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When In-Process Metrology Brings So Much To Advanced Manufacturing – Why is Adoption Not More Widely Accepted

In the rapidly evolving landscape of advanced manufacturing, precision and efficiency are paramount. In-process metrology, a technology that allows for real-time measurement and analysis during the manufacturing process, has emerged as a powerful tool to enhance quality control and productivity. However, despite its potential benefits, in-process metrology has not been as widely adopted in industry as one might expect. A recent round-table discussion explored the reasons behind the limited acceptance of in-process metrology and highlighted the potential advantages it brings to advanced manufacturing.

Disparate systems and legacy automation equipment and/or integration practices that were once fit for purpose are becoming the bottleneck for enabling manufacturers to advance their manufacturing processes. Industry 4.0 has varying meanings per manufacturer and sector based on where they are in their factory transformation, but it has been established that in-process metrology is an enabler for advancing automation. Build quality is directly linked to accuracy and this is fundamental to both aerospace and automotive industries’ strategy over the next 5 years.

At a recent round-table discussion between senior engineers working for leading UK aerospace and automotive organizations, as well as senior engineers from UK research centers addressed the following questions:

➤ What automation and robotic-related objectives does your factory have for the next 3-5 years?
➤ What does Industry 4.0 mean to your organization?
➤ What is currently holding back with your automation work?

The round-table discussion was part of project ACCUFAS (Accurate and Flexible Automation Systems), a project focused on developing photogrammetry technology to facilitate high-accuracy robot control within the aerospace sector. The discussion was chaired by Insphere’s Operations Manager, Phil Silk, at the AMRC Factory 2050 in November 2023.

Below are a selection of comments from the round-table discussion:

“Whilst our robots are repeatable and to date have achieved the production rate we required, as we try to meet higher build quality expectations and develop more flexible processes in line with Industry 4.0 it is clear standard robots offerings alone cannot help us reach these goals. We are looking for new technology to improve robot flexibility and accuracy enable us to advance our manufacturing processes”.

“Accurate robotics is still a dark art. Many operators do not care about metrology, they often need more context or understanding of what the data means to them and the process before they get on board. An organization does not need wide-spread knowledge of photogrammetry to see the benefits – just a key pool of people.”

“Often, operators do not understand the complexity of a robot, their accuracies, and how they integrate with manufacturing systems. This results in only marginal gains and operators being heavily involved in the commissioning and running of automation.”

“New cells being set up should have photogrammetry systems included in the blueprint, it is the set-up of the cell that makes the difference in build quality”

Observation From The Round-Table 

Automation (in particular cobots) is becoming more accessible, enabling more processes to be automated. Cobots often require little or no safety guarding and have an easier online programming methods. Whilst this opens the door for many manufacturers, they often face issues when implementing flexible processes, as the accuracy is not up to a required specification, yet this is often not well understood.

Engineering and operator knowledge of automation is behind what is needed for manufacturers to adopt advanced technology. If there is a knowledge gap in metrology, how are manufacturers going to know they have an accuracy issue, to then understand that photogrammetry systems could solve it?

Typically, it takes a significant amount of resource to identify and solve an accuracy issue. It can also involve an acceptance of scrapped or sacrificial test parts with post-production measurement. The ideal solution was recognized as one that enables manufacturers to measure and correct errors in process.

A whitepaper published by Insphere summarises the round-table discussion and is available for download. It provides a comprehensive overview of the objectives, challenges and considerations from those working directly with robots and automation. It highlights the need for increased education of metrology and photogrammetry solutions, across sectors, to propel the industry forward to better align with the aspirations of Industry 4.0.

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