Title:
Method for making catalytic converters with automated substrate crack detection
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A method for making catalytic converters with automated crack detection includes forming a rigid housing, providing a substrate shaped for reception in the housing, and forming a mat shaped to cover the exterior surface of the substrate and having a thickness which creates a tight friction fit between the substrate and the housing when the same are assembled. The mat is wrapped around the substrate, and the wrapped substrate is then stuffed into the housing using a reciprocating ram or the like that extends at a relatively constant speed. The stuffing force and the ram position are measured and recorded regularly to define an array of data. The data is analyzed for any abrupt changes in the stuffing force as a function of the ram position indicating a crack in the assembled substrate.



Inventors:
Hill, Frederick B. (Clarkston, MI, US)
Application Number:
11/520017
Publication Date:
03/20/2008
Filing Date:
09/12/2006
Assignee:
Benteler Automotive Corporation
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B21D51/16
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Primary Examiner:
BESLER, CHRISTOPHER JAMES
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
PRICE HENEVELD LLP (GRAND RAPIDS, MI, US)
Claims:
The invention claimed is as follows:

1. A method for making catalytic converters with automated substrate crack detection, comprising: forming a rigid housing into a predetermined size and shape with a hollow interior; providing a catalytic converter substrate having an exterior surface and a predetermined size and shape similar to the size and shape of the housing to define a gap of predetermined width between the substrate and the housing when the same are assembled; forming a mat having a size and shape configured to cover the exterior surface of the substrate, and a predetermined thickness which is greater than the width of the gap to create a tight friction fit between the housing and the substrate when the same are assembled; wrapping the mat around the outer surface of the substrate to define a wrapped substrate; stuffing the wrapped substrate into the interior of the housing using a reciprocating ram which extends at a predetermined, relatively constant speed; regularly measuring the force applied by the ram to the wrapped substrate during said stuffing step; regularly recording the force and the associated position of the ram during said stuffing step; comparing the force as a function of the position of the ram to define an array of data; and analyzing the array of data for any abrupt change in the force as a function of the position of the ram indicating a crack in the assembled substrate.

2. A method as set forth in claim 1, including: automatically unstuffing the wrapped substrate from the housing upon detection of a crack in the substrate during said data analyzing step.

3. A method as set forth in claim 2, wherein: said substrate providing step includes providing the substrate with a marginal sidewall surface, opposite end wall surfaces, and a honeycomb construction defined by a plurality of axially extending cells with a common shape and open ends; and including recording a digital image of at least one of the end wall surfaces of the substrate; and processing the image with computer-aided image processing to identify irregularities in the shape of the cells indicating a crack in the substrate.

4. A method as set forth in claim 3, wherein: said force comparing step includes displaying a graph of the force as a function of the position of the ram.

5. A method as set forth in claim 4, wherein: said data analyzing step includes processing the array of data with a programmable logic controller.

6. A method as set forth in claim 5, wherein: said graph displaying step includes creating a generally curvilinear graph; and said data analyzing step includes identifying abrupt changes in the slope of the curvilinear graph.

7. A method as set forth in claim 6, wherein: said image processing step includes processing the image with computer-aided blob tool software.

8. A method as set forth in claim 7, wherein: said image processing step identifies areas of the one end wall surface of the substrate having a non-uniform density of the cells.

9. A method as set forth in claim 8, wherein: said image recording step and said image processing step are performed after said substrate stuffing step.

10. A method as set forth in claim 9, wherein: said image recording step and said image processing step are performed after said data analyzing step.

11. A method as set forth in claim 10, wherein: said substrate providing step includes forming the substrate from cordierite, silicon carbide or aluminum titanate.

12. A method as set forth in claim 1, wherein: said substrate providing step includes providing the substrate with a marginal sidewall surface, opposite end wall surfaces, and a honeycomb construction defined by a plurality of axially extending cells with a common shape and open ends; and including recording a digital image of at least one of the end wall surfaces of the substrate; and processing the image with computer-aided image processing to identify irregularities in the shape of the cells indicating a crack in the substrate.

13. A method as set forth in claim 1, wherein: said data analyzing step includes processing the array of data with a programmable logic controller.

14. A method as set forth in claim 1, wherein: said substrate providing step includes forming the substrate from cordierite, silicon carbide or aluminum titanate.

