Shop Metalworking Technology magazine
April 26, 2016
Software advances driving metrology productivity
Metrology hardware, systems and workflows have improved steadily over the years. But advances in the software that drives the probe, vision, laser and other measurement devices and which organizes the collection, processing and distribution of the resulting data, have more than kept pace.
When shop technology professionals talk about the software they use to plan, execute and meet customer requirements, Quality Management System (QMS) packages generally come first to mind. However according to a variety of industry experts, software innovations are also playing an increasingly important tactical role, particularly on the metrology equipment front.
“Software is used on precision inspection system platforms that cover a vast array of applications,” says Peter Detmers, a vice-president at Mitutoyo Canada, who has been tracking sector developments closely for many years. “The industry is continuously introducing incremental changes, which have delivered significant improvements to the process.”
In the past says Detmers, to measure parts on a coordinate measuring machine using conventional workflows, a program had to be written prior to the inspection of each workpiece. Depending on the program’s complexity or the program-writer’s skill, that process (which is still widely followed in many shops), could take hours or even days.
However advances in cloud computing, the Internet of Things, computer automated design (CAD) and graphical user interfaces (GUI) are increasingly filtering into the coordinate measuring machine (CMM) world. These are boosting productivity areas ranging from system functionality, to the way data are collected, used and shared.
Mitutoyo: MiCAT broadens market penetration
“Canada’s manufacturing sector has long been a software integration leader,” says Detmers. “Yet while many of biggest advances have been well-integrated into leading global supply chains, that process continues. For example we are continuously striving to introduce canned routines – macros that can enable the user to conduct operations in one step instead of four or five, into Mitutoyo’s automated quality control systems.” The company’s Quick Image Vision system, for example, enables operators to execute operations with a single mouse click. The fact that the part to be measured does not have to be precisely positioned, in order for its shape to be automatically recognized, further speeds the inspection process.
Detmers also cites Mitutoyo’s MiCAT planner, which was introduced to the market two years ago, as an example of a tool which enables users to consistently create high-quality measurement programs. The CMM operator just selects the CAD model of the part to be inspected, initiates the measurement program generation and then converts it to the company’s proprietary MCOSMOS format. Mitutoyo claims that MiCAT planner saves customers up to 95 percent of the time they would take to produce a measurement program using conventional methods.
Zeiss: advances in data sharing
According to Scott Lowen, a software product manager at Zeiss Industrial Metrology, a supplier of measuring systems and tools, one of the most important advances being made in the field has been philosophical. “In the past, the quality related data that was accumulated tended to be the property of equipment operators, who had substantial control over how that information was distributed,” says Lowen. “That tradition continues, particularly in cases when an engineer may be concerned about the usefulness or accuracy of the data collected. However in recent years we are seeing increasing openness in many industries about information sharing. This trend is coinciding with the introduction of new tools to make that possible.”
One example is Zeiss’s PiWeb offline data collection software, which accumulates data sent by Zeiss’s core Calypso software systems that drive most of its metrology products’ functionality. The system then re-formats the data into a usable form and makes it available to interested parties through different types of reports.
How metrology data is shared depends on the company that collects it, and on the industry in which it operates. For example data sharing through cloud or InternetofThings technology, which is easily arranged in low security industries, is more problematic in high security or high IP sectors such as aerospace or defence. That said, widespread data-sharing and ever-closer supply chains have led to the proliferation of inter-operable solutions. For example Zeiss software supports all standard interfaces and data formats and can in many cases even be used with non-proprietary measuring machines.
Hardware advances drive software improvements
According to Louis-Étienne Bouchard, a sales representative at Creaform, another key driver of software improvements is the consistent increases in computer processing and information transmission speeds being delivered by IT hardware producers. The Quebec City based unit, whose 275 employees design, manufacture and distribute hand-held scanners, has seen the benefits first hand. Its flagship HandySCAN 3D optical product, which is widely used by automotive, aerospace and other manufacturing sector producers, has benefitted greatly from many of these advances.
According to Bouchard, the first version of the HandySCAN 3D, which was initially launched in 2005, generated 25,000 measurements per second using a single “laser cross.” The measurements were then downloaded via a wire onto a laptop computer where the data could be processed and compared to CAD drawings or other information and standards. However according to Bouchard, the HandySCAN 3D version which was introduced in 2014, could produce 480,000 measurements per second, using seven laser crosses. That amounts to a 24-fold increase. “Everything is faster these days,” says Bouchard. “And often improvements in one area open the door to more efficient workflows in related hardware and technology.”
