There are a lot of industry buzzwords out there—the cloud, IoT, UX, Smart Factory—that are supposedly connected to the next renaissance of manufacturing. The principles of Industry 4.0 have soaked up plenty of ink since the concept was introduced in Germany circa 2011. Surely big data and analytics will play a major role in these modular-structured, data-driven Smart Factories. But words are just words until industry moves the rock. And some of that work has begun through an initiative called the PrecisionPath Consortium for Large Scale Manufacturing. The project is funded by an Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) Grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department.

In America, we’ve always been a nation of makers. We dream big and we make big from ships to automobiles, airplanes to skyscrapers. Large-scale manufacturing and advanced manufacturing go hand-in-hand. That’s why the PrecisionPath Consortium is a very big deal. The industry-driven coalition brings together the brightest minds in the manufacturing and metrology fields – technology users, managers, OEMs and software developers. These industry players are focused on mapping the technology requirements needed to advance aerospace, defense, energy, automotive and other industries producing large-scale, high accuracy parts and products.


Organized by the Coordinate Metrology Society (CMS) and UNC Charlotte, the collaboration has attracted industry experts from manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, The Boeing Company, Spirit AeroSystems, Newport News, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Siemens. Participating OEMs and metrology service providers include Automated Precision (API), New River Kinematics (NRK), Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, ECM Global Measurement Solutions, Nikon Metrology, and FARO Technologies. Consortium organizers are Ron Hicks, CMS PrecisionPath Chair, and UNC Charlotte representatives Ed Morse, John Ziegert, Ram Kumar, and Antonis Stylianou. Thomas Lettieri of NIST serves in an advisory role for the consortium.

“The PrecisionPath Consortium is indeed making strides for advanced manufacturing,” states Ron Hicks, CMS AMTech Committee Chair. “Our working meetings are held in the true spirit of collaboration, where stakeholders are dedicated to progressing the state of industry and technology. The energy of the group is inspiring, as they make every effort to uncover the major obstacles facing the large-scale, precision manufacturing sector in the United States.”


PrecisionPath’s combination of experts in both metrology AND manufacturing is a critical fusion for the challenging path that lies ahead. Sophisticated metrology systems and sensors generate 3D coordinate data from various operations, which can be harnessed to monitor and improve any number of processes on the modern factory floor. These measurement and inspection platforms are also being integrated both upstream and downstream in the production process, creating record levels of big data. The keys to progress lie in determining the promises and pitfalls of data acquisition as manufacturers march toward the brave new world of the Smart Factory.


In February 2016, PrecisionPath hosted a needs assessment and gap analysis workshop at UNC Charlotte. This gathering was a continuation of their Planning and Visioning Council meeting held last fall to discuss critical production challenges and metrology system attributes. The attendees reviewed current technology drivers and usage scenarios identified at the previous meeting. The group also addressed multiple layers of questions relating to the attributes of large-scale metrology instruments utilized in industrial or scientific applications.

The intensive roadmapping process solidifies the framework of the PrecisionPath Roadmap. Hard questions are being asked. Where are the roadblocks? Can today’s technology keep pace with engineering and manufacturing trends? Can industry push the envelope with what exists, or is there a need for new approaches to manufacturing and production? What are the portable metrology instruments and how do they map to different applications? The conversation was expanded to address additional industrial needs suitable to the roadmapping process such as workforce development, data management, and industry standards required to support this field. 


The PrecisionPath Consortium is currently conducting an industry-wide survey to gather information about current capabilities and requirements, as well as anticipated future needs for portable metrology systems in support of large-scale precision manufacturing (LPM). Users and managers of portable metrology systems are invited and encouraged to take the survey at Participants should select the “Take our Survey” button on the home page to contribute to the PrecisionPath Technology Roadmapping initiative. The survey is being conducted purely for research purposes and all answers are private. To ensure confidentiality, no identifying personal information is collected with the survey.

The survey addresses usage scenarios and issues impacting many industries, such as aerospace, automotive, defense, power generation, boatbuilding, satellite, oil and gas, and any related field that manufactures large, precision parts requiring in-place measurement. The PrecisionPath team prepared the survey based on member feedback from the consortium’s “Needs Assessment and Gap Analysis” workshop held in February 2016. The survey will end on October 15, 2016. 


To kick off the CMSC, Dr. Ed Morse of UNC Charlotte delivered the keynote address entitled “Forging the Future of Large Scale Manufacturing” which covered the work of the consortium. Morse is a professor of mechanical engineering at UNC Charlotte, pursuing research in both tolerancing and metrology. Prof. Morse’s areas of specialty are dimensional metrology, coordinate measurement machines, GD&T (geometric dimensioning and tolerancing), and statistical control. He currently serves as a PrecisionPath team leader along with Ron Hicks, CMS PrecisionPath Chair.

Consortium members headed back to the drawing board on July 25, 2016 to attend the third working meeting held at the 2016 Coordinate Metrology Society Conference in Murfreesboro, TN. To kick off the meeting, the progress and early findings of the industry survey was presented to the group, as well as the strategies that will be used to review the data. The meeting agenda moved to the intricacies of the roadmapping process and the reports that will be derived from the collective work and opinions of knowledgeable individuals in the field. 

The primary focus of the workshop was forming working groups and identifying leaders to research and provide intelligence on issues the team deems most important to the roadmapping project. Brainstorming sessions were held to deliberate workforce and data management challenges in the industry. The five working groups were formed around these topics: technologies, usage/application, standards, data management and workforce issues. A separate report on industry drivers will also be researched and presented by group leaders at the fourth workshop. The meeting concluded after discussing consortium building for the short-term and long-term viability of the work and goals being set forth by the alliances being forged to progress advanced manufacturing in the U.S.


The fourth workshop of the PrecisionPath Consortium will be held on October 26 and 27, 2016 in Charlotte, NC. Details will be shared on the website and through industry updates to those joining the initiative. Working groups will present their findings and brainstorming sessions will be held to flesh out additional concepts in the roadmap. 

Interested metrology professionals from the large-scale manufacturing sector who can commit to attending technical meetings and associated conferences in the next two years are invited to join by contacting Ron Hicks, CMS Committee Chair, at [email protected]. For more information on the PrecisionPath Consortium, please visit Q