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Metrology’s Critical Role in Industry 4.0

Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2018 - 12:18

Industry 4.0 is the current hot trend in manufacturing, and one of the adjectives used to label new projects. The concept is primarily a way to describe how automation or “smart” systems enable manufacturers to drive costs down and increase quality. The sense of those words is magic to those seeking the holy grail in quality: “How can I build it better and faster without having to work harder?”

The large-volume metrology industry is an effective, fundamental resource to help meet the goals of Industry 4.0. Almost every technological development in metrology systems for both hardware and software has been implemented or employed to help build complex large-scale systems faster, more precisely, and at a lower net cost for fabrication systems. A major driver accelerating the effect and value of metrology systems is the maturity of their software automation interfaces. These interfaces are enabling engineers to treat these ever-more precise and flexible systems as sensors within the fabrication processes. They provide real-time closed-loop corrections to assembly systems.

The advanced interfaces enable the systems to read positioners, automatically acquire as-built measurements for key features, compute a correction for the position, and then validate if the components meet or exceed the tolerances. Once the assembly is set, quality assurance data are collected then posted to servers, databases, and the cloud for use in downstream assembly tasks and used to help characterize system-specific process capabilities. Using these advanced interfaces, software architecture is delivering the connectivity for self-monitoring and, potentially more important, used to help communicate to manufacturing process owners. When implemented for a complete production line, the metrology data from each subsequent process are accessible and used to produce the assembly faster and better for realizing Industry 4.0 goals.

Because the systems are typically portable, they can be deployed with some flexibility. It is becoming commonplace to see metrology systems on robots, portable stands, or on robots on autonomous vehicles. Due to the maturity of the hardware and software interfaces, we are seeing more hybrid metrology systems commonly deployed in production. For example, a laser tracker provides a rigorous control network and helps established traceable measurements. Photogrammetry systems are effective automation solution providers in unstable environments, and their targets can be integrated or coupled to the tracker’s reference network. Engineers are leveraging the relative strengths of these systems to meet and exceed expectations. The effect can disrupt long-standing production processes.

The second metrology automation solution implemented in a production process is often just upstream or downstream of the first. The expectation for the subsequent implementation is not always as easy to achieve. The system software needs to be architected to capture the key feature controlling the component or assembly’s configuration in an accessible platform. A lot of work and planning must go into basic metrology 101 processes like naming conventions, consistent nominal CAD modeling standards, simple and inexpensive feature target design, and regular process validation. The disruption generated by the metrology system requires careful planning for each input into the process. Expectations will not be met if companies do not perform their basic homework to understand how the production process controls the assembly, or if they do not evaluate the overall system. The key to success when deploying the system is to “refine” the disruption, to provide a layer that helps the results stand on their own first. Then the implementation team can step back and evaluate how to generalize it for the production line. Successfully achieving that next level takes planning and awareness of the limitation in each of the system inputs, along with an eye on how system outputs support the project goals.

Our community of metrology system managers, engineers, and technicians is critically valuable and important to achieving Industry 4.0 goals. The number of new concepts, interfaces, and new systems presented at the CMS conference has increased each year. Your opportunity to present your solution and learn from others is at the 2019 CMSC in Orlando, Florida, July 22—26, 2019. The CMS 2019 Call for Papers was just posted here. You can also browse the library of technical papers housed in the new CMS Digital Library.

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About The Author

Scott Sandwith’s picture

Scott Sandwith

Scott Sandwith is the 2019 Chairperson for the Coordinate Metrology Society. He is the custom projects manager for New River Kinematics (NRK), a Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence company. Sandwith works with the entire NRK team to develop optical metrology solutions to help manufacturers to automate their operations, achieve system requirements, and meet production rate goals, as well as identify, develop, and deliver custom solutions to major customers, OEMs, and integrators. Sandwith holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Washington State University.