Dr Peter J. de Groot examines an important subject: the role of metrology in Industry 4.0
When looking at the place of metrology in the “fourth Industrial Revolution,” it is interesting to ponder whether Industry 4.0 is being driven by developments in metrology or metrology developments are being driven by Industry 4.0.
Today’s most sophisticated metrology systems drive quality assurance (QA), which has become a fundamental digital task that in and of itself facilitates efficient and cost-effective production processes. In a very real sense, QA data today controls how products are made and drives the bottom line and the repeatability in production, which is vital in all pan-industrial manufacturing scenarios.
From this perspective, it is a short leap to advocate that QA drives Industry 4.0. The dynamic growth of non-contact 3D optical metrology solutions in recent years reinforces this argument, as image processing and vision systems easily fit into Industry 4.0 processes.
And so we begin to shift preconceptions. For a long time, metrology for production QA has been seen as akin to a necessary evil, a part of the product development process that ticks boxes but doesn’t directly add value. From this angle, it can be argued that metrology serves no other purpose than to catch failures within a production process. If the failures or shortcomings were not there, then the role of metrology would be redundant.
But in the modern world, metrology is the source of bucket loads of data, which can be used to fuel the systems in a smart factory or Industry 4.0 environment, promoting true data-driven production.
Drilling Into Industry 4.0
A key competitive driver for manufacturers today is efficient production, which is why Industry 4.0 solutions using digital technologies to stimulate innovation and improve production processes are gaining traction across all key industrial sectors. As these technologies are enhanced and become less expensive, as a trend, Industry 4.0 will become more and more important.
The underpinnings of the concept of Industry 4.0 requires that businesses interrogate their competitive model and focus on increasing capacity to deliver more cost-effective products through the digitisation of the entire production process.
Today, this requires that these businesses completely re-assess their entire value chains, and apply different ways of thinking and toolsets, fusing the physical, digital, and virtual worlds together. Industry 4.0 encourages the integration of intelligent production systems and advanced information technologies and is fundamental to the foundations and future of many of the world’s leading manufacturers.
The promotion of a digital manufacturing strategy is fundamental for many manufacturing companies if they are to remain competitive in the years to come. and central to this is the capture, analysis and alteration of data. From this perspective, the role of 3D metrology solutions is clear, and it is very much more than just catching the occasional QA failure in production.
The Power Of Metrology Driven Data
For Industry 4.0, use of big data is key, as is its movement and use upstream and downstream in the product development process, with algorithms adjusting
the manufacturing process to ensure consistent, efficient and above all, repeatable production with zero failure rates. 3D data captured as parts are manufactured using fast, non-contact optical metrology systems can be directly fed to the quality control team, who can analyse its conformance with design intent by comparing it with 3D CAD solid models. Any areas of concern can be highlighted and adjustments can be made instantaneously to CAM files.
Such an automatic process all but negates the need for shut-off, drastically reduces failure rates and scrap, and therefore enhances the overall efficiency and cost-effectiveness of production. In such a scenario, advanced 3D optical metrology solutions enhance the quality, quantity, and speed with which data is collected, and allows its analysis and significance to be assessed in the blink of an eye to the betterment of manufacturing processes.
Smart Factory Metrology Solutions
Metrology’s role in highly digitised factories that continuously collect and share data through inter-connected devices, machines and production processes is to support digital production at every stage. To achieve the objectives of the “smart factory,” manufacturers must evolve their processes to close gaps in inspection-related data at every stage in the production value map. It also has a role in giving manufacturers greater visibility of the entire supply chain, including suppliers. Smart factories bristling with industrial robots and automated handling systems rely disproportionately on fully automated control systems and speedy verification
This plays to the use of in-process metrology solutions and non-contact 3D optical solutions.
Typically, the conversation when looking at the optimum use of metrology in advanced manufacturing settings today is between its use in the lab or in-process. Ultimately, a key driver for the shift from in-lab to in-process is a desire for a “faster time to data,” and more importantly, the ability to make decisions as a result of that data faster. Hence, it is a key element of Industry 4.0 and the efficient running of a smart factory.
When compared to alternative legacy metrology solutions where measurement is a separate offline activity, in-process solutions have a number of key advantages, the most obvious being the speed with which the data derived from it can influence decision making. If carrying out metrology in-lab, parts must be moved to the QC department, and then they need to be set-up for the metrology operation to be undertaken. If the metrology is in-line, various process steps are removed, and as defects and problems can be identified and rectified instantaneously reworking is reduced. In-process metrology therefore assists in preventing problems before they arise, and if they do arise allows them to be identified and addressed before they become a costly and time-consuming issue.
Non-contact optical metrology solutions also fit within the concept of Industry 4.0 as they are speedier and can cover larger areas than contact devices. Fully integrated 3D optical metrology promotes fully automated closed-loop production. In addition, improvements in computer processing and optical technology mean that the sheer amount of data that can be acquired and analysed is vastly increased. 3D optical metrology solutions used in-process allow for processed data to be to be fed from the metrology system into the factory management system and this advances the concept of the smart factory considerably.
For automation to be successful in the Industry 4.0 era, data collected for monitoring and control must be reliably communicated. A part of this trend involves incorporating metrology equipment into manufacturing systems to gather data for use in intelligent decision-making to prevent process variation.
More intelligent, more flexible and faster learning metrology systems are at the heart of – and integral to – Industry 4.0 and all advanced manufacturing systems. Such metrology systems promote the evolution of connected factories and will dramatically reduce downtime while at the same time speeding up production of more innovative, better designed, and higher quality products. Although there are many developments on the horizon in this area, forward-looking companies really should be looking at the advanced metrology solutions that exist on the market today and can be used to enhance manufacturing efficiency at all levels.
Dr Peter J. de Groot is executive director of R&D with Zygo