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Scaling 3D Measurement Data Usage To Improve Quality

After the recent unveiling of Polyworks 2024, Metrology News sat down with Marc Soucy, President of Innovmetric, developer of the Polyworks software platform. The interview delved into how the widespread adoption of 3D measurement data can enhance manufacturing quality and emphasized the pivotal role of the digital thread in ensuring universal access across enterprises to a singular, reliable source of information, promising a transformative impact on quality control processes.

Q: Could you elaborate on how InnovMetric’s PolyWorks 2024 aims to improve manufacturing quality by scaling up the utilization of 3D measurement data, and what specific strategies or features within the software facilitate this objective?

A: 3D metrology has already proven its value at every stage of the product development cycle, from design to production. However, look closely at how 3D measurement technologies are deployed within manufacturing organizations, and you will notice that their departments typically work in silos. Each department chooses its own software, determines how its data is handled, and keeps the data within its boundaries. The absence of a global strategy to manage 3D measurement processes leads to increased costs. For example:

  • Employees are trained on multiple software with similar functionalities
  • 3D measurement data files are managed manually through naming conventions and network disks
  • Time-consuming conversions to text-based file formats are used to exchange information between multiple enterprise solutions

I recently met a client who is very enthusiastic about digital processes and who is trying to eliminate PDF files from his company’s processes. He told me that manufacturing organizations should start managing 3D measurement information instead of simply producing inspection documents. Despite the growing interest in root-cause analysis tools and AI, most enterprises do not yet have access to a global data repository where they can accumulate precious 3D measurement data that would be needed to leverage these new technologies.

In my opinion, only a digital thread could solve these inefficiencies that have led to higher costs. The PolyWorks 2024 digital thread consists of three fundamental elements:

  • A universal 3D measurement platform that offers re-engineered user interfaces that accelerate learning and 3D measurement tasks.
  • Data management on a central server that leverages cost-effective cloud storage technologies.
  • Digital interconnections between the data management server and other enterprise solutions, such as PowerBI and Excel, to enforce a single source of truth for 3D inspection results.

With a digital thread, a manufacturing organization will have the foundation in place to scale up its use of 3D measurement technologies painlessly.

Q: How does InnovMetric aim to streamline the adoption of 3D measurement processes for manufacturers of all sizes, particularly in terms of lowering costs associated with learning and operating 3D metrology software?

A: Ten years have passed since we last brought major changes to our user interfaces. During these ten years, we have added many more tools and improved several key workflows. We’ve also accumulated precious feedback from our users worldwide. The timing was right to leverage this feedback to design modern effective user interfaces in line with our long-term vision of PolyWorks solutions. So, over a two-year period, we relentlessly performed basic and advanced workflows and took detailed notes when a tool or parameter was not readily available or when we needed to search for something. Then, we started prototyping new interfaces to solve these issues, did multiple rounds of prototyping and user testing, and initiated a beta testing program with our user community in North America that gave us tremendous feedback and helped us fine-tune our design and prioritize our implementation.

Thanks to our re-engineered user interfaces, PolyWorks 2024 users will discover new tools intuitively, access frequently used tools more directly, and quickly find the functionalities that apply to selected objects. How do these changes translate into cost savings?

  • For all users, there will be fewer clicks, fewer mouse movements, and fewer tool searches. Preparing inspection projects and analyzing measurement results will be faster than ever before.
  • New users will become proficient PolyWorks users more quickly than before.
  • Occasional users will find their mark immediately when diving into PolyWorks.
  • Finally, skilled users will deepen their software knowledge intuitively by exploring functionalities at their fingertips.

To sum up, we are reducing costs by making quality control teams more effective within their 3D measurement processes.

Q: How does InnovMetric perceive the evolving role of the digital thread in 3D measurement processes, and what specific benefits or efficiencies does the integration of this digital thread bring to manufacturing workflows?

A: Let me first define what a digital thread is, so we all share a common understanding. In simple terms, a digital thread is a set of mechanisms and tools that allows data to flow digitally within an organization. In general, the main challenge of implementing a digital thread is digitally interconnecting applications from multiple vendors. Application Programming Interfaces, also called APIs, are essential tools to enable a digital thread. They allow the implementation of digital connectors to seamlessly exchange information between two applications. It is also possible to use files within a digital thread, as long as these files are transient and invisible to end-users. For example, PolyWorks can ask a PLM system to download a CAD model file to a specific location. It will then import it and delete it. Digital threads are typically broken when users explicitly export files onto disk. Here’s what happens when there is no digital thread:

  • There is no single source of truth, as multiple copies of the same information are stored in multiple locations.
  • Processes are sensitive to human error and inconsistencies, as manual interventions are required in dataflows.

