Digital gaging, involving the software and hardware used to capture and process digital measurements, has grown dramatically in the past two decades. It has also made quality more efficient and effective.
Gaging software helps quality operators combine and elaborate upon input data, or sensor readings, to produce a final measurement. It simplifies and secures the measurement process, making it less prone to human error. It also helps operators collect data, generate reports, and perform statistical analysis to compare the level of quality (quality indexes) over time.
There is no longer a ‘one size fits all’ approach to measurement and inspection, says David Olson, director of sales and marketing at Verisurf Software, as customized solutions are now available for “virtually every type of manufacturing/engineering application or process you can think of,” including inspection, reverse engineering, tool making, and assembly guidance.
Gaging software, or measurement and inspection software, propels today’s digital measurement applications, Olson says.
“Selecting measurement and inspection software that is based on a CAD platform and is interoperable with all digital measuring devices, as well as all CAD files, is important and provides a level of measurement and quality verification far beyond simply capturing digital measurement points and outputting them to a spreadsheet or basic report,” Olson explains.
Digital gaging’s increased efficiency enables Verisurf’s customers to now request and receive 100% inspection on jobs that “just a few short years ago would have been unrealistic,” Olson says. When using measurement and inspection software that is built on a CAD platform and supports Model-Based Definition (MBD), users can also maintain what Olson calls digital continuity, or the ‘digital twin’ or ‘virtual golden part.’
“Not only is this great for keeping all the nominal data together in one place, but also as it applies to feeding downstream applications associated with product lifecycle management and statistical process control (SPC) software,” he says.
Ultimately, gaging management software increases the accuracy of records retained, provides greater visibility, and offers a wide array of analytics that can identify sources of variation in a measurement system. Without the use of software to perform measurement systems analysis, these sources of variation can remain hidden and negatively contribute to overall process variation, says Eric Gasper, senior product development specialist, PQ Systems.
As the industry embraces smart factories and automation, gaging software must seamlessly exchange information across all components in a production process, says Alberto Tomirotti, product sales manager, Marposs.
“[Software must receive] input from the quality management system, dialogue with the machines and report back to the same quality system, simplifying the tasks for the operators,” he says.
Gasper says the biggest trend in gaging software “has less to do with the software itself and more to do with the support and services behind it.” Manufacturers that were staffed lean prior to the pandemic are stretched thinner than ever and quality professionals are feeling the burden, he says. “They need assurance that the software provider has a team of experts to help them with IT-related tasks like system setup, data import from legacy systems, and deployment in addition to the traditional software support,” Gasper explains.
Technology investments boost mobility on shop floors.
“Instead of being tethered to a workstation, users can venture out and examine work pieces, inspect product, and maintain their gages via tablets, cell phones, and other handheld devices,” Gasper adds.
“Quality inspection and reporting used to be a disparate process isolated in a quality lab. Today, it is becoming much more integrated with the shop floor through in-process inspection, when possible,” he says.
As manufacturers become leaner and integrate metrology in innovative ways, openness and interoperability are paramount.
Most shops require a variety of digital inspection devices and accessories, depending on the type of parts being inspected at any given time, Olson says.
“The goal is for all the devices to interoperate and share accessories, such as probes, whenever possible,” he explains. “This starts with inspection software and extends to all digital measuring devices and accessories.”
Today’s inspection software solutions must be rooted in CAD and can import from, manipulate, annotate, model, inspect against and export to virtually any CAD file format, he says.
“At the end of the day, it is the job of inspection software to align and compare the virtual CAD model or data set with measurement points collected from the finished part, whether that includes a relatively small number of manually triggered contact points, or non-contact scanned point cloud data containing millions of measurements,” Olson says.
Quality inspection and reporting in today’s manufacturing environment is quickly moving in the direction of model-based definition (MBD), Olson says.
“When employing a MBD strategy the CAD model – ideally a 3D CAD model – serves as the nominal model in which all parts are compared and inspected against,” Olson explains. “In doing so, a virtual legacy part is preserved for future use and reference data to maintain the all-important digital thread remains intact.”
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This reference data ranges from design to manufacturing, to inspection and quality reporting.
“Should that part need to be recreated in the future, everything exists in a single digital archive, including a virtual nominal part from which to inspect against,” Olson says. “Comprehensive deployment of MBD in manufacturing can go far beyond this example to include all attributes of a product necessary for complete PLM, but it is a good place to start and illustrates constant improvement for shops committed to quality processes and lean manufacturing.”
Tomirotti says the field should be more standardized, to help operators “easily integrate and adapt to different interfaces in a cost-efficient manner.”
Olson backs this up, citing metrology’s constant innovation. New applications, workflows, measurement devices and added capabilities to existing hardware call for constant development and integration of software capabilities, not to mention training and education.
“With newfound measurement and inspection capabilities, the quality department runs the risk of becoming a bottleneck for many shops,” he says. “Some shops run as many as three different measurement software solutions, each requiring maintenance, training, and skilled operators.”
Many shops are standardizing on a single measurement and inspection software platform which is capable of running and supporting all their various portable and fixed CMMs across the manufacturing enterprise, Olson says. This lowers overall software cost of ownership and improves resource management, “as everyone is trained and knows how to use the common software interface across all the company’s measurement assets,” he explains.
Finally, gaging software does not always make determining scalability intuitive.
Manufacturers often find that as they grow and acquire more assets, the software solution that started as free or seemingly inexpensive has become cost prohibitive.
As Gasper explains, “Doing planning and analysis on the front end to determine future costs as the organization’s asset inventory, number of users, and/or number of plants grows will help avoid headaches later.”