Mitutoyo's MiCat allows users to create high quality measurement programs consistently.Click image to enlargeby Peter Diekmeyer

Metrology software advances spurring changes in quality processes

When manufacturers talk about software to meet customer requirements for quality parts, 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, 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.”

To measure parts on a CMM using conventional workflows in the past, Detmers says 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 Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), CAD and graphical user interfaces (GUI), are increasingly filtering into the world of metrology, boosting productivity areas ranging from system functionality, to the way data is 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 the 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 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 that enables users to create high quality measurement programs consistently. 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 per cent 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, 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. 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, which is easily arranged in low security industries, is more problematic in high security sectors such as aerospace or defence. That said, widespread data sharing and 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.

Creaform:Creaform's HandyScan 3D. The latest version, introduced in 2014, can produce 48,000 measurements per second, using seven laser crosses. Click image to enlarge 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 company has seen the benefits first hand. Its flagship HandyScan 3D portable scanner, which is widely used in automotive, aerospace and other manufacturing sectors, has benefitted greatly from many of these advances.

According to Bouchard, the first version of the portable scanner, 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 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 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 show that effective graphical user interfaces deliver substantial productivity gains.”

Renishaw's newest metrology software suite, MODUS 2, is designed to be simple for users to learn and faster to program.Click image to enlargeOne company that has long recognized this fact is Renishaw. The company 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 important 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.

Smarter metrology software for a smarter future
When it comes to improving manufacturing quality, software is a key component. And in the world of “smarter” manufacturing operations in which companies begin to embrace cloud systems and digital processes on the shop floor, the need for quality software that can tie into these processes will grow even stronger. SMT


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