Stuttgart, GERMANY — International quality assurance organizations vied for industry attention at this year’s Control expo in Stuttgart, Germany, displaying the latest in measurement and inspection hardware and software.

Cutting edge solutions filled six event halls, with common themes of automation, connectivity and flexibility linking competitors and partners.

In one display in the Zeiss booth, attendees could view inspection processes designed to aid additive manufacturers from the raw powder through dimensional and surface inspection of the final part and then to data analysis and statistics.

Data collection, and seamless integration with cloud software was evidenced throughout the expo, alongside automated in-line and near-line solutions for measuring with everything from CMMs to the newest laser scanners.

Doug Adkins, executive vice president of Mitutoyo, noted the progression of robotics in metrology. Robotic arms have advanced from simply handing a part to an inspection cell, to actually doing the inspection itself. That idea extends to monitoring the machine tools themselves, and using data to predict wear before it occurs and causes process issues.

In-Line and Near-Line

Automation is the buzz-word, but semi-automation also describes many of the solutions displayed at the large international fair.

Dr. Evans Mogire, EU laboratory manager for Buehler, described semi-autonomous solutions as those that still require some interaction from a human operator. That could be a person monitoring the equipment, or actively participating in the decision making process as a part progresses from one automated step to the next. The human operator can help provide the necessary feedback loop needed to fully realize the data, analysis, and process improvements made possible by new machines.

“You can have a fully automated system, and that’s OK,” he says. “But the feedback system is missing out.”

Mogire said customers are asking for intuitive, user-friendly interfaces that can allow human operators to facilitate the semi-autonomous process flow. “If you can have intuitiveness via software or the interface,” he says, "then you don’t have to retrain everyone.”

Mogire’s customer observations were evidenced by product offerings across the show floor, many aiming to reproduce the familiar smart phone or tablet touch screen experience to allow non-experts or non-metrologist employees to operate the equipment.

A new computed tomography (CT) scanner from YXLON includes a large display where an operator can rotate the digital rendering of the part on the touch screen, and otherwise feel comfortable exploring the powerful machine’s features with a familiar interface. Elsewhere, many exhibitors showcased metrology software specifically for consumer tablets on the shop floor.

Computed tomography uses X-rays to penetrate the internal geometry of a part to build a detailed, digital 3D model which can be sliced and dissected for a variety of analyses, such as porosity. Valentina Aloisi, Ph.D., North Star Imaging, gave a talk on the newest applications of the technology in the exhibitor forum. She noted the increased metrology applications and abilities of CT scanners, which can provide measurements at metrology-grade tolerances. She also described the ability of CT scanning in “4D,” with the fourth dimension being time. This newer capability is useful for liquid flow and mechanical displacement.

If every segment of the metrology and inspection market strives for automation, or near-automation, CT is no different. Computing power is closing the gap between processing time and image quality, and several exhibitors were showcasing features that will combine with software moving forward to bring CT onto the shop floor. Many CT scanners now come with automated doors that can allow robotic arm access into the inspection envelope. A spokesman for Thermo Fisher said the company is developing software specially for in-line CT that is planned for release later this year. Peter Westenberger, manager of product applications, Thermo Fisher, also sat down with Quality at Control for a podcast discussion about in-line CT, to hear the interview, click here.

Control is held every year in Stuttgart, Germany.