View From the Top: Portable CMM ‘Reaches Out'

May 1, 2006
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FARO Technologies chief looks to move measurement to the machining center.



FARO Technologies Inc. (Lake Mary, FL) is located just north of Orlando, FL. Unlike the area's theme parks, which specialize in amusement, FARO is very serious when it comes to helping manufacturers realize the benefits of measurement in their processes. FARO is a global company with 2005 annual sales of $125.7 million, a 29.5% increase from the previous year and its fourth consecutive year of such growth.

FARO is known for its portable arm coordinate measuring machines (CMMs), but it also has laser tracking technology and large-scale scanners. The company's technology approach is focused on 3-D measurement that is portable and software driven.

Quality Magazine sat down with Jay Freeland, president and co-CEO of FARO Technologies Inc., to discuss his vision, portable measurement technology, market size and future plans.

Quality Magazine: What brought you to FARO?

Jay Freeland: I was with General Electric for about 14 years, focusing on strategic development, sales and marketing, and operations. I eventually ran my own consulting practice, helping clients improve their processes. I came to FARO because of the market potential for its products, its global footprint, the company culture, and it was a chance to run a public company. FARO is a process-oriented company.

QM: FARO finished 2005 with sales topping $125 million and nearly 30% growth from last year. Do you expect this trend to continue?

JF: We expect to see at least 20 to 25% annual growth rate during the next few years. The market could be $3 billion to $5 billion. That may be too high or too low, but the fact is there is a lot of untapped potential out there. The adoption of portable CMMs is in its earliest stages and it's growing. There is also potential for growth with existing customers.

QM: How does the use of portable CMMs compare to that of traditional, fixed CMMs?

JF: Manufacturers typically buy one or two fixed CMMs. Manufacturers will buy 10 portable arms for 10 different stations because they are so adaptable. Portables are equal or close to the accuracy of traditional CMMs, and can measure at the point of manufacture instead of in a lab.

QM: Who is using portable CMMs in the manufacturing environment?

JF: With a portable CMM, quality becomes the responsibility of the guy on the production line. This is a real shift for the typical factory.

QM: How do you convince an engineer or operator, who isn't accustomed to stopping his machine, to use a portable CMM and gather measurements?

JF: Not everybody is ready for it (portable CMM) yet. But, we show the engineer how simple the arm is to operate. Then, if we can show him the math regarding the return on investment by using our arm, that can help gain acceptance. The time spent per shift to stop and do measurements will be more than made up for by the reduction of scrap and rework.

QM: Why should a manufacturer using hand gages switch to a portable CMM arm?

JF: We show him how the arms are a replacement for all the hand tools currently being used. However, we have an even more compelling argument when the manufacturer needs the data collected electronically or when he increases throughput. That shifts his needs away from hand tools toward a portable arm.

QM: Will it take more hardware or software technology improvements to drive portable CMM technology forward?

JF: Adaptability and robustness are key strengths of the arm. Customers are putting it in new environments and we need to continuously address those needs. However, there is always room for improvement in both hardware and software.

QM: What are the plans for hardware developments?

JF: The portable arms are still electromechanical in nature; you still have to touch the part being measured. They may become optical and touch free. We may look at laser technology, once it is refined enough to have the same accuracy as a physical contact point.

QM: What about developments in software?

JF: We are still focused on an open-source approach to software so that a manufacturer can use our arms and any software with which he is already comfortable.

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