Why Engineers Need a Common Platform for Coordinate Measuring Machines

A platform approach to enterprise metrology improves efficiency and productivity.

Verisurf Software has submitted this post. Written by: Nick Merrell, Executive Vice President of Verisurf Software, Inc.

(Image courtesy of Verisurf.)

(Image courtesy of Verisurf.)

Many of today’s manufacturers are taking a much broader view when it comes to metrology and the software that helps automate it. A strategy behind this is to implement a foundational software platform for measurement and inspection workflows across the manufacturing enterprise, providing power, ­flexibility and extensibility while maintaining repeatable process control.

A major consideration for shops looking to select the right platform is openness and compatibility. Ideally, they’ll have just one software to learn, maintain and maximize. As an example, Verisurf Software is built on a CAD/CAM platform, supports Model-Based Definition, works with all CAD files and drives all fixed and portable CMMs, including 3D scanners and trackers.

For decades, measurement and inspection were relegated to the quality lab where automation was limited or nonexistent. The software was rudimentary at best, and in virtually every instance, systems and protocols were proprietary or device specific. On the plus side, the CMMs were extremely well-made and accurate. In most cases, the granite will last a lifetime and gantries were designed to ride on air bearings to eliminate friction and the resulting wear and tear. Many of these legacy machines are still in use today, usually with a dedicated operator who knows how to use the archaic software that drives it. Unfortunately, the quality labs of yesteryear lacked flexibility and were inefficient; for most shops, they became a bottleneck that slowed production.

The accelerated adoption of CAD/CAM and model-based design/build workflows over the last 20 years has pushed metrology vendors to innovate to keep up with a trend toward the digital thread, or as it is often referred to in Industry 4.0 circles, “the digital twin.” With the introduction of model-based metrology software from companies like Verisurf which runs on desktop and laptop computers, Portable CMMs (PCMMs) emerged as a viable option to fixed CNC CMMs. This allowed inspection and measurement workflows to effectively move beyond the confines of the quality lab, out onto the shop floor.

(Image courtesy of Verisurf.)

(Image courtesy of Verisurf.)

Metrology applications grew with this newfound freedom to roam. With the tools in place to measure, collect and process accurate datum points, applications and workflows were developed to support reverse engineering to CAD, best-fit analysis for machining castings or fitting components within an envelope, and support for creating layup tooling, fixtures and more.

Today there is an array of both fixed and portable CMM choices, including arms, scanners and laser trackers. Each type is designed for certain applications, but there are few metrology software providers that can manage and operate all of them. Challenges of compatibility come into play when you start introducing legacy CNC CMMs and new measurement devices typically found across a manufacturing enterprise.

Creative customers and responsive software companies have evolved metrology automation to where it is today – and it is just getting started.

(Image courtesy of Verisurf.)

(Image courtesy of Verisurf.)

The concept of shop-floor inspection is broadly defined as moving the inspection process outside of the lab and bringing it closer to the part. This has gone a long way toward mitigating bottlenecks associated with quality inspection and other design/build processes that are dependent on metrology. But the proliferation of metrology applications and the growing demands for 100 percent inspection have created another set of challenges that now face many manufacturers, leading once again to inefficiencies and disruptions in consistency.

Employee Utilization

Many shops today are using three or more different brands of metrology software to meet their needs. This is primarily due to legacy CMMs or proprietary devices that do not support open communication protocols. This results in tribal knowledge, where certain employees must be dedicated to specific machines because they are the only ones that know the software to run them. This often results in poor resource utilization and bottlenecks.

Software and Device Compatibility

Metrology software should be compatible with all CAD file types and be able to interface with and operate all fixed and portable CMMs. It is plain to see the benefits this has in maintaining digital continuity and maximizing resource utilization. To take device compatibility to the next level, your metrology software should have Software Development Kits (SDK) so that it can effectively integrate with systems like advanced automation using robotics.

Data Continuity

Your metrology software needs to be able to work with the various formats utilized in other areas of your manufacturing operation, e.g., CAD/CAM with intelligent GD&T. By utilizing a common metrology platform across the manufacturing enterprise, you ensure the consistency of shared data and database accessibility. This benefit is amplified when sharing results with downstream applications such as SPC (Statistical Process Control) and PLM (Product Lifecycle Management).