15. A method for making catalytic converters with automated substrate crack detection, comprising: forming a rigid housing into a predetermined size and shape with a hollow interior; providing a catalytic converter substrate having an exterior surface and a predetermined size and shape similar to the size and shape of the housing to define a gap of predetermined width between the substrate and the housing when the same are assembled; forming a mat having a size and shape configured to cover the exterior surface of the substrate, and a predetermined thickness which is greater than the width of the gap to create a tight friction fit between the housing and the substrate when the same are assembled; wrapping the mat around the outer surface of the substrate to define a wrapped substrate; inserting the wrapped substrate into the interior of the housing at a predetermined, relatively constant speed; regularly measuring the force applied to the wrapped substrate during said inserting step; regularly recording the force and the associated position of the wrapped substrate during said inserting step; comparing the force as a function of the position of the wrapped substrate to define an array of data; and analyzing the array of data for any abrupt change in the force as a function of the position of the wrapped substrate indicating a crack in the assembled substrate.

16. A method as set forth in claim 15, including: automatically unstuffing the wrapped substrate from the housing upon detection of a crack in the substrate during said data analyzing step.

17. A method as set forth in claim 15, wherein: said substrate providing step includes providing the substrate with a marginal sidewall surface, opposite end wall surfaces, and a honeycomb construction defined by a plurality of axially extending cells with a common shape and open ends; and including recording a digital image of at least one of the end wall surfaces of the substrate; and processing the image with computer-aided image processing to identify irregularities in the shape of the cells indicating a crack in the substrate.

18. A method for making catalytic converters with automated substrate crack detection, comprising: forming a housing into a predetermined size and shape with a hollow interior; providing a catalytic converter substrate having a predetermined size and shape similar to the size and shape of the housing, with a marginal sidewall surface, opposite end wall surfaces and a honeycomb construction defined by a plurality of axially extending cells having a common shape and open ends; forming an insulative mat having a size and shape configured to cover the marginal sidewall surface of the substrate; wrapping the mat around the marginal sidewall surface of the substrate to define a wrapped substrate; inserting the wrapped substrate into the interior of the housing; recording a digital image of at least one of the end wall surfaces of the substrate; and processing the image with computer-aided image processing to identify irregularities in the shape of the cells indicating a crack in the substrate.

19. A method as set forth in claim 18, wherein: said image processing step includes processing the image with computer-aided blob tool software.

20. A method as set forth in claim 19, wherein: said image processing step identifies areas of the one end wall surface of the substrate having a non-uniform density of the cells.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to catalytic converters for internal combustion engine exhaust gases and the like, and in particular to a method for making catalytic converters with automated crack detection.

Catalytic converters are commonly used to reduce noxious emissions in the exhaust gases of internal combustion engines, particularly those associated with vehicles. Such catalytic converters typically include a substrate made from cordierite, silicon carbide, aluminum titanate or the like, and have a honeycomb construction with axially extending, open ended cells through which the exhaust gases pass for treatment. Such substrates, which are relatively fragile or frangible, are wrapped with a mat and then stuffed into a rigid housing to create a tight friction fit between the substrate and the housing. Due to the fragile nature of the substrates, the same often develop cracks or fissures therein either during handling, prior to stuffing in the housing, or during the stuffing process itself. Such cracks can severely impair the operation and effectiveness of the catalytic converter, and therefore must be detected and addressed prior to use of the catalytic converter in a vehicle.

While visual inspection of the finished catalytic converter parts does detect some such substrate cracks, such processes are relatively time-consuming, labor intensive, and are not very effective in locating internal fissures in the substrate.

