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Diving Into Metrology

Jonathan O’Hare

Olympic diving moves are scored on factors like execution and degree of difficulty. When the trained athlete unfurls in the air and executes a rip entry into the water, there is virtually no splash and no other sound but a rip. It is pure diving nirvana. Likewise, manufacturers are seeking that same kind of mastery for initiating process automation. The quest is to find a rip entry plan that does not send shock waves throughout the production system. In other words, factory automation with the least amount of splash.

Lights-out metrology for the inspection process is a natural entry point into automation as it proves to be less disruptive to implement than other manufacturing operations. The integration roadmap tends to be more streamlined as similar inspection tasks can often be managed across multiple inspection systems, such as coordinate measuring machines (CMMs). There are alternative work paths during the implementation and testing process on each individual measuring system. In other words, all part inspection operations would not have to halt while integrating metrology automation tech, assuming the factory has more than one multipurpose inspection system.

This same scenario is not true of machine tools, as they are typically set up for dedicated tasks that are essential for non-stop production of a manufacturer’s products. Inspection tends to be the only function outside the design-to-manufacturing workflow of a product. However, inspection “sees” every single function in the manufacturing process. Therefore, implementing lights-out technologies for part inspection at every phase of its production allows the manufacturer to learn a great deal about applying lights-out strategies in those other operations.

Precision aerospace part manufacturer Alloy Specialties has deployed a new robotic quality inspection technology developed by Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division. The Tempo system is specifically designed to help manufacturers ease into automation without disruption or a substantial one-off investment. The part loading system has an intuitive interface that guides workers to queue multiple inspection jobs and sort rejected parts, while also operating the CMMs.

The company is running several high-demand parts on the new robotic system all day, seven days a week. As a result, Alloy Specialties has seen a significant impact in reducing its backlog, increasing capacity while freeing up operators and other CMMs for improved workforce efficiency. Along with program revisions, lights-out metrology has been a critical factor in Alloy Specialties’ push to apply automation to its processes and realize a 50 percent faster quality inspection. This first dive into metrology automation is enabling the company to reduce costs and meet increased demand for their services.

Hexagon is also a manufacturer of high accuracy CMMs. At their Rhode Island factory, Tempo provides autonomous measurement free from interruption—and automatically identifies out-of-tolerance parts. During the ebb and flow of business, the factory maintains output even when their own CMM operators are unavailable.

There is much to be gained from smart manufacturing technologies to achieve greater efficiency, productivity and process innovation. However, it is critically important that the transition does not require a wholesale redesign of a manufacturer’s workflow. By taking a measured dive with small incremental investments in automating quality processes, manufacturers can address immediate challenges and strategically prepare for a broader entry with the least amount of splash.

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