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Transitioning Into The Digitalization Era of Manufacturing

Metrology News recently sat down with Marc Soucy President of Innovmetric, developer of the Polyworks software platform, for a discussion on how the digitization of manufacturing will impact measurement processes, access to and utilization of actionable data, the future role of ‘part digital twins’ along with the adaption of its development strategy to embrace the demands created by the digitization era.

Q: InnovMetric has been centric in generating measurement data with its PolyWorks software since inception. How do you envisage the digital transformation of manufacturing changing measurement processes and measurement data generation?

A: Several major societal trends, such as the fight against climate changes and the ageing of the population, are creating a downward pressure on the profitability of manufacturing organizations. The digital transformation of manufacturing is thus essential to reduce the cost of their operations and increase profits again. All enterprise processes should be considered for digitalization, but clearly, 3D measurement processes represent a particularly good case in point:

Most manufacturing organizations manage their 3D measurement data files and folders manually. It is very unproductive to save, retrieve, or share large files using network drives.

In most manufacturing organizations, 3D measurement data is only manipulated by specialists. Most of their colleagues consume PDF files. Companies purchase half-a-million dollars pieces of 3D measurement equipment, scan products produced by the pilot assembly line, and then generate inspection reports with a few hundreds of dimensional controls. It is unbelievable to see such a goldmine of dimensional information – complete scans of manufactured pieces – being reduced to a flat static report.

We think that digital technologies will dramatically transform manufacturing organizations by managing 3D measurement information digitally and delivering it directly to the masses, to all those who need it in their processes.

Q: What is your vision for the future use of PolyWorks software in the next generation of Smart Factories and how is it driving your product development mission?

A: If you analyze how manufacturing organizations design and manufacture their products, you quickly realize that multiple digital solutions are needed to handle all the facets of their complex dimensional management process. For example:

 – PLM systems manage the entire lifecycle of a product by integrating data, processes, systems, and people and providing a product information infrastructure

 – QMS systems document processes, procedures, and responsibilities for achieving quality policies and objectives

 – MES systems manage shop-floor processes and operations of production lines in real time

We don’t think that a single vendor can provide all the required functionalities, because there is too much to handle. So, we think that Smart Factories will use multiple best-in-class digital solutions from multiple vendors and interconnect these solutions digitally to optimize their performance. As a result, we have decided to transform PolyWorks into a specialized vertical solution that fulfills a narrow but essential objective: managing all 3D measurement data digitally and opening access to this data enterprisewide. We want to bring 3D measurement data at the heart of an enterprise dimensional management process.

How do we plan to achieve the interconnectivity with the other digital enterprise solutions? Through parametric URLs. With the PolyWorks digital ecosystem, every measured piece can be retrieved through its URL. These URLs may then be injected in PLM, QMS, or MES systems, or any other digital enterprise solution. Conversely, URLs from 3rd party solutions can be injected as piece metadata in PolyWorks. This means that 3D measurement data can be accessed through any enterprise solution from a single click and that PolyWorks can be digitally interconnected to all digital enterprise solutions. The benefits of integrating 3D measurement data into the mainstream digital enterprise solutions are immense in terms of efficiency, performance, automation, and traceability.

Q: Data is set to drive smart manufacturing processes with embedded metrology processes – some inline and many near-line. How do you foresee the role of PolyWorks transitioning?

A: Once manufacturing organizations start managing 3D measurement data digitally, they gradually aim at bringing 100% of their 3D measurement data in the data management system, including the data produced inline or near-line. The benefits are just too important. To make it happen, we had to prepare PolyWorks in two different ways:

 – Expand the universality of our solution, by integrating CNC CMMs and digital gauges into our universal platform.

 – Import 3D measurement data and results produced by 3rd party measurement software using our agnostic universal data hub.

So, we are perfectly aware that PolyWorks will not operate all 3D measurement hardware, and this is particularly true for specialized automated solutions used inline or near-line that require a tight integration between hardware and software. Nevertheless, we are developing the required tools to bring in 3D measurement data produced by any 3D measurement system into our data management system.

