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A Technology Roadmap for Large-Scale Manufacturing

By PrecisionPath Consortium

Aerospace and other players in the large-scale manufacturing business bear the load of crushing backlogs and internal pressures to eke out more productivity year over year. As a result, these companies are focused on Smart Factory initiatives to build essential data feedback loops into design, engineering and production processes to improve quality, efficiency, and cost. It is no small feat to make this seismic shift toward data-driven processes, sensors and advanced metrology solutions. Hard questions have to be asked. Where are the roadblocks? What are the portable metrology instruments, and how do they map to different applications? Can today’s technology keep pace with engineering and manufacturing trends? Can industry push the envelope with what exists, or is there a need for new approaches to manufacturing and production? What is the 10-year plan for technology?

Using a 25’x6’ small business jet wing, National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) was able to reduce a scanning process that previously took all day to less than four minutes. The innovation involved using the combination of a laser tracker and high speed scanner. The process captures hundreds of millions of accurate points on virtually any surface, from matte black to highly reflective, even carbon fiber, without any special preparation.

These all-important questions led to the formation of the PrecisionPath Consortium (PPC) for Large-Scale Manufacturing, a working partnership of industry partners, the Coordinate Metrology Society (CMS) and UNC Charlotte. The collaboration united key metrology tech users, managers and developers of metrology software and hardware for the project. The team worked to determine and prioritize the technology requirements of manufacturers producing large-scale, high accuracy parts and products. An industry-wide survey was conducted over a six-month period, capturing valuable insights into current capabilities and requirements, as well as anticipated future needs, from professionals in the metrology field.

“The PrecisionPath Consortium built a solid foundation to identify barriers that hinder progress in the large-scale manufacturing sector,” said Ron Hicks, CMS AMTech committee chair. “Our intensive roadmapping process solidified the framework of this compelling report. Working meetings and individual research locked down the practical knowledge needed to move manufacturing and metrology forward in a meaningful way. The overarching goal of this trailblazing project was to build a technology roadmap that addressed both short-term and long-term objectives.”

The Report

After more than two years of work and collaboration, the consortium produced its Technology Roadmap for Large-Scale Manufacturing. The full report is free and available at the PrecisionPath Consortium website and can be downloaded at The project was funded by an Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) Grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department.

The PrecisionPath Consortium produced a Technology Roadmap for Large-Scale Manufacturing, a report that summarizes the research findings of its members.

The PrecisionPath Technology Roadmap details all aspects of the metrology industry as it relates to the challenges of large-scale manufacturing today. The research covers market drivers, technology families, usage scenarios, industry standards, data management, and workforce development. Based on data analysis and the industry survey, the report outlines a variety of trends that cut across multiple 3D measurement technology families. These findings are expected to drive consequential changes in both hardware and software solutions as manufacturers make incremental moves toward Smart Factory initiatives.

PPC team leaders and members of each working group contributed a large body of research on technologies and drivers, usage applications and other critical areas of study. The Roadmap identifies serious vulnerabilities within the industry due to the lack of a vibrant workforce, current skillsets and the shedding of nearly 25% of the metrology workforce retiring in the next five years. The consortium provides a checklist of urgent actions to develop a future, sustainable workforce. The roadmap also captures the mindshare of industry professionals, and the scope and potential of the next-generation, data-driven factory. The report presents the evolution of measurement technologies needed to support the future of the large-scale manufacturing industry.

“The Technology Roadmap exists as a living document on which the PPC can build upon. Over the long haul of the project, stakeholders maintained a strong commitment to the quality of the end product,” said Ed Morse, mechanical engineering and engineering science, UNC Charlotte. “Together we set an exciting and challenging course toward solving technical obstacles and breaking ground for future innovations. Each meeting was well planned with incremental purpose, facilitating the production of a meaningful roadmap for the aerospace industry and other manufacturers in the large component landscape.”

