There is no scarcity of dimensional data at a job shop or manufacturing plant. It is everywhere-on scratch pads, marked-up drawings, spreadsheets and stored electronically in a host of open and specialized formats associated with computer-aided design (CAD), finite element analysis (FEA), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), metrology and statistical process control (SPC) software, and in many other application-specific hardware and software products. This data provides important and immediately usable information at or near the point of data collection.

Unfortunately, metrology records produced in one part of the enterprise are not generally accessible to the people and systems that could use it in another area. Even if the information is available, it may not exist in a format that is particularly useful to others. For example, coordinate measuring machine-generated reports usually are for final part evaluations and probably will not make much sense to the person working on the computer numerical control (CNC) machine who needs measurement information to make corrections for the machining process.

The data is ubiquitous, but the information that managers and workers throughout the enterprise can use to make important decisions is woefully scarce. While it may be theoretically possible to obtain actionable information by culling and analyzing relevant chunks of data stored in various formats at countless locations, the reality is that it takes too much time and costs too much money.

All of that is changing, and that change will accelerate over the next few years. The long-promised paperless, manufacturing revolution is finally materializing thanks to improved technologies such as faster computers; massive and inexpensive data storage hardware; powerful, scalable databases; along with numerous robust data-networking options from LANs to WANs to the Internet. With user-friendly, data mining, analysis and reporting tools, a manager at any location in the enterprise will be able to access, configure and distribute usable information when and where it is needed.

Fast, Concise and Comprehensible: Graphic reporting tools allow operators anywhere in the enterprise to extract data from a shared metrology database and present the information in ways that are concise and readily comprehensible. With Web-based publishing this information can be in the hands of those who need it in a matter of seconds. Source: Wilcox Associates

Everyone Needs It

Who needs this open enterprisewide, metrology records management system? Everyone.

Consider the engine plant that is using parts made at several locations worldwide. If there is a discernible difference in the way parts from various locations assemble, it is valuable to have fast access to dimensional and manufacturing process information from each supplier to find out why.

Additionally, having access to information on a global scale is necessary for analyzing and responding to incidents that, left unaddressed, could result in a product recall. Seamless metrology records management also will favorably impact many other important business disciplines such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM).

Effective metrology records management is equally important at the OEM plant level where the need for readily accessible reports and data analyses transcends departmental boundaries. An effective system helps shorten product development cycles, streamlines production engineering, and provides a continuous stream of feedback for fine tuning manufacturing processes and maintaining their consistency.

Finally, the creation and sharing of metrology records in an open format is vitally important to second and third tier suppliers who can use the information to improve their own processes and profitability while establishing a real-time virtual presence with important customers.

This illustrates metrology document management areas of concern. Source: Wilcox Associates

A Simple Framework

So no matter where one resides within the world of manufacturing-enterprise management, design and engineering, shop floor or the supplier community-it is time to become a participant in the metrology information revolution. Fortunately, a simple framework, borrowed from the world of paper records management, can provide a fast orientation. It divides enterprisewide metrology document management systems into four distinct areas of concern.

1. Input/Capture. What one needs to know to answer this is simple. From now on, always store data in a common format and keep it in a single, readily accessible electronic database. Whenever possible, collect data using digital tools and send results to the database electronically. Where the data comes from does not matter-coordinate measuring machines (CMMs), hand tools, vision systems, portable arms, probe-capable CNC machines-it goes to the same place.

If some of the current data collection equipment can only output information in proprietary formats, one should consider them obsolete and replace them.

As for the database, it must be flexible enough to accommodate any type of data storage and scalable to support rapid growth. For some applications the database may reside on a departmental server. In a large company the database may be on multiple servers that may be widely distributed geographically.

2. Management/Layout. This addresses what happens to the data after it is captured. Do operators want to analyze it with an SPC program? Would they like to use it to generate process corrections and feed them back to manufacturing equipment automatically? Can the records management system serve up raw data or compiled information to meet the needs of analytical processes elsewhere in the enterprise?

The answers to these questions and others like them govern the selection and implementation of data analysis and reporting packages. Rest assured there are many options currently available with new and improved ones on the way.

3. Output/Distribution. In the past, the collection and use of manufacturing information was a local function. That is no longer a viable way to do business. Manufacturing information must be available for use whenever and wherever it is needed.

For those reasons, metrology vendors are currently working on a new class of “publishing” software that will allow operators to deliver and access metrology information via an assortment of means including networks, e-mail and interactive Web servers.

For the most part, these off-the-shelf software solutions will meet user requirements with no modifications, although in some cases customization will be necessary to meet critical access or security concerns.

4. Storage/Archival. This relates to the security and compliance concerns associated with maintaining a distributed metrology records database. Ask questions such as: How long should data and information be retained? Under what conditions should it be destroyed? Is the database robust enough to handle not only the anticipated data capacity but also keep up with expected levels of storage and retrieval frequencies? Is the database system capable of answering traceability, records management and reporting concerns of ISO, FDA and other regulatory bodies? Have adequate measures been taken to keep data secure from hackers or recoverable in the event of a disaster?

What To Do Now

Everyone can do something to contribute to the transition of an enterprisewide system of metrology records management. What an employee does specifically depends on his role and where he resides in the organization. Here are a few general prescriptions on which nearly everyone can act.

  • Understand the areas of concern framework. When a decision is made related to the capturing, storing, analyzing or sharing of metrology data, review the concerns outlined here to ensure the decision will be consistent with them.

  • Favor digital devices. Whenever possible purchase and use digital measurement tools. They may cost a little more to purchase, but the flow of data they allow can and will reduce costs enterprisewide.

  • Don’t get handcuffed. Avoid proprietary software, analytical tools and the like that do not allow for the sharing of information.

  • Ask your suppliers. Question suppliers of measurement tools and metrology software about their plans for integrating the output of their products into the larger world of enterprisewide metrology records management. One will find that some have already formulated a viable roadmap for entering and living in this world. Others have not.

    Finally, enjoy the trip. Imagine how much easier life will be with metrology information one needs readily at one’s fingertips, no matter where it resides in the manufacturing enterprise. Q

  • Tech Tips

    Everyone can do something to contribute to the transition of an enterprisewide system of metrology records management.
    • Understand the areas of concern framework.

    • Whenever possible purchase and use digital measurement tools.

    • Avoid proprietary software and analytical tools that do not allow for the ready sharing of information.

    • Ask measurement tools and metrology software suppliers about their plans for integrating their products into the larger world of enterprisewide metrology records management.

    Quality Online

    For more information on software, visit to read the following:
    • “How To Manage Quality Data Across a Global Enterprise”

    • Quality Software Selector Guide 2008

    • “Six Rules for Enterprise Metrology”