There is a major trend toward automated 3D measurement in our market. However, many manufacturing organizations have not yet realized the importance of putting a digital thread in place before deploying these technologies at scale. Here’s what a digital thread can deliver to manufacturing organizations that want to increase the use of 3D measurement technologies:

  • As dataflows are reversible within a digital thread, you can solve manufacturing issues more quickly by drilling through the data. Manufacturing or production engineers who investigate an issue within their favorite tools can dive into the original inspection projects produced by the quality control teams to find the answers they are looking for.
  • Manufacturing organizations can retain digital twins of their manufactured products and use them later to plan repairs, simulate physical behaviors, or prove initial product quality.
  • Finally, all the teams involved in producing and consuming 3D measurement data can leverage modern digital technologies, such as hyperlinks, notifications, and discussion threads, to collaborate efficiently.

Q: The integration of cloud storage in PolyWorks 2024 is highlighted as a significant advancement. How does this implementation efficiently manage vast amounts of 3D measurement data and what benefits does it offer in terms of scalability, data replication, and cost-effectiveness?

A: When we analyzed the expensive high-performance disks that are typically attached to server computers, we realized they were optimized to read and write large numbers of small files. However, our use case in 3D metrology is quite different. An inspection project comprises a small number of large files that are written once and rarely change, for example, CAD models and point cloud data files. We then found out that cloud providers such as Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure offer the ideal technology for 3D metrology files and decided to support cloud storage. With cloud storage, PolyWorks 2024 can reduce storage cost by a factor of 10 or more compared to a high-performance disk. In terms of data storage, cloud storage also allows you to increase the amount of storage space on demand, without any upper limit on the amount used. Finally, cloud storage replicates your precious data files in multiple geographical locations. So, if a catastrophic incident happens near a data center that you are using, a copy of your data will remain available on a server located in a different region. Today, PolyWorks is the only solution on the market capable of managing the entire lifecycle of 3D measurement data, from its creation to archiving.

Q: At the launch of PolyWorks 2024, you mentioned your company’s preference for interconnecting digital ecosystems with existing tools rather than developing new solutions. How does this approach align with the goal of lowering operating costs for customers, and what are the key benefits of offering an open digital ecosystem to the manufacturing industry?

A: Any marketing textbook will tell you that the ultimate aim of a company is to fulfill 100% of its customers’ needs. In the past, when processes were simpler, many software companies chose to assemble vast solution portfolios to try to achieve this goal by themselves. In my opinion, this is an outdated strategy. Customer requirements are too advanced today for a single vendor to address all their customers’ needs. Manufacturing organizations legitimately strive to use best-in-class solutions from multiple vendors for different fields of expertise. While looking for the best solutions for their processes however, manufacturing organizations also wish to minimize the total number of solutions they use, as each new solution they adopt comes with the need to build new expertise that often cannot be found on the job market, while adding significant training, operating, and maintenance costs. We believe that open solutions allow resolving these two contradicting needs by ensuring digital dataflows that optimize process efficiency.

Q: InnovMetric emphasizes the importance of interoperability with industry-standard reporting and analysis solutions, including Excel and Power BI. Can you discuss how the new plug-ins for PolyWorks 2024 simplify the process of injecting smart 3D inspection data into these tools, and what advantages a data-driven culture can bring to manufacturing organizations?

A: We have developed powerful digital connectors that allow an Excel or PowerBI user to import data and metadata managed by a PolyWorks|DataLoop data management server. Here are examples of the benefits these digital interconnections bring to a manufacturing organization:

  • Digital transfers eliminate transcription errors. They are also significantly faster compared to manual file-based data exchanges.
  • The data imported by our connectors is dynamic, not static. User-defined formulas ensure that Excel spreadsheet cells remain dynamically linked to the data they contain. You can even configure a data refresh schedule to periodically update published PowerBI reports.
  • Existing employees with Excel or PowerBI expertise can leverage 3D measurement data without having to learn 3D measurement software.

In the past, quality control teams were gatekeepers that controlled access to the 3D measurement data. With these technologies and others, such as access to data through Web and mobile interfaces, anyone in the organization can now access 3D measurement data by themselves. We think that enterprisewide data sharing is an essential step to making organizations more transparent and to raise global awareness about product dimensional compliance. Quality control teams are at the start of an important evolution. The work they do every day is creating tremendous value. The 3D measurement information they collect today will be leveraged for far more than its initial use, provided they are easy to consume by non-metrology experts.

Q: As InnovMetric celebrates its 30th anniversary as an independent and innovative metrology software development company, what are your predictions for the evolution of metrology software over the next five years? Additionally, what key trends or advancements do you foresee shaping the metrology sector during this period?

A: Deploying the PolyWorks digital thread worldwide will keep us very busy in the upcoming five years. We will develop technologies to accelerate the adoption of our data management solution and allow manufacturing OEMs to integrate their suppliers. We will also keep developing digital connectors to bring 3D measurement information within third-party solutions and offer an Application Programming Interface so customers and software vendors can develop their value-added solutions on top of PolyWorks. We believe that an open, interconnected world is the way of the future.

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