The Path

For nearly three years, PrecisionPath Consortium members convened regularly to determine the best path toward innovation and progress in the advanced manufacturing and metrology fields.
The first goal was to attract a dedicated membership from companies with a keen interest in the research and the outcome of the project. The organizers, the Coordinate Metrology Society and UNC Charlotte, conducted outreach to CMS members, expert metrologists, and manufacturers in aerospace, automotive, power generation and others in the large-scale production business. An introductory meeting was held at the 31st annual Coordinate Metrology Society Conference (CMSC).

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The first PPC meeting was a “planning and visioning council” focused on refining the project scope and boundaries, identifying metrology technology families used by industry with dynamic group interactions captured by sophisticated meeting facilitation technology. The Consortium took up usage scenarios and amassed data on how portable metrology is being used to support diverse applications across different disciplines. The group proceeded to pinpoint sources of expertise and data for use in the roadmapping process, and firmed up the framing and vision of the PrecisionPath Roadmap project. The meeting concluded with the election of a board of directors and an overview of marketing objectives.

Over the next two years, the group held six working meetings including a needs and gap analysis workshop, a steering council meeting, focus group workshop, technology innovation workshop, a PPC working group meeting and a roadmap wrap-up.

Based on intensive group sessions and participant feedback, the PrecisionPath team prepared and launched its first industry-at-large survey. This study gathered information about current capabilities and requirements, as well as the anticipated future needs for portable metrology systems in support of large-scale precision manufacturing. Hundreds of industry users and managers participated in the survey.

Photogrammetry is a measurement technology used by Newport News Shipbuilding and other manufacturers of large-scale parts and assemblies.

The preparation of the individual sections of the roadmap was laborious and protracted. All PIs (principal investigators) synthesized the contributions of each section leader into a comprehensive draft for review. The principal organizers performed the final editing and graphical tasks to bring the report to fruition in the fall of 2018.

The PPC Contributors

The PrecisionPath Consortium representatives who contributed to the Technology Roadmap project included leading manufacturing companies like Lockheed Martin, Newport News Shipbuilding, BMW, Boeing, Caterpillar, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Spirit AeroSystems, Brookhaven National Laboratory and Siemens. Participating OEMs and metrology service providers included Automated Precision (API), New River Kinematics (NRK), Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, ECM Global Measurement Solutions, Nikon Metrology, FARO Technologies, Brunson Instrument, Verisurf Software and Planet Tool and Engineering. Consortium organizers are Ron Hicks, CMS PrecisionPath chair, and UNC Charlotte representatives Ed Morse with support from John Ziegert, Ram Kumar and Antonis Stylianou. Thomas Lettieri of NIST served in a consulting role for the consortium.

Portable, automated photogrammetric systems are used for non-contact, high accuracy 3D coordinate measurements in industries ranging from aircraft to power generation.

The Coordinate Metrology Society’s alliance with UNC Charlotte is a natural progression of its charter to foster the advancement of three-dimensional measurement throughout industry. Both organizations are dedicated to solving obstacles hindering manufacturing and metrology. The CMS connects all of the industry players–end users, OEMs, software developers and service providers–involved in large-scale manufacturing endeavors.

Since 1984, the society has catered to metrology professionals using close-tolerance industrial coordinate measurement systems, software, and peripherals.

UNC Charlotte has opened a Siemens Energy Large Manufacturing Solutions Laboratory located within the University’s Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC).The labor supports industry-academic collaborations in the research and development of next-generation manufacturing technologies. The faculty at UNC Charlotte’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Science are experts in precision engineering, motorsports engineering, bioengineering, metrology, computational methods, mechanics and materials. Their engineering programs are nationally recognized.

Laser trackers continue to be a staple in metrology applications for large-scale manufactured parts
and assemblies.

The PPC is currently determining a five-year plan and upcoming research projects. Interested metrology and manufacturing professionals who can commit to attending PrecisionPath technical meetings and conferences are urged to contact Ron Hicks at or Ed Morse at

Edited by SME Media, using information provided by the PrecisionPath Consortium.

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