Automated Metrology for Dummies: How to Select the Right Automation Supplier

by Don Manfredi on June 29, 2017 From Ask The Experts
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Selecting the Right Supplier for Your Automated Measurement Solution 
Those of us in the complex manufacturing space have been keeping a dirty little secret: we have been working with the Internet of Things (IoT) for years. The connected factory has been a reality for well over a decade, but it has really been more of an ‘intranet of things’ (INTRAoT) where hundreds of machines talk to each other, sheltered by firewalls and layers of security from the outside world. And automation is the key to this INTRAoT. Industry 4.0 is enabling the INTRAoT to join the IoT, creating more opportunities for automation of complex processes. Metrology is one discipline that has lagged behind the automation curve, but not anymore. Manufacturers are increasingly automating their metrology processes, saving them time and money while increasing throughput and quality. The data generated by this increase in measurement is connected by a digital thread that allows data to be shared from design through steady state production.

Measurement automation requires significantly different skills and a larger toolset to satisfy the requirements of the job. It is important to understand that automating metrology takes another level of expertise beyond automating a typical assembly process. To pick the right metrology automation partner, there are five key things to look for: 

  1. Does the metrology automation partner have a variety of metrology solutions in their portfolio?
  2. Will your partner be able to support your digital data requirements, in addition to your current automated metrology needs?
  3. Can your metrology automation supplier show you expertise in both the measurement and automation domain?
  4. Is the metrology automation partner eager to get to your production facility?
  5. Is your potential supplier big enough to cover your global footprint but regional enough to provide immediate support?

Selecting the correct partner for your complex measurement process ensures that you get the right solution for the right price, in the shortest amount of time. In addition, your organization gets the peace of mind of knowing that your partner shares your goals for creating an intelligent automated metrology solution.

Does the metrology automation partner have a variety of metrology solutions in their portfolio? 

There are many reasons to automate a metrology process. The big three are typically increased throughput, reduced cost and improved quality. To capitalize on these improvements, you must select the right tool for the job. The best metrology automation partner has several ways to solve your problem, and will spend time with you on the front-end learning about your goals before suggesting a solution. If your potential partner pushes you to one technology before they understand what you are trying to accomplish, chances are that they might be pushing you towards the only tool they have.

Will your partner be able to support digital data requirements in addition to your current automated metrology needs? 
The IoT has made the digital thread a reality for manufacturers. Today, data can be shared enterprise-wide throughout the entire value chain. The ability to share data quickly and easily has created a digital thread that links the value chain together with data. The best metrology partners understand where manufacturing is going, and are already working to provide the solutions of today and tomorrow. This forward-thinking partner can show you the hardware and software tools that will enable your digital transformation. 

Can your metrology automation supplier demonstrate expertise in both the measurement and automation domain? 

When automating a metrology process, the integrity of the measurements must stay at the forefront of the project. This means that the right partner should truly understand what makes or breaks a metrology system, and must endeavor to avoid shortcuts that could lead to a less than optimal measurement solution. The automation is important, but it is secondary to the metrology in all cases. A red flag here is if most of the automation examples are non-measurement related (example - robot guidance using machine vision is not truly a metrology system).

Is the metrology automation partner eager to get to your production facility? 
There is a concept in lean manufacturing pioneered in the Toyota Production System (TPS) called Genchi Genbutsu. Loosely translated this means ‘go to the source’. Your potential supplier must walk your production floor before proposing an automated metrology solution. Even if the project is automating a coordinate measurement machine (CMM), it is critical they take the time to walk the facility. A major indication of a lack of understanding of the automation market is if a vendor does not suggest a plant visit. 

Is your potential supplier big enough to cover your global footprint, but regional enough to provide immediate support? 
In customer service, size counts as much as speed. Make sure your potential automation partner has a ‘deep bench’ and a substantial support presence in the same region where the systems will be installed. A large global company with regional support locations can provide you with the best of both worlds; the stability of a large company combined with the high touch service of a smaller company. 

As you start down the path of automating your metrology processes, a strong partner will ensure success. Take time at the beginning to make your potential metrology automation partner establish their credibility as metrologists that know automation, not the other way around. Ultimately, this time investment pays off in implementation speed, faster uptime with your new system, and making your organization much more competitive in the global marketplace.

Don Manfredi

Don Manfredi is the Integrated Solutions Business Unit Business Development Lead at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence. In this role, Manfredi is responsible for the strategic management, sales, product development and marketing for automated measurement solutions. In addition to his role at Hexagon, Manfredi is an Adjunct Professor at the Lawrence Technological University's College of Management, where he teaches a range of marketing, sales and management courses. 

Manfredi also has vast experience of the automotive industry and automation, having served in executive positions with organizations such as Trumble, Inc., Roush Performance Products, Coherix, and VRSI. He holds a Bachelors in Communications from Michigan State University, and a Masters in Business Administration from Lawrence Technical University.