Q: In the past, the latency associated with supplying actionable data has always been a challenge. How do you ensure the availability of data in real-time ensuring the reactive adaption of manufacturing processes?

A: We think that the key to obtain low latency is to do the maximum amount of heavy processing on the powerful computers running 3D measurement software, before uploading the data to the server, and the minimum amount of processing on the server and the computing devices used by data consumers.

Reducing latency to a minimum is a key objective that has guided the development of our digital ecosystem:

 – We now upload a measured piece to the server within a separate thread, in the background, allowing 3D measurement operators to start measuring a new piece immediately.

 – Once measured pieces have been uploaded, they can be directly consumed through Web browsers, mobile apps, or PolyWorks modules, without further processing. Web-based dashboards are typically updated within seconds.

 – Statistical alerts that monitor dimensions are not expensive to compute and are directly calculated on the server in real time.

Q: How do you envisage the role of the Digital Twin, and its direct associativity to PLM and CAD data, providing complete quality control of manufacturing processes?

A: We think that digital twins of measured pieces have a fantastic future. Because who needs the physical piece once its surface has been entirely scanned? Almost no one. Once a piece is scanned, the resulting digital twin can be inspected, investigated, or simulated without physically having access to that piece. One of our customers saved a costly recall once. They initially found an issue on a manufactured piece, then investigated previously-scanned pieces, and isolated the defective pieces in their warehouse before they were shipped.

But before digital twins of measured pieces can be used on a large scale, three conditions must be met:

– A digital data management solution is needed to manage large numbers of digital twins

– The metadata that ties measured pieces to the production process must be injected along with each digital twin. Metadata is essential to guarantee traceability and uniquely identify each digital twin.

– Finally, consumers of digital twins need to have easy and quick ways to search and access digital twins. For example, parametric URLs can be injected into CAD models and PLM systems to allow PLM users to access digital twins from their environment.

PolyWorks offers the technological foundations to manage and deliver digital twins of measured pieces enterprisewide.

Q: Manufacturing is dynamic and never without ongoing and reoccurring issues. How do you envisage root-cause analysis of problems changing in the digitalization era of manufacturing?

A: Inspection reports in PDF format and SPC statistical charts are excellent tools to highlight the presence of issues and alert the manufacturing teams. But to dig deeper and fully understand the root causes of issues, it is far more preferable to work directly in 3D with the scanned piece. So, retaining and managing 3D measurement data and providing a quick access to 3D measurement data to the manufacturing experts will produce profound impacts on root-cause analysis activities. For example:

 – PolyWorks offers drill-down capabilities in its statistical charts. If you see an abnormal piece in an SPC graph, you can directly review the problematic piece in 3D from a single click.

 – Is information missing to take a decision? While reviewing a problematic piece in 3D, you can create new features, extract their dimensions, and automatically reinspect the most recently-fabricated pieces to create on the fly new statistical charts that will help you pinpoint the issue.

 – We are also working on new technology that will automatically correlate your metadata to dimensional issues to help you identify probable causes.

Point cloud data managed by a data management system, combined to a well-thought metadata management strategy, will dramatically accelerate the root-cause analysis of problems in years to come.

Q: Do manufacturers have to take a giant leap into digitization transformation of their manufacturing operations or can they migrate at a slower pace to ensure effective implementation?

A: We think that the strategy of the giant leap is risky and that large projects should be broken into smaller ones. Smaller projects not only reduce business risks. They also allow employees to give feedback along the way to ensure a better implementation in the end. Mobilizing employees is the key to successful digital transformation projects.

For this reason, we have designed a highly modular digital transformation roadmap. We want customers to go at their own pace, so they control their digital transformation journey and see measurable benefits after each implementation step.

Within our customer base, we’ve seen a wide variety of digital ecosystem implementations. Some only deployed our data management system for their 3D measurement lab. Others went very far by deploying our Web server, a metadata management strategy, and digital interconnectivity with their PLM system. But there is one common point to all these customers. They’ve all succeeded in their digital transformation. So, we strongly believe in the importance of planning digital transformations gradually.