The trend has been particularly good for Creaform, whose sales have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, particularly in export markets such as South America, which Bouchard services, notably in Mexico’s automotive sector, where demand has been especially strong. The fact that much of the existing CMM equipment is stationary, gives Creaform a particularly coveted niche. The use of a stationary system implies that the parts to be assessed have to be moved to wherever the measuring machinery is set up. The improving hardware and software power gives Creaform new arguments to make about why its portable scanners are better suited to many applications – particularly when the parts to be checked are large and/or hard to displace.
Renishaw: user experience matters
According to one expert, one of the most overlooked, yet most important areas in software improvements relates to system ergonomics. “Software that is intuitive, attractive, well laid out and easy on the eyes, provides a more efficient and pleasant working environment for the operator,” says Francois Aubin, president of Cognitive Group, a firm that specializes in user interface optimization. “That means a substantially reduced risk of errors due to inattention and tiredness, as well as faster workflows. The data in this regard is clear. Studies in a variety of industries ranging from banking, to online retail and defence show that effective graphical user interfaces deliver substantial productivity gains.”
One company that has long recognized this fact is Renishaw. This probe, software and coordinate measuring machine retrofit provider, prides itself on its ability to deliver systems that can quickly and accurately measure and acquire dimension and surface data of components being inspected. Software ergonomics are playing an increasingly role in the process.
Late last year Renishaw introduced the MODUS 2 metrology software suite, which supports its three and five-axis CMM sensors. MODUS 2, (as its name implies) is an update of an earlier system, which was redesigned in large part with the user’s experience in mind. Officials say the new interface is “simple for users to learn and faster to program.” The result, they claim is “unprecedented levels of productivity,” both in processes that use CAD models, as well as in those that do not. The MODUS 2 interface is also laid out so that the user’s experience is the same, whether the operator/programmer is working in an online or offline environment.
People key. But software matters too
The challenge regarding the quickening IT hardware and backbone communication infrastructure performance growth, makes it hard to determine where the next metrology software advances will come from. One area which seems ripe for opportunities is in networking, cloud and InternetofThings applications that can better tie together quality control systems within supply chains, as opposed to merely within single departments or companies. Suppliers which can supply secure technology that can make that possible, will find ready markets.
Another hurdle relates to the fact that in recent years there has been an outsized interest in elements related to the people side of quality-related tasks. These include, for example, training employees how to implement a “healthy workplace” and to boost levels of morale, satisfaction, and engagement, so they perform better. A quick look at the CMM world suggests that the tools that companies supply employees are important too. That appears to apply doubly to metrology software.
Sidebar: Ottawa Mould Craft Ltd.
Software plays a particularly important role in the quality management process at Ottawa Mould Craft, a supplier of custom injection moulding services to a variety of defence, medical and other specialized clients. “We have made recent system improvements which provide us with significant productivity gains almost all of which were in the area of workflow management,” says David Veal, a vice-president at the company. “Two of our Mitutoyo metrology units are more than a decade old, however by changing the operating software, it feels like we have brand new units.”
Ottawa Mould Craft is a long-time technology innovator. According to Veal, an industry veteran who has been with the company for more than two decades, the organization first included CAD/CAM functionalities in its manufacturing processes as far back as the late 1990s. During the mid-2000s, Ottawa Mould Craft took an additional step by installing state-of-the-art enterprise resource planning system software. This provides managers and operating staff real-time monitoring and planning of the firm’s entire production system.
Last year, Ottawa Mould Craft purchased Mitutoyo’s MeasureLink system, which connects various elements, such as digital gaging, CMMs, as well as vision, surface roundness and forms systems, into metrology quality control systems. Veal, who came to Canada from the United Kingdom, had worked with the supplier on the other side of the pond, and has been consistently impressed with its services. This time was no different. MeasureLink enables Ottawa Mould Craft operators to define which products to inspect, how and where to inspect them and provides traceability features related to the measurement data.
However one of the features that Veal likes best is the way that the data are collected and displayed. “Before we were always manually filling out charts,” says Veal. “This caused significant complexity, time-loss and headaches. With the new software our CMMs, which are actually quite old, will remain quality workhorses or many years to come. We have basically updated the entire system, just by upgrading the software.”
Photos: Please use pictures of David Veal, vice-president, of Ottawa Mould Craft and of Louis-Étienne Bouchard, regional manager, of Creaform.
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Peter Diekmeyer Communications Inc.