Driving autonomy and efficiency with smarter, collaborative CMM technology

A Deloitte study found that smart factory initiatives have given companies 12% labour productivity gains in the past three years. This could 'grow at a compound annual rate of 2.3% during 2025-2030'. Where can manufacturers find these opportunities in the metrology lab? Making quality smarter requires the adoption of solutions that cut down manual work and offer users deeper insights. This gives coordinate measuring machine (CMM) users a) more time for tasks that add value and b) data that helps improve quality processes and machine use. 

There are also significant opportunities to continue driving productivity when the user needs to be working at the CMM. If manufacturers measured the time operators lose moving constantly between a desktop PC and the CMM, I think the data would show how this accumulates to be a significant productivity loss. But why should this be the case?

It's sometimes said that there is a gap between the user experience of consumer goods and industrial products. But you only need to look at smart phones to see that there should be no technological barrier to enabling instant application access and greater portability. In fact, these enhanced usability qualities are increasingly being introduced in the metrology market and, with wireless control systems like Hexagon’s Digital Control Center (dCC), it is clear the imbalance is being addressed. 

A great deal has been written about the concerns surrounding automation and how it will impact jobs in manufacturing. But while these solutions do need to increase automation, these solutions should work in collaboration with the CMM user. The skills of the CMM operator are irreplaceable. Increasing automation should not be about replacement but ensuring that the user has more time to dedicate to less repetitive and more value-added tasks. 

For example, consider the often laborious process of setting up parts for measurement and programming routines. How much time and frustration is accrued? Solutions that automatically recognises a workpiece, aligns it, and executes the right inspection routine – like Hexagon’s EYE-D technology – will be key for enabling CMM operators and programmers to shift their focus to more value-added tasks, even away from the CMM.

Of course, one of the risks of working away from the CMM is unexpected issues such as a probe collision or a change in environmental conditions that can impact measurement results. CMM users cannot get the benefits of working autonomously if events like these go undetected and cause downtime or reduce data integrity. That is why real-time, remote CMM monitoring solutions are crucial to maximise productivity. By recording insights into CMM status and environmental events, such as changes in vibrations, humidity, and air pressure, technologies like Hexagon’s PULSE are important for offering operators the confidence to work away from the CMM. 

In this article I have emphasised the importance of collaboration between technology and CMM users. However, there will inevitably be times when CMM operators are unavailable, but the machine still needs to be in operation to maintain production targets. For example, operators might need to focus on work away from the CMM, or perhaps customer demand has necessitated an overnight shift for which no operator is available. Regardless of resource availability, lights out manufacturing will be a key objective for many manufacturers over the coming years, as transformation projects within organisations’ quality departments focus on solutions that enable autonomous, interruption-free measurement. 

A key theme running through these efficiency initiatives is the evident importance of utilising synergic systems that give CMM users the flexibility they need to drive productivity whether at the CMM or remotely. All the while, operators need access to the data they need to make the right decisions at the right time. By using more collaborative systems, quality teams can help make manufacturing smarter. In today's industry, this will make a big difference - today and in the years to come.