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Making 3D Sensing Even Better

Bruce Morey






By Bruce Morey
Contributing Editor

 Today’s metrology devices are as accurate and useful as they have ever been. Laser or structured light scanners are used to collect millions of data points per second, sometimes as accurately as 50 microns or better. Laser tracker systems are routinely used to guide the assembly of aircraft fuselages and wing assemblies – even whole airplanes. New applications are emerging, from automotive assembly operations to medical device manufacturing. “Everyone uses three dimensional measurements in their manufacturing and inspection processes throughout the country,” said Ron Hicks of Automated Precision, Inc, or API, when I spoke to him recently about what he views as the next challenges to be addressed in metrology. He notes – no surprise – that the aerospace, automotive, and shipbuilding industries are prominent users of large scale metrology. Large scale metrology is collecting data through large volumes and areas. This is where a next round of improvements are needed.

Use of any technology always points to ways to improve it. So it is with three dimensional metrology. “There are a number of barriers to more widespread use of three dimensional metrology, especially in large scale uses,” said Hicks. The three most important are accuracy, speed, and ease of use, according to him. The PrecisionPath Consortium for Large-Scale Manufacturing is an industry-driven coalition working to identify and prioritize the technology needs of industries that manufacture large-scale, high accu

“When I say accuracy could improve, I mean accuracy while taking collections over large areas,” he explained. He noted that there are “tremendous systems” that are highly accurate when taking measurements over small volumes, with some non-contact systems taking measurements down to 50 microns. “If we wanted to measure an entire airplane with that type of technology, I cannot do it with that level of accuracy, with the equipment we have on the market today,” he said.

Speedy collection is another important factor. “With some manufacturers, it can never be too fast, especially in processes that resemble assembly lines, not just cars, but airplanes today as well,” he said. As manufacturers improve their assembly speed, providers of metrology devices need to improve providing in-process measurements.

Finally, making metrology easier to use is another important factor. “As time goes by, the equipment and software has become tremendously easier to use, but it still requires a special skill set to run and apply the equipment,” he remarked. “Any time you want to make a change in using the equipment, you have to go back to the original maker. It becomes a big engineering project. We need to make it even easier to use and, especially, easier to scale.”

He offers an example of how to improve metrology incorporating these three elements. “There is a lot of tactile measurements today that measure things very accurately, but our users have told us they would prefer not to touch their parts to measure them. They would really prefer non-contact. But they also like simpler go/no-go measurements, or take that scan data and fill out a quality control document automatically,” he said. “That is a lot of work to do starting from non-contact, three dimensional data.” Accuracy, speed, and data analysis would all have to improve to make this an easy reality for large-scale parts. Other developments, such as Model Based Design information that attaches GD&T to CAD models could be a key enabler in this.

To begin to solve these problems, The Coordinate Metrology Society, in collaboration with the University of North Carolina, Charlotte competed for and won a grant from the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech), part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST.) The grant funds the organization for the PrecisionPath Consortium for Large-Scale Manufacturing. The PrecisionPath Consortium is comprised of representatives from leading manufacturing companies including Lockheed Martin, The Boeing Company, Spirit AeroSystems, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Siemens. Participating OEMs and metrology service providers included API, New River Kinematics (NRK), Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, ECM Global Measurement Solutions, Nikon Metrology and Planet Tool and Engineering. Hicks is one of the funded organizers, along with representatives from UNC Charlotte, with representatives from NIST acting as consultants.

The specifics of how it will work has yet to be determined, whether new standards or common but pre-competitive technologies will be developed. The goal is constant – improve the competitiveness of US manufacturing through better metrology. A first working meeting of PrecisionPath will be followed by a second to be conducted February 24 – 25, 2016 at the UNC Charlotte Center City building in downtown Charlotte, NC.

Interested metrology professionals from the large-scale manufacturing community who can commit to attending PrecisionPath technical meetings and associated conferences in the next two years are invited to contact Ron Hicks, CMS Committee Chair at

Published Date : 2/8/2016

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