By Talion Edwards
Coordinate Metrology Society (CMS)
Anxiety grows among manufacturers as the dimensional measurement profession continues to lose much of its experience through attrition of a rapidly aging workforce. This may seem like a current problem, but some would argue the decline of this industry has been an issue for more than 50 years. Metrology is an important part of any manufacturing system, and processes cannot be improved without understanding the current process capability. Because the operator is the single largest contributor to uncertainty in any measurement system, it has remained important for the person responsible for the measurement process to be extraordinarily skilled. Dimensional measurement has remained a craft trade, and like most craft trades, the workforce tends to develop their skills via on-the-job training and experience.
Automation and Computer Aided Measurement (CAM) promise to increase the number of people able to perform measurements and report results. The problem with the CAM revolution is that the new technology enables people with no knowledge of metrology fundamentals to produce measurement results. As long as the measurement system is well defined and the variables understood, these new tools can help increase our capacity to support measurement needs. But, as with any quality system, lacking a clear understanding of how one’s actions affect the result, it is very difficult for the user to improve the process. Without clear educational and career paths for metrologists, this reliance on craftsmen to perform measurement is likely to continue.
To illustrate the point above, the Certification Committee of CMS commissioned a study at the 2010 Coordinate Metrology Systems Conference (CMSC). This committee is investigating the establishment of a centralized certification program and corresponding body of knowledge. At the conference, CMS worked with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the United Kingdom’s national measurement institute, to develop a mock Gage R&R study. Sponsored by Mitutoyo, the study asked conference attendees to conduct a series of measurements using first-principle measurement tools. Some attendees were given a procedure for conducting measurements; while other attendees were left to measure the objects without instructions.
Over 175 attendees with various levels of metrology experience participated in the study. The full study results were presented at a conference workshop. One obvious trend stood out. The range of measurement results collected without instruction was more than three times that of the range of measurement results collected by users who were following a procedure. To reinforce these findings, we are making plans to repeat this study at the 2011 CMSC using a large-scale portable coordinate measurement system. We expect the added complexity of the 3-D coordinate metrology systems will make the range of measurements observed even broader.
The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) has been invaluable to the US measurement industry by developing calibration techniques for equipment used for large-volume portable metrology. The NPL has made a further commitment to address the lack of training in dimensional metrology, and developed a multilevel training program dedicated to this goal. They are currently looking for a way to bring the training to North America. CMS’s successful collaboration with both NIST and NPL has helped to link industry concerns with the researchers who refine our understanding of measurement science. In 2011, CMS plans to expand practical knowledge-sharing by forming a liaison relationship with The National Conference of Standards Laboratories International.
The CMS is also currently working to assemble an academic subcommittee composed of faculty from universities, community colleges, and trade schools who have coursework, research, laboratories, or industrial outreach programs related to industrial metrology or 3-D imaging. Pat Hammet from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute has agreed to lead this effort.
The goals of the committee will be to expose academia to the practical challenges faced by equipment and software manufacturers, and end users in the application of portable metrology. In turn, the 3-D portable metrology industry would be updated on the work conducted by academia to increase the overall capability of 3-D measurement. Collaboration would be encouraged between academic programs to increase the yield of their collective development work. The committee will also promote the continued growth of available training resources and career paths for industrial metrologists, and help students pursuing knowledge in metrology to realize the potential job market and prospective employers.
Through our collaborative efforts, CMS (www.CMSC.org) continues to positively influence the large-scale metrology industry. Lend your voice to the discussion by joining our professional organization. To communicate your thoughts or to inquire about our academic or certification subcommittees, send your email to chairman@CMSC.org. ME
This article was first published in the February 2011 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.