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Quality Scan: Using Metrology for a Competitive Advantage

Jeff Freeman
By Jeff Freeman 
Director, North American Sales Operations 
Hexagon Metrology 
North Kingstown, RI 

Manufacturing is one of the most challenging industries in the world of business. Foremost, it is highly competitive and attention to detail is crucial. Secondly, structural costs and regulatory compliance increase costs of doing business, leaving manufacturing companies continually looking for opportunities to reduce costs, improve productivity and increase profitability.

When it comes to major investments, companies have primarily focused on the manufacturing side of the business as it adds value to the product. As more competitors improve their manufacturing technologies, the opportunity for competitive advantages decreases. The search continues for yet another competitive advantage. As other areas of the business are analyzed, non-value-add areas are reduced or eliminated. When you have seemingly looked at every aspect of the business for a winning edge, what else can be considered?

Take a look at measurement technology. The metrology marketplace has dramatically changed over the last decade. There are far more products and emerging technologies to consider, such as laser trackers, portable arms, noncontact scanning systems, ultra-high-accuracy bridge CMMs, shop-floor CMMs, multisensor and optical measurement systems. User interfaces have improved greatly, so shop-floor personnel can be trained with a short learning curve. As an early adopter, you will learn how to apply and leverage groundbreaking advancements, making headway against your competitor.

Frankly, it does not matter whether you consider quality assurance as a value-add or a non-value-add component of manufacturing. Verification is an essential element of production. Using the right solution for dimensional control, the user can perform inspections faster, more accurately and more efficiently, allowing the operation to move on to the next process.

Historically, measurement technology has been overlooked as a competitive advantage. In order for a cultural shift to occur, management buy-in is a necessity. Why, then, is management overlooking a hotbed of profitability? Given the complexity of the business, management is hard pressed to focus on every aspect of production.

Additionally, compared to the company as a whole, few people may know how to use metrology so it is not at the forefront of management’s mind. Times have changed, and today metrology tools are not only used for quality and inspection purposes, they are also being used during the design and manufacturing process.

To maximize the benefits of new measurement technologies, you have to get management’s attention, and financially prove the benefits. Will changing the process improve performance? Consider the range and size of parts being measured including the size, quantity and tolerances. There are also ROI calculators, white papers and videos to support your journey.

A natural place to start is with the current technology. Is the current process productive? Are there bottlenecks? Is old technology getting in the way? For example, companies may have been forced to use a coordinate measuring machine (CMM) to meet a customer’s requirements. The smallest investment possible may have been made, likely a manual CMM. Today the number of parts measured may have increased and manual measurement may present a bottleneck. Could a newer automated CMM do the job more efficiently? Is data being gathered and utilized effectively?

Measurement technology is a competitive advantage and it can be used throughout the product lifecycle. The data collected during verification can be used to improve manufacturing and verification throughput. Inspection data can also be utilized to lower design cost, eliminate scrap and rework, and reduce material cost. All of these factors will improve profitability.

It is critical that you close the loop. Unless the knowledge gained from the verification process is incorporated into all of your business processes, your investment will not be fully maximized. Take what you have learned, and integrate it, implement it and utilize it. Verification intelligence must be disseminated throughout the company, so everyone knows how to capitalize on the competitive advantage. ME

This article was first published in the September 2014 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.



Published Date : 9/1/2014

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