability is to make a higher level diagnosis by calculating the amount of variation originating from different assembly stations. Also, a design for diagnosis approach is discussed, where assembly and inspection concepts allowing for root cause analysis are the objective.

Photo credits: Nic McPhee