Hence, a process for making catalytic converter having an automated crack detection system which is reliable, efficient and effective would clearly be beneficial.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

One aspect of the present invention is to provide a method for making catalytic converters with automated substrate crack detection, comprising the steps of forming a rigid housing into a predetermined size and shape with a hollow interior, and providing a catalytic converter substrate having an exterior surface and a predetermined size and shape similar to the size and shape of the housing to define a gap with a predetermined width between the substrate and the housing when the same are assembled. The method also includes the steps of forming a mat having a size and shape configured to cover the exterior surface of the substrate, and a predetermined thickness which is greater than the width of the gap to create a tight friction fit between the housing and the substrate when the same are assembled, and wrapping the mat around the outer surface of the substrate to define a wrapped substrate. The method further includes the steps of stuffing the wrapped substrate into the interior of the housing using a reciprocating ram or the like which extends at a predetermined, relatively constant speed, and regularly measuring the force applied by the ram to the wrapped substrate during the stuffing step. The method further comprises the steps of regularly recording the force and the associated position of the ram during the stuffing step, comparing the force as a function of the position of the ram to define an array of data, and analyzing the array of data for any abrupt changes in the force as a function of the position of the ram indicating a crack in the assembled substrate.

Another aspect of the present invention is a method for making catalytic converters with automated substrate crack detection, comprising the steps of forming a rigid housing into a predetermined size and shape with a hollow interior, and providing a catalytic converter substrate having an exterior surface and a predetermined size and shape similar to the size and shape of the housing to define a gap with a predetermined width between the substrate and the housing when the same are assembled. The method also includes the steps of forming a mat having a size and shape configured to cover the exterior surface of the substrate, and a predetermined thickness which is greater than the width of the gap to create a tight friction fit between the housing and the substrate when the same are assembled, and wrapping the mat around the outer surface of the substrate to define a wrapped substrate. The method further includes the steps of inserting the wrapped substrate into the interior of the housing at a predetermined, relatively constant speed, and regularly measuring the force applied to the wrapped substrate during the inserting step. The method further includes the steps of regularly recording the force and the associated position of the wrapped substrate during the inserting step, comparing the force as a function of the position of the wrapped substrate to define an array of data, and analyzing the array of data for any abrupt changes in the force as a function of the position of the wrapped substrate indicating a crack in the assembled substrate.

Yet another aspect of the present invention is a method for making catalytic converters with automated substrate crack detection, comprising the steps of forming a housing into a predetermined size and shape with a hollow interior, and providing a catalytic converter substrate having a predetermined size and shape similar to the size and shape of the housing, with a marginal sidewall surface, opposite end wall surfaces and a honeycomb construction defined by a plurality of axially extending cells having a common shape and open ends. The method also includes the steps of forming an insulative mat having a size and shape configured to cover the marginal sidewall surface of the substrate, and wrapping the mat around the marginal sidewall surface of the substrate to define a wrapped substrate. The method also includes the steps of inserting the wrapped substrate into the interior of the housing, recording a digital image of at least one of the end wall surfaces of the substrate, and processing the image with computer-aided image processing to identify irregularities in the shape of the cells indicating a crack in the substrate.

The method for making catalytic converters with automated substrate crack detection is reliable, efficient, effective and particularly well adapted for the proposed use. These and other advantages of the invention will be further understood and appreciated by those skilled in the art by reference to the following written specification, claims and appended drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is an exploded perspective view of a catalytic converter constructed in accordance with the method embodying the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a schematic flowchart of the method.

FIG. 3 is an end view of the assembled catalytic converter shown in FIG. 1.

FIG. 4 is a fragmentary, partially schematic, perspective view of an assembly apparatus depicting the method for making catalytic converters, shown loading the substrate and housing into the machine prior to assembly.

FIG. 5 is a fragmentary, partially schematic, perspective view of the assembly apparatus depicting the method for making catalytic converters, shown with the substrate and the housing vertically aligned prior to stuffing.

FIG. 6 is a fragmentary, partially schematic, perspective view of the assembly apparatus depicting the method for making catalytic converters, shown after the substrate has been fully inserted into the housing.

FIG. 7 is a fragmentary, partially schematic, perspective view of the assembly apparatus depicting the method for making catalytic converters, shown recording a digital image of an end wall surface of the substrate after assembly in the housing.

FIG. 8 is a graph of the substrate stuffing force as a function of the position of the wrapped substrate during the stuffing process.

FIG. 9 is a plan end elevational view of a cracked substrate detected during the digital image recording process.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

For purposes of description herein, the terms “upper”, “lower”, “right”, “left”, “rear”, “front”, “vertical”, “horizontal” and derivative thereof shall relate to the invention as oriented in FIG. 1. However, it is to be understood that the invention may assume various alternative orientations and step sequences, except where expressly specified to the contrary. It is also to be understood that the devices and processes illustrated in the attached drawings, and described in the following specification, are simply exemplary embodiments of the inventive concepts defined in the appended claims. Hence, specific dimensions and other physical characteristics relating to the embodiment disclosed herein are not to be considered as limiting, unless the claims expressly state otherwise.

