The Current Face of Inspection Software
Inspection software in manufacturing environments has gone through somewhat of a metamorphosis in the past decade
As quality control continues to be taken more seriously, an increasing amount of companies are making room for inspection equipment in their budgets. In the same token, they must continue to invest in the best inspection software, which has grown in leaps and bounds in terms of its capabilities.
Today’s inspection software is a versatile and powerful technology: one that relies more and more upon Model Based Definition (MBD )—where all the tolerances and dimensions can be pre-defined in CAD software when the product is designed—instead of inspecting against drawings. “In these cases, inspection planning is totally automatic, reducing the risk of inconsistent interpretation and human error,” says Tom Charron, vice president of product marketing for 3D Systems Inc.
Because of this trend, it is becoming necessary for more engineers to invest in CAD software. Although this may present an additional investment for some, the latest inspection software makes up for it with other payoffs. For example, today’s inspection software is adaptable to the manufacturer’s equipment. Software today—such as 3D Systems’ Geomagic line and Delcam’s Power INSPECT—supports a range of devices from different hardware manufacturers. This streamlines and equalizes the inspection process, which ultimately minimizes the need for training.
“The software has become able to be used on an increasing variety of devices, not just conventional coordinate-measuring machines,” says Peter Dickin, marketing manager at Delcam. “Newer devices include portable measuring arms, laser-based systems and machine tools fitted with probes.”
Another change inspection software has undergone is its ability to carry out all types of measurement with one piece of software, from straightforward point-to-point measurements to meticulous inspection of intricate surfaces.
“[Inspection software now] supports a variety of measurement devices, from optical comparators to CMMs, and most recently, 3-D scanners,” says Charron. “The recent trend has been toward inspection software that is faster, more accurate and easier to use. Most products on the market today have simple point-and-click interfaces for 2-D or 3-D data. Inspection software has also been enhanced for greater automation to allow in-line inspection in many cases, as well as automated off-line inspection.” Charron says to keep an eye out for inspection software with easy-to-use tools such as Python scripting for custom automation of inspection sessions.
In addition to the automation advantages, the reporting of measurements and tolerance analysis has also improved greatly. The 3-D PDFs used to report the data are becoming more universal, and the simplified Go/No go results can be shared immediately, says Charron.
The reports have also been made easier to read, especially through an increased use of color. “They can now be understood by all engineers, not just metrology specialists,” Dickin explains.
Not only is current inspection software technology more automated and more easily reported, it’s also become much more user-friendly in general.
“There is a drive towards easier to use, but more powerful tools,” Charron says. “Having one person who can navigate through the user interface and options of the software is good; having 10 people who can do that is great.”
More Applications, More Uses
Users of inspection software are typically quality control and production engineers looking to guarantee that their products are sticking to pre-defined tolerances. The technology is used ubiquitously in hard goods manufacturing, such as in consumer electronics, medical devices, aerospace, automotive, heavy equipment and more. It even extends to niche-markets such as race car engineering, where engineers use inspection software extensively to guarantee body surface compliance for airflow, and observance to required race tolerances.
But as the scanning field grows in scope, the applications for this software are continuing to increase. “The size and scope of inspection data has also expanded dramatically, especially with the emergence of non-contact scanners that create millions of measurement points,” explains Charron. “Rather than be limited to just quality control of manufactured parts, inspection software is also being adapted to inspection of buildings and other structures.”
Looking to the Future
The demand for inspection software is continuing to take different shape as new scanning technologies replace the old.
“Recently, non-contact-based scanning for inspection has seen a huge jump in uptake, as engineers either move away from legacy CMM systems or add scan-based inspection to their inspection processes,” says Charron. “As software has improved in usability and speed, and with a wide range of scanners to choose from, this has become an easier decision to make.”
There will always be a demand for improved usability and speed, and software that’s even more adaptable and easier to use. In addition, Charron says, the need for instant validation of parts and compensation for any variation in the process will also dictate the future of the inspection software industry.
“Knowing that a part is failing is only half the solution at best, “he explains. “Knowing why, and how to correct it is the key to lean manufacturing and better results.”