As most experienced business people will tell you, the difference between failure and success often comes down to a matter of margins. Nowhere is this truer than in manufacturing. Most manufacturers face large start-up costs and high overhead, and small fluctuations in demand or in the labour market can have a serious impact on their bottom lines. Thriving manufacturers are often those who are best able to keep labour costs in check, reduce inefficiencies, innovate strategically, and cut down on waste.
Quality control is key to reducing both inefficiency and waste, and for many production lines the single most important tool in maintaining quality control is a coordinate measuring machine (CMM). CMM technology takes many forms, and while many veterans of manufacturing are probably most familiar with classic gantry or bridge CMMs, metrology as an industry has seen a significant degree of innovation and development in recent years.
New equipment like Leica Laser Trackers and 3D White Light Scanning machines are designed to provide measurement solutions for products and parts that are too small or too delicate to be handled with a traditional probe, and the latest Zeiss CMM models are setting new benchmarks for precision, speed, and flexibility in the metrology world. In each of these cases, new CMM technology is helping manufacturers reduce the number of parts lost to deformities, and the number of hours spent trying to isolate problems in the production line.
This is in part because new CMM software is helping metrology equipment play a more responsive role in catching errors. Programs like PolyWorks Inspector make it possible for CMMs monitor small variations in dimensions from part to part, which means that if the quality of a part is showing a predictable pattern of degradation that may be caused by aggravated wear and tear on one of the machines producing it, the CMM can catch the problem before it gets out of hand.
A recent article in Canadian Business noted that increased automation has played a key role in returning manufacturing business to North America. With more and more production lines relying on robots, the key advantage factories overseas once had — lower labour costs — is less significant than it once was. But this also means that keeping an edge on the competition requires domestic production to be even more affordable by cutting down on waste. Increasingly, this is leading to a greater and greater integration of production lines.
CMMs play a crucial role in quality control, and new developments in software and programming make it easier than ever before for CMMs to monitor issues further upstream in the supply chain that could lead to degradation in quality if left unchecked. The capacity for new CMM equipment to play an important and proactive role in monitoring an entire production line has truly revolution potential: the Internet of Things is quickly becoming a concrete reality, one that is shaping how the manufacturing sector will structure itself in the years to come.