The reference numeral 1 (FIG. 1) generally designates a catalytic converter made in accordance with the automated crack detection method embodying the present invention. The illustrated catalytic converter 1 has a generally conventional design, comprising a rigid housing 2 having a predetermined size and shape with a hollow interior 3. The illustrated catalytic converter 1 also includes a catalytic converter substrate 4 having an exterior surface 5 and a predetermined size and shape similar to the size and shape of housing 2 to define a gap 5a of predetermined width between substrate 4 and housing 2 when the same are assembled. The illustrated catalytic converter 1 also includes a mat 6 having a size and shape configured to cover the exterior surface 5 of substrate 4, and a predetermined thickness which is greater than the width of the gap 5a to create a tight friction fit between housing 2 and substrate 4 when the same are assembled. Mat 6 is wrapped around the outer surface 5 of substrate 4 to define a wrapped substrate 7, as shown in FIGS. 4 and 5. The wrapped substrate 7 is inserted or stuffed into the interior 3 of housing 2, which in the example illustrated in FIGS. 4-7, is achieved by a reciprocating ram 8 that extends at a predetermined, relatively constant speed. As shown in FIG. 2, the method also includes the steps of regularly measuring the force applied by ram 8 to the wrapped substrate 7 during the stuffing step, and regularly recording the force and the associated position of the ram 8. The method also includes the steps of comparing the substrate insertion or stuffing force as a function of the position of the wrapped substrate 7 and/or ram 8 to define an array of data, and analyzing the array of data for any abrupt changes in the stuffing force as a function of the position of the wrapped substrate 7 and/or ram 8 indicating a crack in the assembled substrate 4.

The illustrated substrate 4 has a generally cylindrical shape, including flat, circular top and bottom surfaces 12 and 13, which are arranged in a generally mutually parallel relationship. Substrate 4 is constructed from a suitable catalytic converter material, such as cordierite, silicon carbide, aluminum titanate or the like, and has a honeycomb construction defined by a plurality of axially extending cells 14 having a common shape and open ends 15. In the example illustrated in FIGS. 3 and 9, cells 14 have a substantially square end elevational configuration, although it is to be understood that the same may assume alternative shapes.

The illustrated housing 2 has a generally cylindrical shape similar to the size and shape of substrate 4 to receive the same within the interior 3 thereof. The illustrated housing 2 includes a cylindrical sidewall 18 which defines a circular end edge 19 at one end thereof and a reduced neck portion 20 at the opposite end thereof. Housing 2 has a rigid construction, and is typically constructed from a metal, such as steel or the like, which is capable of withstanding the substantial heat and high temperatures associated with engine exhaust gases.

The illustrated mat 6 is insulative in nature, and as best shown by the broken lines in FIG. 1, is in the form of a rectangular strip 24 having one end edge 25 with a centrally located notch 26 therein, and an opposite end edge 27 with a centrally located tab 28 configured for close reception within the notch 26 of end edge 25. Strip 24 is wrapped into a cylindrical shape as shown by the full lines in FIG. 1, to cover the exterior surface 5 of substrate 4, with tab 28 located in notch 26. The illustrated mat 6 covers the entire exterior surface 5 of substrate 4, and may be constructed from an intumescent material which swells or expands when heated.

FIGS. 4-7 illustrate an exemplary apparatus or assembly machine 35 suitable for performing the methods disclosed herein. More specifically, the illustrated assembly machine 35 includes a pair of reciprocating jaws 36 which clamp around the wrapped substrate 7, and hold substrate 4 and mat 6 closely together prior to insertion into the interior 3 of housing 2. Jaws 36 are slidably mounted on top of a stuffing plate 37 having a tapered mat compression aperture or funnel 38 disposed therein. A ram 39 is operably connected with jaws 36, and shifts the same horizontally along stuffing plate 37 between the load position illustrated in FIG. 4, and the insertion position illustrated in FIG. 5. A housing retainer 41 is slidably mounted on a base plate 42 and includes a central aperture in which housings 2 are closely received. A ram 43 shifts base plate 42 and housing retainer 41 horizontally between the load position illustrated in FIG. 4, and the insertion position illustrated in FIG. 5.

