Increase Profitability With Six Degrees of Freedom

Midwest Metrology Solutions reduced inspection time up to 50 percent with the FARO VantageS6 6DoF system

Ryan E. Day

June 19, 2019

Midwest Metrology Solutions (MMS) is a company in Indiana that provides onsite precision measurement services using state-of-the-art metrology equipment and software. With an extensive knowledge of geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T), a primary focus on quality, and a proven track record in manufacturing expertise, MMS strives to ensure its customers have a competitive advantage.

Midwest Metrology Solutions employs laser tracker technology for large-part inspection and alignment. The company’s main customers are those that cannot justify a full-time tracker and operator setup, but still require high precision measurement on large parts.

Challenge

Although laser tracker systems are the technology of choice for large-volume measurements, they do have an inherent operational challenge: line of sight.

“The Achilles heel of the laser tracker is always line of sight,” explains Cody Thacker, owner of Midwest Metrology Solutions. “There’s always some place you just can't get a tracker into. Whether there’s a deep hole you need to reach down into, or a small surface that’s just around a corner from your tracker’s line of sight, for instance.”

For operators to overcome the line-of-sight issue, they must move the tracker to multiple positions to gather the data points on all the features required for a particular object. Commonly referred to as leapfrogging, this technique eats up valuable time, which reduces a project’s profitability. Moving and resetting a system also introduces variability, which poses the risk of reduced accuracy.

“Just recently we had to get the data points on a feature that was pretty close to the floor,” says Thacker. “Getting down there and being able to reach and see it with a traditional tracker setup would have been really difficult. It would have required multiple setups as well as getting the tracker really low to the ground to be able to measure it.”

One solution, multiple benefits

The FARO VantageS6, paired with the 6Probe accessory, offers 6 Degrees of Freedom (6DoF) and allows MMS operators to overcome many headaches. After conducting due diligence, MMS invested in a six degrees of freedom (6DoF) system consisting of a FARO VantageS6 Laser Tracker paired with a 6Probe.

The 6Probe
“With the 6 DoF system, we can just leave the tracker where it is and use the 6Probe to get the measurements we need,” says Thacker. “This system really expands what you’re able to do—both capabilities and efficiency on a job.”

The new FARO 6Probe is a wireless, handheld 6DoF probe that seamlessly integrates with the FARO VantageS6 and VantageE6 laser trackers. With the 6DoF, you can easily measure hidden areas that are not in the direct line of sight of the tracker as well as small, hard-to-reach spaces or tiny features that cannot be accessed with a standard spherically-mounted retroreflector.

“On another project, we were setting three plates prior to them being welded into place,” explains Thacker. “Without the 6DoF, we would have had to use multiple setups to see all three surfaces. But with the 6DoF set up, the probe allowed us to basically ‘look around the corner,’ locate where that plate was, and then adjust it to get it in tolerance before we released it to the shop to weld. When you're adjusting a part like that, you can end up jumping your tracker back and forth quite a few times. The 6DoF eliminates all that.”

The 6DoF FARO Vantage product family includes two high-performance models, the VantageE6, with an operating range of 35 meters; and the VantageS6, with an operating range of 80 meters. Both are tested to rigorous International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards for shock, vibration, and extreme thermal conditions, and are IP52-rated for dust and water resistance.

ActiveSeek
Vantage trackers boast an industry-leading 50-degree field of view. ActiveSeek makes the VantageS or VantageE laser tracker easier to use when your workspace has obstructions. If you break the tracker’s laser beam, the tracker’s on-board cameras are able to locate the spherically-mounted retroreflector, and measurement can quickly and easily resume.

The field of view and ActiveSeek feature combined to impress the MMS team.

“It’s almost like having to reteach ourselves,” quips Thacker. “You may be walking to the next feature you need to measure, and then turn back and realize you broke the beam. It used to be a hassle to reestablish connection between the tracker and the spherically-mounted retroreflector, but with ActiveSeek, you can just turn the spherically-mounted retroreflector toward the tracker, and it’ll jump over to you. With the extra-wide field of view on the Vantage, ActiveSeek is a game changer for us.”

The ActiveSeek feature allows MMS operators to focus more on the measurements and less on breaking the beam. It also mitigates safety issues when an operator is navigating tricky terrain. The operator can put the spherically-mounted retroreflector in her pocket, go to the next measurement point, aim the spherically-mounted retroreflector at the tracker, and the Vantage will locate the spherically-mounted retroreflector.

Portability
The Vantage trackers feature a built-in control module (MCU), which means there is one less component to pack around when transporting the system to, say, a client’s location.

“Since there’s no external MCU, you don't have that extra burden,” explains Thacker. It's a big benefit when it comes to traveling and flying with it. Everything is contained in one case that you can check in with the airline. As far as portability goes, that’s definitely an improvement.”

ROI

Time savings
“Leap-frogging is a functional work-around, but it always takes more time when you have to move your tracker equipment,” says Thacker. “It’s possible to cut your labor time by 50 percent, maybe even more in certain instances, because you're able to see everything you need from one setup.”

Expanded business opportunities
We already had a laser tracker when we began working with [a major manufacturer of nuclear systems], but purchasing the FARO VantageS6 with 6DoF definitely put us in a better position to pitch larger [and more lucrative] projects for them,” admits Thacker. “When we’re using the FARO system at their facility, they see the benefits of it, and that increases our value to them.”

Initial investment
“I have quite a bit of experience with all three major laser tracker manufacturers,” reveals Thacker.I’ve used trackers in industries from automotive to civil engineering to vehicular applications. When I saw that FARO 6DoF trackers had great accuracy specs, but cost about 50-percent less than the brand I had been using, well, for a smaller company like ours, that price difference really came into play.”

In summary, when Thacker was asked to rate the VantageS6 Tracker on various criteria, this was his assessment:

Criteria

Rating

Accuracy and repeatability

Excellent

Measurement speed

Excellent

Ease of use

Game changer
(ActiveSeek + wide field of view)

Portability

Excellent (no MCU)

About The Author

Ryan E. Day’s picture

Ryan E. Day

Ryan E. Day is Quality Digest’s senior editor for solution-based reporting, which brings together those seeking business improvement solutions and solution providers. Day has spent the last decade researching and interviewing top business leaders and continuous improvement experts at companies like Sakor, Ford, Merchandize Liquidators, Olympus, 3D Systems, Hexagon, Intertek, InfinityQS, Johnson Controls, FARO, and Eckel Industries. Most of his reporting is done with the help of his 20-lb tabby cat at his side.