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Continuing Role of Portable Measurement Solutions in an Age of Automation and Smart Manufacturing

In the dynamic landscape of smart manufacturing, automation and advanced technologies such as Big Data, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT) are reshaping production processes. With these advancements, one might assume that traditional measurement tools are becoming obsolete. However, portable measurement solutions such as portable arms, laser trackers, and handheld laser scanners continue to play a critical role. In this article we explore why these portable devices remain indispensable in automated smart manufacturing and how they complement advanced manufacturing machinery and automated manufacturing systems.

Flexibility Is Crucial Where Moving Parts To a Stationary Measurement Station Impractical

Portable measurement solutions offer unparalleled versatility and mobility, making them essential in advanced manufacturing environments. Unlike fixed measurement systems, which are confined to specific locations, portable devices can be deployed anywhere on the shop floor. This flexibility is crucial for large-scale manufacturing operations where moving parts or assemblies to a stationary, often centralized measurement station is impractical.

As an example, portable arms can be easily transported to different sections of the production line to measure parts in situ, ensuring that they meet specifications without disrupting the workflow. This capability is particularly beneficial in industries such as aerospace and automotive, where components are large and complex.

Real-Time Problem Solving

In smart manufacturing, minimizing downtime is critical. Any disruption in the production process can lead to significant financial losses. Portable measurement solutions enable quick identification and resolution of issues as they arise, allowing operators to diagnose and address problems on the spot. For instance, if a batch of parts is suspected to be out of tolerance, a metrology-grade handheld laser scanner can provide immediate measurements to confirm the deviation.

This real-time problem-solving capability is especially valuable during the initial setup of automated systems or when introducing new parts to the production line. Portable measurement tools provide fast and reliable verification, ensuring that automated processes start correctly and maintain high accuracy.

Complementing Automated Systems

Automated measurement systems are integral to smart manufacturing, providing high precision and efficiency. However, they are not infallible and require periodic calibration and validation to maintain their accuracy. Portable measurement solutions, such as laser trackers, can play a crucial role in this context. They serve as reference standards for checking and calibrating fixed measurement systems, ensuring their continued reliability.

Moreover, portable devices can validate measurements taken by automated systems. For example, a laser tracker can be used to verify the alignment of machinery or large components, providing an additional layer of assurance. This redundancy helps prevent false positives and ensures that only genuinely defective parts are flagged for further inspection or rework.

Handling Low Volume Complex Geometries

Modern manufacturing often involves producing parts with complex geometries and intricate designs. Automated measurement systems are typically optimized for high-volume, repetitive tasks and may struggle with unique or intricate parts. Portable measurement solutions, on the other hand, offer the flexibility to handle these unique and complex geometries effectively.

Handheld laser scanners can capture detailed 3D measurements of parts with intricate curves and recesses, which might be challenging for fixed systems, such as a coordinate measuring machine, to assess accurately. This adaptability also makes portable measurement tools invaluable for prototyping, custom manufacturing, and quality control of low-volume, high-complexity parts.


Implementing automated measurement systems can be a significant investment, justified for high-volume production runs due to their efficiency and consistency. However, they may not be economically viable for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) or low-volume production scenarios. Portable measurement solutions offer a cost-effective alternative, providing accurate measurements without substantial capital investment. For SMEs, portable devices ensure high-quality standards without the financial burden of installing and maintaining complex automated systems.

User-Friendly Design and Ergonomics

Today’s portable measurement solutions are designed with ease of use in mind. They are often lightweight, ergonomic, and equipped with digital software interfaces that can simplify the measurement process. This user-friendly design reduces the likelihood of operator error, which has always been a significant concern with manual measurement processes.

Many portable devices now feature wireless connectivity and data logging capabilities, allowing measurements to be quickly and easily recorded and integrated into larger data management systems. This seamless integration enhances traceability and ensures that measurement data is readily available for analysis and becoming part of the overall quality control process.

Bridging the Gap in Hybrid Manufacturing Environments

In many manufacturing settings, a hybrid approach is adopted, combining both automated and manual processes. This is often seen in industries undergoing a gradual transition to full automation or where certain tasks are better suited to human oversight. Portable measurement solutions are essential in these hybrid environments, providing a bridge between manual craftsmanship and automated precision.

For example, in the aerospace industry, while critical components may be produced using automated systems, final assembly and inspection often involve skilled technicians using portable devices to ensure assembled parts fits together perfectly. This combination of human expertise and advanced technology results in superior quality and reliability.

Enhancing Workforce Training and Skill Development

Portable measurement solutions also play a vital role in training and skill development within the manufacturing workforce. As factories transition to more automated systems, it is crucial for operators and technicians to understand both manual and automated measurement techniques. Portable devices offer a hands-on learning tool that helps workers develop a deeper understanding of measurement principles and practices. Training employees on portable devices ensures a versatile workforce capable of troubleshooting and maintaining automated systems. This cross-training enhances overall productivity and reduces dependency on specialized personnel.

Future Trends and Innovations

Image courtesy of Innovmetric. PolyWorks|AR™ software offers rich visual environments and instinctual interactions that boost the efficiency and performance of 3D measurement workflows.

Looking ahead, the role of portable measurement solutions in smart manufacturing is set to evolve with advancements in technology. Integration with IoT platforms, enhanced connectivity, and the use of augmented reality (AR) for real-time measurement guidance are some of the innovations on the horizon. These advancements will further enhance the capabilities of portable devices, making them even more integral to smart manufacturing ecosystems.

For instance, an AR-equipped handheld laser scanner could overlay measurement data onto a physical part, providing real-time visual feedback to the operator and reducing the likelihood of errors. Additionally, improvements in battery technology and wireless communication will further enhance the portability and convenience of these devices, making them even more versatile.

Versatility, Quick Response Capabilities, and Adaptability

In conclusion, portable measurement solutions such as portable arms, laser trackers, and handheld laser scanners continue to play a vital role in automated smart manufacturing. Their versatility, quick response capabilities, and adaptability to complex geometries make them indispensable tools for ensuring quality and precision. They complement automated systems by providing calibration, validation, and rapid troubleshooting solutions. Additionally, their cost-effectiveness, user-friendly software design, and role in training underscore their ongoing relevance in the manufacturing landscape. As industries continue to innovate and embrace advanced technologies, portable measurement solutions will evolve to meet new challenges and opportunities. Whether in large-scale production facilities or small manufacturing workshops, these versatile portable measurement tools will continue to be an essential component of the manufacturing toolkit, bridging the gap between human expertise and automated excellence.