We are all familiar with software updates; the little badge on the home screen of your smartphone or the requests to restart your PC because some new program update is ready for installation. In fact, most of us have become so accepting of updates that we don’t stop to ask why they are needed.
The rate of technological progress has now reached the point where several changes can take place within a generation, such as the evolution in the way we consume media from video tapes to the variety of online streaming platforms we have today.
Rates of Progression
In the world of metrology, customers tend to be more aware of physical wear on their equipment than of aging software. A well-maintained coordinate measuring machine (CMM) frame can function effectively for well over a decade or longer. Although the steady evolution of mechanics and electronics makes newer products in the marketplace more sophisticated than their predecessors, it isn’t necessarily a reason to upgrade your CMM hardware. So, if you can keep your machine functioning for another few years, why not just keep the version of the metrology software that came with it?
Critically for manufacturers, updates to software enable developers to include the latest versions of standards, so by keeping software up to date customers are also ensuring compliance. Generally, Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence releases major updates of its software packages once or twice a year. These releases may add new features, improve the performance, give greater stability and offer a better user experience overall. For newer metrology equipment, updated releases may ensure that operators can access the complete functionality of their technology.
Keeping Up With the Hardware
Computer hardware improves quickly, and operating systems need to evolve with it as they are designed to optimise the performance of the latest technologies. New software versions may have critical changes within the base code of the program to ensure compatibility with newer PCs. Any software that stands still will quickly become obsolete.
For example, when more powerful graphics cards entered the marketplace, metrology software began the transition from text-based display to the graphics-heavy CAD-based packages of today.
One of the reasons why a CMM with fifteen years of service behind it probably doesn’t run the software that it came with – computer hardware and operating systems don’t typically last this long. Running outdated metrology software on an older PC is a risk. If that PC fails and needs replacing or the company moves to a newer operating system, the gap in system compatibility may cause the quality department to be without its software and in the worst cases, needing to start all its part-programming again from scratch.
Small Steps Minimise Risk
One of the best ways to minimise risk is to make small changes in software updates. When developers make changes in a program, they generally want to make the alterations as simple as possible from one version to the next. When you try to make bigger steps or miss out versions of the software between upgrades, it introduces a much greater element of uncertainty. Crucial conversion algorithms may be missed, the potential results ranging from minor glitches to unsuccessful or incomplete upgrades – even a costly repair job if you need support from metrology software technicians.
To ensure they are gaining the full benefit of the latest version of their software and to avoid the hassle caused by missing an update, many Hexagon customers take out a software maintenance agreement (SMA). Businesses covered by an SMA receive all regular updates throughout the duration of the contract and also have access to the latest information about their software, helping to provide a ‘continuous learning’ approach to employee training. Telephone or remote support is also included so that any problems can be solved professionally by experienced software developers.
Peace of mind
In one sense, SMAs are about peace of mind – knowing that you have the support you need for your software whatever the circumstance. But they can also help to safeguard businesses and futureproof them against potential changes and challenges. If for example a PC-DMIS user wants to configure their software for a new sensor or CAD format, or add a new module such as PC-DMIS Gear, they need to be on the latest version of the software. The same goes if an update is required to the controller firmware or hardware, or if an operating system update causes a compatibility issue. SMAs take the hassle out of staying on the latest version, and mitigate a lot of potential problems in the process.
The moral of the story is that software is never set in stone. It’s a living thing; it evolves and should continue to change for the better. But living things need support to flourish and will always benefit from the help of specialists.
Doriano Cometto is a Project Manager at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, specialising in software, service and support. He has over twenty years’ experience in the dimensional metrology industry, with a short period in the world of in-vitro diagnostic (IVD) automation and life-sciences technologies. With his wide-ranging experience, Doriano is currently focused on developing Hexagon’s global support services for software solutions.