The assembly machine 35 illustrated in FIGS. 4-7 also includes a vertically reciprocating ram 48 with a lower end 49 shaped to abut the upper end of the wrapped substrate 7 during assembly, without damaging the same. A pressure and/or force sensor 50 is mounted in ram 48 and measures the force necessary to insert each of the individual wrapped substrates 4 into its associated housing 2 at a predetermined, relatively constant speed. In the illustrated example, the pressure and/or force data is communicated to a processor 51, equipped with a programmable logic controller, and having a display 52. Ram 48 also includes a sensor which detects the vertical position of lower end 48, which data is also communicated to processor 51.

In the insertion position illustrated in FIG. 5, jaws 36, funnel 38 and housing retainer 41 are vertically aligned, such that the wrapped substrate 7 in jaws 36 is disposed directly above the interior 3 of the housing 2 positioned on housing retainer 41. Vertically extending ram 48 is positioned directly above the aligned wrapped substrate 7 and housing 2, and is extended or lowered at a predetermined, relatively constant speed to insert or stuff wrapped substrate 7 into the interior 3 of housing 2. As the wrapped substrate 7 passes through funnel 38, mat 6 is radially compressed to facilitate insertion into the interior 3 of housing 2, and then expands to create a tight friction fit therebetween. As ram 48 extends or lowers during the stuffing step, the force applied by ram 48 to the wrapped substrate 7 is regularly measured by sensor 50, and the measured force is recorded in processor 51, along with the associated position of ram 48. An electronic load/deflection signal analysis technique is used for each individual part to detect cracks, fractures, breaks, etc. in the assembled substrate 4, wherein the stuffing force is then compared to the position of the ram to define an array of data, which is analyzed for any abrupt changes in the stuffing force as a function of the position of the ram 48 indicating a crack in the assembled substrate 4.

For example, in the graph illustrated in FIG. 8, broken line 65 and full line 66 are generally curvilinear, but both reflect abrupt changes in the stuffing force as a function of the position of the ram at the peak or spike portions of the lines 65, 66, which indicate a crack in the assembled substrate 4. In other words, an abrupt change in the slope of any of the graph lines 65-67 signifies the likelihood of a crack or break in the associated substrate 4. In comparison, the dashed line 67 has a relatively continuous curve, with no peaks or spikes, which indicates that the assembled substrate 4 has not been cracked during the stuffing process. Preferably, the stuffing force/ram position graph for each catalytic converter being assembled is displayed contemporaneously with the stuffing process on display 52, such that the assembler has an immediate indication as to the quality of the assembled part. If the graphic illustration shown on display 52 indicates that the substrate 4 has been cracked during stuffing, the crack is thus automatically detected, and the cracked substrate 4 is preferably automatically removed from the associated housing 2, which housing 2 then may be reused for making another catalytic converter 1.

As shown in FIG. 2, after the substrate 4 has been stuffed into the interior 3 of housing 2 as outlined above, a digital image of at least one of the end wall surfaces 12 of the substrate 4 may be taken and recorded, as illustrated in FIG. 9. In the example illustrated in FIG. 7, an optical instrument, such as digital camera 70, is positioned over the unload station of assembly machine 35, and takes a digital picture of the upper end of the assembled catalytic converter 1. The image is preferably processed with computer-aided image processing to count contrasting pixels, and identify irregularities in the shape of the cells indicating a break or crack in the substrate 4, such as the broken or collapsed areas 71 shown in FIG. 9. The image processing step may include computer-aided blob tool software, which identifies areas of the end wall surface of the substrate having a non-uniform density of the cells.

As will be apparent to those skilled in the art, the load/deflection analysis crack detection technique, and the digital imaging crack technique, as described above, can be used either separately, or together. When used together, additional accuracy and reliability are realized, particularly when the digital imaging technique is performed after the load/deflection analysis technique.

In the foregoing description, it will be readily appreciated by those skilled in the art that modifications may be made to the invention without departing from the concepts disclosed herein. Such modifications are to be considered as included in the following claims, unless these claims by their language expressly state otherwise.





 
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