Metrology Becoming Integral – No longer an Adjunct to Manufacturing in Future

So what did we learn this week from our visit to the Control Exhibition in Stuttgart, Germany?

We learnt that metrology is taking center stage in ‘manufacturing of the future’ and that metrology equipment, software and sensor suppliers are ready for the new ‘metro-centric’ future. A buzz of excitement and anticipation could be sensed in the atmosphere at the event which this year expanded to cover 6 exhibition halls. No where else in the world does the metrology supply industry ‘set-up shop’, for just a few days, with so much commitment, to engage with visitors and investing so much effort in displaying concepts; factory ‘mock-ups’ and professional real-world product demonstrations. The show floor is a real learning experience for the visitor of ‘what’s possible’.

The pace of product development across the whole metrology supply base is relentless, along with visible strategic company direction tweeks, as each supplier adjust their product strategies to better serve and succeed through its unique perspective of what the future needs.

Metrology is becoming integral, not an adjunct, to manufacturing ensuring the metrology sector will weather the next recession or financial crisis as an industry in much better shape than in the past. As metrology becomes integral, and hence much more strategic, its deployment will migrate more to the larger metrology groups as they have the global reach, financial security and offer ‘big brand’ comfort to large global manufacturing organizations. Metrology innovations on show this week nevertheless remain the domain of many of the smaller metrology companies.

Some of the rumored acquisitions of past months did not manifest themselves with announcements at the show this week. One that did ‘pop out’ on the last day being the acquisition of the Metrologic Group by the Swedish giant Sandvik signalling their entry into the metrology sector. In a report to shareholders announcing the Metrologic investment the company states “Manufacturing companies are demanding in-line metrology; instant feedback on quality, to reduce scrap and allow for in-line adjustments. Integration of MACHINING and VERIFICATION & EVALUATION is a key enabler for in-line metrology; continuous improvements and an integrated manufacturing chain. Combining Sandvik Machining Solutions and Metrologic would be a first decisive step to take the lead in this development”. 

Smart Sensors are getting smaller and smarter allowing their deployment without need for complex system integration and with edge computing providing the necessary agility. Such is the ease of integration and set-up of these next generation sensors their deployment numbers can be maximized during a product launch and subsequently removed as the manufacturing process matures with only the most critical features continuing to be monitored. The on-board analysis software, residing in firmware, has the necessary intellect and power such that each smart sensor is now a comprehensive 3D measuring device in its own right. Their mass deployment providing a real-time 3D actionable data stream and offering a low cost intellectual process capability solution.

Integration with automation of near-line metrology cells was demonstrated by several vendors whereby the cell may not be directly linked to the manufacturing production line but nevertheless can be run unmanned for a whole shift. One such solution is the new ATOS ScanBox with integrated Batch Processing System enabling automated load/unload of the optical 3D coordinate measuring machine. The parts to be inspected are stored in a vertical carousel, with integral robot, with fixturing marked with an RFID chip signaling the appropriate inspection part program to be run. The product is the result of a collaboration between GOM and Erowa, the leader in automation solutions for Tool and Die industries.

Computed Tomography was highly visible at the exhibition with the introduction of many new products and new entrants, including GOM with its dedicate Metrolog CT. Zeiss focussed theme for the show was ‘Optimizing Additive Manufacturing (AM) Processes Using Metrology’ and presented its full range of solutions for every step in the AM process including CT solutions from the recently acquired Bosello company.

Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMM) were displayed by numerous vendors, including many shop-floor models, and while CMMs may be reducing their role in overseeing manufacturing quality ‘near-line’ their utilization for high accuracy inspection of parts is not diminishing. We are however witnessing the emergence of alternative CMM mechanical structures and their deployment in manufacturing process control. Both Renishaw and Aberlink presented their new larger measuring volume hexapod structures with Renishaw pursuing its comparative gauging philosophy with the Equator Gauge, many of which where presented with automation, while Aberlink delivers its Xtreme absolute accuracy coordinate measuring measuring device with enhanced controller functionality including I/O for automation control. Both units offer lower price point measuring platforms allowing the deployment of ‘distributed metrology’ on the production-floor.

Robot based metrology solutions were aplenty at the show including the introduction from Creaform of its Cube-R solution. Automated Precision demonstrated Laser Tracker solutions to error-map and calibrate industrial robots to improve their accuracy for metrology applications as well as its dynamic tracking robot solution, using a laser tracker, integral in the measuring cell to real-time compensate robot position.

Walking around the show for 3 days I was stopped by so many people, from all over the world, who introduced themselves as avid readers of metrology news and thanked me for my continued efforts in bringing the news. I truly appreciate all of the comments received. My visit this week has re-energized my personal passion for the industry and advanced my education a great deal more. I would like to thank all those who accommodated me for a ‘coffee stop’ during my long days and also in the hospitality and generosity afforded by GOM at their annual booth party where competitors mingled, networked and shared experiences for many hours after the show closed on Thursday evening. Sorry for leaving early at 10.30pm but I had stories to write and feet to soak!!!