Operator Training and Education

As metrology tools become more complex, the people responsible for product quality need more training. Being able to train operators across all metrology workflows and device types on a single software platform just makes sense. Consistency of CMM programming, usage of available software productivity tools and the ability to create a single inspection plan that can be repeated on any measurement device are all benefits of a single software platform strategy. Overall, training time and associated costs are reduced while improving repeatable process controls, and consistency of data.

Software Maintenance

The more complex your software, the more crucial maintenance becomes. As a manufacturer, you can reduce your dependency on multiple software applications and gain greater efficiency and control by choosing a single metrology software. This will directly reduce duplicate costs associated with licensing fees and annual maintenance agreements with multiple software providers.

A Case for Quality

A common metrology software approach to the manufacturing enterprise helps to mitigate these challenges by establishing and maintaining universal compatibility. One metrology software for any CAD file and all CMMs should be the goal. Whether your current or future needs include CMM programming and inspection, reverse engineering or tool-building, a common platform approach will save time and money while improving efficiency and quality across the board. 

(Image courtesy of Verisurf.)

(Image courtesy of Verisurf.)

Metrology automation at its roots calls for the ability to plan and consistently execute a workflow or routine that can include motion control of a CMM device, datum collection, analysis, reporting and output to other databases or applications within the digital design/build framework. Using a metrology software platform that is committed to the consistency of workflow, with productivity tools designed with this in mind, provides repeatable process control.

Repeatable process control is the backbone of quality management. It is a systematic approach to managing processes that ensures the quality of the final product is consistent, reliable and meets customer expectations. Hence, metrology automation software should support repeatable process control. The software must work seamlessly with intelligent CAD/CAM data, adding value while maintaining data continuity, and providing output to downstream tools that monitor Statistical Process Control, Six Sigma, Total Quality Management and Lean Manufacturing initiatives.

(Image courtesy of Verisurf.)

(Image courtesy of Verisurf.)

As mainstream manufacturing moves headlong into Industry 4.0 via the Internet of Things, repeatable process control, quality and data continuity are key to ensuring competitiveness. A common platform approach to metrology can deliver on these important success factors, while also reducing costs and improving efficiency and quality.

Things to Consider When Evaluating a Common Metrology Platform

Be sure the enterprise metrology software you select is open and offers the necessary level of interoperability to support your current and future manufacturing inspection requirements. Some questions to consider include:

  • Is the inspection software model-based and built on a CAD/CAM platform, including 3D modeling?
  • Does it import and export all CAD/CAM files and models seamlessly?
  • Will it import and allow annotation of intelligent GD&T data?
  • Is the software capable of operating and collecting measurements from all CMMs, including new and legacy CNC CMM, portable arms, laser trackers and scanners?
  • Does it have the flexibility, performance and productivity tools to handle a range of inspection data, from manual contact probing/scanning to non-contact point clouds containing millions of measurement points?
  • Can inspection workflow routines be created once and executed on all fixed and portable CMMs across the manufacturing enterprise?
  • Does the software include access to a Software Development Kit to implement optimized user interfaces and support future integration of devices, such as cobots and robots?
  • Does the software developer move at the speed of your business? Metrology is moving fast, and end customers make demands based on what is possible. The ability to integrate with other technologies and support emerging features like 5-axis probing and contact scanning using a CNC CMM can be important. Make sure your software provider can support where your business is headed.

When it comes to designing and implementing a metrology strategy for your manufacturing enterprise, do your homework, ask questions and lean on software providers for help. Don’t accept a canned demonstration: ask for a use case or example based on your unique workflow requirements. 

To learn more, visit the Verisurf website.

About the Author

Nick Merrell is the Executive Vice President of Verisurf Software, Inc., and has experienced firsthand the digital evolution of metrology, with more than 15 years of hands-on experience.  Verisurf Software, Inc. is a measurement solutions company committed to delivering advanced surface analysis, quality inspection, assembly guidance and reverse engineering. Verisurf products and processes are vital to maintaining a digital thread between design, engineering, manufacturing, and finished part validation. Based on a powerful CAD/CAM platform, Verisurf is committed to Model-Based Definition (MBD), open standards and interoperability with all coordinate measuring machines and CAD software.