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ADVANCED MANUFACTURING NOW Scott Everling


Metrology Helps Automation Deliver More, Faster a I


n one sense, the world of manufacturing automation has been remarkably stable and moving at a steady pace. But the defi nition of what constitutes automation is changing, and this new paradigm encompasses metrology solutions on the factory fl oor. When the task of automating inspec- tion is placed near the point of production on the shop fl oor, good things start to happen. Manufacturers benefi t from higher repeatability and increased frequency in the inspection process. But even more compelling is the user’s ability to get faster response back into the process through an array of techniques, including direct machine tool feedback. Stepping outside the CMM world, you will fi nd a diversity of contact and noncontact sensor technologies being com- bined with numerous motion control frames to create similar advanced in-process measurement cells. These sensors are also being integrated with manufacturing and assembly processes to produce an on-machine, metrology-enabled feedback control loop, which enables some companies to replace extremely costly and infl exible tooling. Robotic in-pro- cess measurement and metrology-guided manufacturing and assembly systems are now used reliably in industries such as aerospace, consumer electronics, medical and automotive. Manufacturers are fi nding a myriad of benefi ts when automation is achieved by using one or a mixture of these technologies: improved product quality, lower operating costs, consistent throughput, and improved lean manufactur- ing capabilities. However, an automated system should not be regarded as a universal remedy for every manufacturing process, nor should it be used to replace all human input and interaction. Each application deserves careful consideration to see if metrology automation is a good fi t. To start, it is important to note that automation is no longer


confi ned to loading and unloading parts off a machine. It is essential to look beyond the hardware within a manufacturing cell, and evaluate processes that show potential for automa- tion. Repetitive data analysis is one area where a company could automate and see immediate results. Coordinate data acquired from the production line can be immediately


14 AdvancedManufacturing.org | April 2015


processed, analyzed and disseminated throughout the organi- zation, and used for further hardware automation. From experience, we know automation makes sense in


any area where there are time-consuming, labor-intensive and repetitive tasks. The danger lies in believing all of these activities could and should be automated without scrutinizing each aspect of the process. The highly complex activities are generally more costly to implement, have considerably less ROI, and create a long-term requirement for very high-end engineering talent for maintenance and troubleshooting. Advances in software and hardware connectivity will continue to push this boundary, but currently there are some tasks that simply do not have the necessary value when replaced with automation.


Sensors are being integrated with manufacturing and assembly processes to produce on-machine, metrology- enabled feedback control loops.


There are a variety of solutions now available for metrolo- gy-assisted operations outside of incorporating a CMM into a manufacturing cell. Laser trackers integrated with robots are used to inspect, align and assemble large aerospace parts and other large components found in industries like power generation, automotive, heavy equipment and more. Stereovision systems are another practical alternative used to capture part data for large-scale measurement applications. For other applications, a semiautomated system may be the most cost-effi cient and productive solution. Instead of focusing strictly on automation, a more achievable objective may be to minimize capital expenditures. Ultimately, the fi nal decision should be based on the application’s specifi cations: the required accuracy, the complexity of the parts, the ability to clean the parts before they are measured, the preferred technology, personnel to implement and support the system, and the associated integration costs.


Hexagon Metrology North Kingstown, RI


www.hexagonmetrology.us MODERN MANUFACTURING PROCESSES, SOLUTIONS & STRATEGIES


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