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The End of the End Game

Metrology moves into manufacturing, literally

Published: Thursday, November 7, 2019 - 20:22

TheEndoftheEndGame

It wasn't so long ago that metrology and inspection were reserved for the end of the manufacturing process. Metrologists were often considered to be a necessary evil, a harbinger of bad (or good) news, and in some cases, the unfortunate person who explained after a first article inspection that those super-costly parts belonged on the scrap heap. You might say those truthsayers were the Rodney Dangerfields of the manufacturing industry. But my, oh my, times have changed. Metrologists are no longer riding in the back of the bus as Smart Manufacturing is here and now, not a distant dreamscape for manufacturers.

Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution, is moving manufacturing towards automation and data exchange in design and production processes. Enabling technologies include the internet of things (IoT), the industrial internet of things (IIoT), cloud computing, artificial intelligence, cognitive computing, and cyber-physical systems. All of these threads are synthesized by data…big data. Where does that data come from? Metrology technology. Measurement professionals are everywhere in the grand plan of enabling Smart Manufacturing from pre-sales consulting to integration and technical support. This discipline is evolving and the metrologist is highly sought after in all phases of this journey.

The automation paradigm is all about incorporating metrology solutions for measurement and inspection directly on the factory floor. The placement of these technologies near the location of production and automating the inspection process generates higher repeatability and inspection frequencies. But ultimately, the crown jewel of the concept is getting information back into the production process through a variety of data-acquisition sources for faster response and manufacturing intelligence.

This game-changing evolution is also embracing both contact and noncontact sensor technologies to create advanced measurement cells. These sensors act as data-gathering touch points in manufacturing and assembly processes to create a metrology-enabled feedback control loop. Large-scale manufacturers particularly reap the benefits as high-cost tooling is now being phased out. Implementations of robotic in-process measurement and metrology-guided manufacturing can be found in leading industries such as aerospace and medical. And there are major European Union R&D projects like MegaRob and Kraken, taking the Industry 4.0 movement to a whole new level.

Big data when harnessed properly will allow manufacturers to analyze in-process information to identify problems and deviations to quickly adjust production and improve operations, as well as increase supply chain efficiency. Most importantly, manufacturing leaders clearly understand the stakes when it comes to competitiveness and quality at the point of production. In a recent Forbes article entitled Profitability Comes In A Smart Manufacturing Package, research from the MPI Group found that 69 percent of manufacturers credit their use of internet of things (IoT) technologies for increasing their profitability.

For many metrologists, the end of the end game is here and now. Measurement, sensors, data acquisition, IoT, IIoT, and analytics are key players in the great Smart Manufacturing migration. Traditional metrologists may see their roles and responsibilities morph and change as Industry 4.0 initiatives move forward in their companies. The need for continuing education will surely be required as metrology technology, hardware, and software will continue to evolve in response to this great renaissance of advanced manufacturing. Only now metrologists will be ensuring precision and quality on the front lines, where they belonged all along.

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About The Author

Belinda Jones’s picture

Belinda Jones

Belinda Jones is the founder and owner of HiTech Marketing LLC located in Westbrook, Connecticut. For more than a decade, Jones has written articles and commentaries about manufacturing, engineering, quality assurance, CAD/CAM/CAE applications, and other high-tech topics. She has extensive experience in marketing communications, technical sales, and applications engineering. Before joining the computer industry, she was a broadcast copywriter for four years. Jones holds degrees in fine arts and mechanical engineering, and studied cultural arts in Europe.