Automated metrology is pervasive in manufacturing today, but not just for quality verification. Various types of coordinate measuring machines (CMMs), also called sensors, combined with applicable software, are being put to work across the manufacturing enterprise for many applications. While quality verification is at the root of metrology in manufacturing, the technology is also used for reverse engineering, especially when verifying or capturing complex surface profiles, tool building for mold and die and fixturing applications, assembly guidance and more.

The metrology genie is essentially out of the bottle. It continues to be fueled by the creativity of design and manufacturing engineers, technicians and CMM operators, who are credited with expanding the technology beyond the lab to the shop floor and even into the field. The expansion of automated metrology has been very positive. Still, it has caused challenges for many companies with legacy equipment or new departments within the organization with an emerging need for metrology capabilities.

Setting the Software Stage

With metrology beyond the walls of the lab, there is a need to get organized, both from a solutions and budget perspective. If not, shops risk sacrificing productivity gains over the long haul. This is compounded by better, faster and more flexible CMMs and multiple software choices to drive them.

On average, shops today use three or more metrology software programs to keep all of their CMMs running. This is due to legacy or closed operating systems of existing CMMs, new CMMs purchased with OEM software or existing software lacking the flexibility and power to effectively support a broad range of metrology applications.

Shops are starting to take a broader view of metrology and the software that helps automate it. A strategy behind this is to implement a foundational software platform for all metrology workflows across the manufacturing enterprise, providing power, ­flexibility and extensibility while maintaining repeatable process control.

Openness and compatibility are significant considerations for shops looking to select the right platform. Ideally, you only want one software to learn, maintain and maximize. For example, a software built upon a CAD/CAM platform that supports model-based definition, works with all CAD files and drives all fixed and portable CMMs, including 3D scanners and trackers.

The accelerated adoption of CAD/CAM and model-based design/build workflows has pushed metrology vendors to innovate to keep up with the digital thread trend, or as it is often referred to in Industry 4.0 circles, “the digital twin.”

Today, there is an array of fixed and portable CMM choices, including arms, scanners and laser trackers. Selecting the right CMM type to match your application, whether quality inspection, reverse engineering, tool building or something else, is essential. To implement a common software strategy, you need to select a platform that can support your intended application workflows, drive all your devices and be able to keep up from a processing performance standpoint. Compatibility challenges come into clear view when you start introducing legacy CNC CMMs and new high-performance measurement sensors capable of measuring millions of points very quickly.

Step by Step

Here are six steps to implement an inspection software strategy:

Start With Software

Too often, manufacturing companies either minimize the importance of measurement and inspection software or, worse, they make purchase decisions based on hardware features that may or may not provide the results they need. Only after they take delivery and use the equipment do they realize that they have purchased software that is not up to the task or is the wrong type of CMM, given their workflow and the required results. Select your software platform first.

Focus on Repeatable Process Control

Evaluating a Common Metrology Software Platform

Be sure the enterprise metrology software you select is open and offers the necessary level of interoperability to support your current and future manufacturing inspection requirements. Some questions to consider include the following:

Is the inspection software model-based and built on a CAD/CAM platform, including 3D modeling?

Does it seamlessly import and export all CAD/CAM files and models?

Will it import and allow annotation of intelligent GD&T data?

Can the software operate and collect measurements from all CMMs, including new and legacy CNC CMMs, portable arms, laser trackers and scanners?

Does it have the flexibility, performance and productivity tools to handle a range of inspection data, from manual contact probing/scanning to noncontact point clouds containing millions of measurement points?

Can inspection and other workflow routines be created once and executed on all fixed and portable CMMs across the manufacturing enterprise?

Does the software include access to a software development kit to implement optimized user interfaces and support future integration of devices, such as cobots and robots?

Does the software developer move at the speed of your business? Metrology is moving fast, and end customers make demands based on what is possible. The ability to integrate with other technologies and support emerging features like five-axis probing and contact scanning using a CNC CMM can be significant. Make sure your software provider can help where your business is headed.

Consider a common platform approach for your CMM programming and inspection, reverse engineering and mold building needs to save time and money and improve efficiency and quality.

Repeatable process control is the backbone of quality management and should be applied to all metrology workflows, regardless of application. It is a systematic approach to managing processes that ensures the quality of the final product is consistent, reliable and meets customer expectations. Hence, metrology automation software should support repeatable process control.

The software must work seamlessly with intelligent CAD/CAM data, adding value while maintaining data continuity and providing output to downstream tools that monitor statistical process control, six sigma, total quality management and lean manufacturing initiatives.

Software and Device Compatibility

Choosing the right metrology software platform will ensure compatibility with all CAD file types and interface with and operate all fixed and portable CMMs, regardless of type or brand. It is plain to see the benefits this has in maintaining digital continuity and maximizing resource utilization. To take device compatibility to the next level, your metrology software should have software development kits to integrate with systems like advanced automation using robotics effectively.

Data Continuity

Your metrology software needs to work with the various formats used in other areas of your manufacturing operation, e.g., CAD/CAM with intelligent geometric dimensioning and tolerance (GD&T). By using a common metrology platform across the manufacturing enterprise, you ensure the consistency of shared data and database accessibility. This benefit is amplified when sharing results with downstream applications such as SPC statistical process control and product lifecycle management.

Operator Training and Education

You no longer have to settle with multiple metrology software programs due to legacy CMMs or proprietary devices that do not support open communication protocols. Tribal knowledge, where certain employees must be dedicated to specific machines because they are the only ones who know the software to run them, is a thing of the past. Being able to train operators across all metrology workflows and device types on a single software platform makes sense.

Consistency of programming, use of available software productivity tools and the ability to create workflows that can be repeated on any available measurement device are all benefits of a single software platform strategy. Training time and associated costs are reduced while improving repeatable process controls and data consistency.

Software Maintenance

By implementing a common metrology software strategy, you reduce dependency on multiple software applications and gain greater efficiency and control. This will reduce duplicate costs associated with licensing fees and annual maintenance agreements with multiple software providers.

A common metrology software approach to the manufacturing enterprise helps to mitigate challenges by establishing and maintaining universal compatibility. The goal should be one metrology software for any CAD file and all CMMs. Whether your current or future needs include CMM programming and inspection, reverse engineering or mold building, a common platform approach will save time and money while improving efficiency and quality across the board.