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The Rise of the Scanners

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The Rise of the Scanners

Across all fields of metrology, there has been a marked increase in the use of non-contact measuring systems. While contact probing systems are often regarded as the gold standard in terms of accuracy, non-contact systems offer many advantages. Simple and rapid collection of vast datasets are obviously well suited to measuring complex freeform surfaces but can also be helpful with unknown or variable items, or when geometric tolerances need to be evaluated.

Non-contact technologies such as laser line scanners and structured light systems are mainly associated with portable measuring systems including portable arms and handheld scanners. They are also used as a non-contact head on some static CMMs – in the right application these can offer the flexibility of non-contact measurement with the accuracy of a traditional CMM.

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The Data “Arms Race”

Since rapid, detailed datasets are an advantage of non-contact scanning, it is not surprising that there is an apparent “arms race” among vendors to offer ever greater data capture rates. Room scanners capture millions of data-points per second, and established systems also tend to upgrade regularly on the resolution and speed of capture. This can be useful – gathering points faster can speed up inspection and increasing resolution can improve performance when measuring small features – but progress comes at a cost. Computer processing speeds do not keep pace with dataset sizes, and there are often limits to data transfer rates that can slow down scanning or cause crashes and data loss. 

INSPHERE delivers regular portable metrology good practice training and these days we find we spend a lot of time discussing appropriate methods for filtering datasets for practicality. Users generally demand less data rather than more!

Automating the Process

Using a traditional, programmable CMM, it takes time to establish good robust measurement routines, but they can then operate with very little human intervention. Scanners offer increased flexibility and ease of use but can become laborious in production settings if many parts must be measured by an operator performing a repetitive manual task.  There is a growing trend towards automation in scanning and a variety of “scan box” configurations are available to allow a repeat job to be programmed and then performed automatically. These inspection cells may use structured light or laser line scanning technologies, the benefits of which depend on the intended application of the system.

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INSPHERE is seeing a lot of current interest in its HYPERSCAN cell which uses a robot-mounted Leica T-Scan in combination with other metrology to deliver a complete, automated inspection, well-suited to challenging surfaces and tight tolerances.

Robust Data?

With all non-contact systems there are challenges in interpreting specifications, determining system accuracy, performing calibrations, and assessing capability for any particular task.

At the heart of the problem is perhaps the fact that systems use fundamentally different technologies and they perform differently on different parts – a metrology system that measures matt metallic surfaces with great accuracy and precision may perform spectacularly badly on a shiny carbon-fibre surface.

Vendors naturally publish specification data in formats that flatter their equipment. This can make initial down-selection of equipment difficult, and it is hard to maintain a good awareness of all the available technologies as they are proliferating so rapidly. 

Calibration is governed by standards, but it is hard for standards agreed by international committees to keep pace with technology developments. The ISO10360 standards covering acceptance and re-verification tests for coordinate measuring systems has grown and grown. It now has 12 published parts and part 13 (Optical 3D CMS) is under development. 

Scanners and other non-contact systems can be particularly susceptible to bias and errors due to the influences of operator skill, environmental conditions and their use in relatively uncontrolled measurement settings, and this emphasizes the need for applied capability assessment. Appropriate forms of Measurement Systems Analysis (MSA), including Gauge Repeatability and Reproducibility (GR&R) and Evaluating the Measurement Process (EMP) studies are invaluable in building confidence that new measurement systems are fit for their intended purpose.

Advances in Scanning Technology

At CONTROL in Stuttgart at the start of May, the mind-boggling variety of available systems are testament to the rise of the scanners. It also serves as a good reminder that metrologists are now faced with an ever-increasing array of tools with which to solve measurement challenges. This is positive news – it shows the optimism in the industry – but it also makes clear that capturing data is the easy part, valid interpretation of that data is the great challenge we still face.

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Industry 4.0 continues to promise a better future of SMART factories with more controlled processes and step changes in productivity. Metrology systems will undoubtedly be pivotal in driving advanced manufacturing forwards, and metrology skills will remain in high demand to make sense of the vast complexity offered by new datasets.  

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Hello Richard Kingston

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Hello Richard Kingston

Richard Kingston is and INSPHERO who joined early last year. Here’s a little interview to help you get to know him a little better.

What do you do at INSPHERE? 

My job title is Principal Automation Engineer. I have a long history of working with industrial robots and metrology systems, especially when the two are used together. At INSPHERE I do a good variety of work. I spend around half my time working on internal research projects. I also spend one day per week working from Factory 2050 at the AMRC in Sheffield. Read more…

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INSPHERE's quarterly newsletter Issue #4

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INSPHERE's quarterly newsletter Issue #4

The fourth issue of INSPHERE’s quarterly newsletter is now available here!

This issue features updates on what’s been happening at INSPHERE including the announcement of our Industry Demo day, March 21st at the Nuclear AMRC in Sheffield for the launch of BASELINE, our rapid machine tool verification system. It also includes our three most recent articles that discuss manufacturing conferences, how manufacturing can be ‘made smarter’ with metrology, and the first in a new series of articles on Industry 4.0. There’s also a case study on how innovation can be achieved with collaborative partnerships.

Metrology is increasingly being recognised for its role as a key enabler of Industry 4.0 in data driven manufacturing and industrial digitalisation. 2019 is an exciting year for INSPHERE with a number of solutions coming to market. To make sure you don’t miss anything, follow us on LinkedIn for regular updates and if you aren’t already, you can get our newsletter delivered straight to your inbox by subscribing here.

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Putting the Fourth Industrial Revolution into Context

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Putting the Fourth Industrial Revolution into Context

Industry 4.0, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution, has been discussed a great deal in 2018. At INSPHERE we feel that Industry 4.0 will indeed live up to the current hype, and that metrology data will be the key enabler that delivers truly smart manufacturing and drives productivity to a higher level. 

Can revolutions can be mapped out in advance? Do they truly drive changes or are they just the result of incremental development? These questions are still relevant today – they may help us to take an objective look at whether i4.0 is just marketing jargon or a genuinely transformative event. To help answer these questions in the context of the present day, INSPHERE will be releasing a series of articles over the coming months, looking both backwards through history and forwards into the short and medium-term future. Read more.

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INSPHERE's quarterly newsletter Issue #3

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INSPHERE's quarterly newsletter Issue #3

The third issue of INSPHERE’s quarterly newsletter is now available here.

This issue features our regular update of what’s been happening at INSPHERE, training dates for the rest of the year and for all of our courses in 2019. We also have our three most recent articles from the team discussing the benefits of workplace training, how to achieve better portable arm measurements, and how to improve your laser tracker processes. There’s also a case study on how INSPHERE have provided support for metrology process development to solve measurement challenges in a research and development facility.

Our next newsletter will be out in the new year and if you haven’t already, you can subscribe to get the next issue delivered straight to your inbox!

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