The New Landscape of Automation
Our manufacturing industry of today is simply not the same as it was a decade ago. The demand for massive quantities of precision parts is incredible, and the precision parts market by revenue is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 10% during the period 2019–2025. The challenge of meeting this demand has spurred the development of exciting new process-monitoring technologies, and we are only just beginning to see widespread adoption. We know this push towards data and integration as Industry 4.0, the industrial revolution of manufacturing measurement.
While automation and information technology have been a feature of manufacturing since the 70s (this trend was known as Industry 3.0), up until the last decade metrology has been an exclusively off-line process. This in itself does not slow down production, as a piece can be removed from the line and then returned without causing a time delay for other components. However, it does not allow for process monitoring. This new ability to collect constant, detailed data is where we see the true power of integrated metrology.
The Benefits of Integration
By incorporating gages and inspection systems directly into the manufacturing process, we can see real-time changes in the production line. On-line measurement makes us more efficient and more accurate than ever before at tracking micron-scale changes that could spell disaster for precision components. That’s why +Vantage’s Real-Time Gage Controller (RTGC) allows for vital production data to be displayed in up-to-the-second detail. Automated metrology solutions have become accurate and repeatable enough that a decade from now we could very well view off-line measurements as a thing of the past. Imagine instead of a trained technician using micron metrology tools in a separate room, you have a machine-mounted interferometer comparing critical points to a CAD model.
In-line process control, however, is not even the full extent of what integrated metrology has to offer. In-process or on-machine metrology allows detailed data to be collected not just about the condition of the product, but of the machine itself. Tool wear, coolant leaks, and spindle damage could all be monitored to create an up-to-the-second picture of process health. The potential for on-machine metrology to provide automated tool selection and placement also helps eliminate start-up rejects, creating efficiency and a smooth, closed-loop process.
For a current example, a type of high-level 3D printing called Large-Scale Additive Manufacturing (LSAM) is using on-machine metrology to create precision parts for aerospace, automotive, and foundry industries. With large, precision-printed parts, you can’t just remove them, measure them on a CNC, and return them to the LSAM. These modern metrology solutions are the way to get incredibly efficient, large-scale precision in manufacturing processes.
Metrology for the Small Manufacturer
Now, this might sound like something available only to the largest manufacturers, but it could soon be accessible to smaller companies as well. One of the greatest benefits of these machines is the ability for rapid reconfiguration, making high-turnover operations easy. Older metrology devices were specialized to one hyper-specific task, but today’s sensors are small, versatile, and not constrained by those old limits. This means a small company with minimal resources could implement automated metrology solutions for a single, large order, then repurpose those machines for different manufacturing measurements down the road.
Additionally, in most cases, a company will see the best results from only automating in-line manufacturing measurements after vital steps. In fact, a recent study by CMM International found that in the next decade a significant plurality of companies surveyed only planned to integrate a small number of choice systems. Based on the vast possibilities, and awesome returns, we can expect integrated metrology to become a standard element in manufacturing for companies of all sizes.
If you are looking to revolutionize your process with integrated metrology, +Vantage is here. We offer a massive selection of metrology solutions from dimensional measurement with contact transducers to electromechanical & air gages to non-contact visual inspection systems. No matter the size of your business, our experts will work with you to find the most effective system to streamline your process and increase your productivity. To learn how the +Vantage approach can benefit your manufacturing process, contact us today.