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Compared with the modern wizardry that goes on every day in homes and offices across America, industrial technology can seem pretty mundane. When was the last time you were excited-really excited-about a new lathe?
Generally, time on the shop or factory floor means abandoning the creature comforts such as the Internet, Wi-Fi, touch screens and so on. The really cool stuff, we’re told, was for the guys upstairs.
Times change, though, and with them, entire strata of operators and users have been eliminated from operations throughout the United States. For many, the job of quality assurance and inspection has been passed down to the level one operator who typically was not charged with matters of advanced metrology. Manufacturers of coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) are recognizing this shift and designing products that are simpler and faster to use, and work more like the smart phones that sit in your pocket rather than the multi-ton, fixed bridge CMMs of the past.
The Great Metrology MigrationTo understand this shift, one must first understand the driving force behind it. It is no secret that the manufacturing industry has seen nearly three million jobs eliminated the past five years or so, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While many of these jobs were lost on the shop floor, many others were entire tiers of jobs charged with advanced operations such as metrology.
Many auto manufacturers, for example, no longer hire experienced metrologists to perform their daily quality assurance and part measurement operations. Instead, they employ only a few to resolve high-level threats to quality.
Simple measurement functions do not cease simply because the hiring does. Circularity, perpendicularity, parallelism, diameter, width-these do not stop going out-of-whack because a manufacturer no longer employs dozens of trained measurement experts.
Simply, quality remains a concern regardless of economic conditions. The duties of quality assurance have now been pushed down the ladder to the shop floor. On-machine and on-party inspections are commonplace in metal fabrication, automotive facilities and factories throughout the United States.
Why the Move to 3-D?Quality assurance is now in the hands of employees who perhaps have never operated a CMM before. Device manufacturers know this. So, to accommodate the shift from scientists to assemblers, portable CMM manufacturers are making their devices more user-friendly than ever. New measurement arms allow for 3-D contact and noncontact measurement of parts and machines, often without so much as a laptop connection. In fact, the move to 3-D data capture has allowed for simplified measurements of very complicated dimensions-such as circularity-by workers who might not have had previous experience with such things.
To facilitate these measurements, portable CMM manufacturers now incorporate familiar features into their arm. Features include a touch screen, much like one would find on any of today’s smart phones, which provides a simple interface to routine measurement functions (think depth, distance, diameter, etc.) without a laptop connection. Sphere, square and line icons distinguish between the functions to clarify their purpose and remove any doubt over the feature being measured. Newer arms offer Wi-Fi, BlueTooth and other connectivity options to enable measurements at the part, rather than bringing the part to the CMM.
Measurement reporting is another area that has seen rapid change. As software evolves to conform to the new needs of manufacturers, so too does the results reporting that is generated by their efforts. In the past, measurement routines were included in complicated reports that showed part dimensions as complex numbers and measurements. Now, software packages that work with arms are equipped with advanced part-to-CAD report generation. These documents provide the operator with easy-to-understand deviations from computer-aided design (CAD), allowing for quick adjustment to manufacturing processes.
Newer measurement arms offer better weight balancing, sometimes as much as 25% less strain on the operator, to reduce fatigue for the line worker who now may be required to make dozens of point measurements at a time.
The incorporation of consumer technologies-touch screens, Wi-Fi and quick reporting-with industrial equipment makes measurement less daunting for the level one operator, and for some, makes the need to employ advanced metrologists a thing of the past. By simplifying the technology of measurement though, the impact is not as great as one would expect.
Today, data is simpler and quicker to understand and presents inspection results in a user-friendly format. The migration of measurement functions from the few to the many means that more parts can be measured off the line and closer to the point of manufacture than ever before. The elimination of high-level manufacturing technicians has reduced payroll and increased margins for employers, particularly as the cost for their quality assurance technologies has dropped.
As the size, complexity and cost of consumer electronics are reduced, we can expect to see similar reductions in the industrial sector. As this migration occurs, expect to see functions, such as metrology, that had been reserved for very experienced operators pushed further to lower tiers of the operation. It is this sort of democratization that has led manufacturers to compete variable costs for years. Quality assurance, it seems, is the next battleground. Q
Quality OnlineFor more information on 3-D measurement, visit www.qualitymag.com to read the following:
“3-D Measurement Hits the Road”
“Back to Basics with 3-D Optical Measurement”
“Portable CMMs Go to Source of Inspection”
Tech TipsQuality assurance is now in the hands of employees who may have never operated a CMM before.
New measurement arms allow for 3-D contact and noncontact measurement of parts and machines, often without so much as a laptop connection.
To facilitate these measurements, portable CMM manufacturers now incorporate familiar features into their arm.