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Quality tools simpler as automation takes over.

Quality control used to mean micrometers, calipers, gages, and people with a little knowledge of mathematics trained to use them. No more! Now, to a large extent, the tools of the trade have been relegated to the task of sensors, and the math and knowledge are stored in the computer the tools are hooked to.

That became more evident than ever to visitors of the Quality Expo Time equipment exhibition in Chicago in April. As one pundit put it, "The workers don't have to be able to read the gages, they just push a button; and even if they goof that up, it's recorded and a correction asked for."

To the benefit of the quality practitioners, there also appears to be less chauvinism among the fraternity of equipment suppliers. Several suppliers introduced equipment compatible with competitors. For example, L S Starrett Co showed its 742 Advanced Data Collection System designed to collect SPC data from eight different measuring devices, accepting inputs from all major suppliers via interchangeable modules. They even accept the standard cables supplied with the device, regardless of brand.

The portable unit features automated-bankteller-machine keyboard prompting that can be easily mastered by all levels of shop-floor personnel, the company claims.

That type of "user friendly" claim was coming from all the exhibitors, who seem to be designing software with thorough what-do-l-do-next help modes to accommodate the computer-neophytes still prevalent on the shop floor. They also are designing systems that are near idiot-proof.

Another trend that showed the industry is listening to the marketplace: more companies are designing their equipment to be tied to a personal computer as opposed to forcing the purchase of a dedicated computer unit. At the same time they pushed simplicity of use. Mitutoyo's new Geopak 500 CMM personal computer software minimizes keystrokes by using pictures in a program a novice can use from day one and a professional can appreciate every day."

To that end, Kurt Manufacturing Co, Minneapolis, unveiled its GageMate data collector for either analog, digital, or LVDT signals from Kurt's precision SPC gaging system as an interface to any personal computer. Mitutoyo also showed five new SPC software programs to be run on any IBM-compatible PC for networking its data collection instruments.

The new SmartScope video measuring microscope system introduced by Optical Gaging Products Inc, Rochester, NY, also is designed for use with a PC. It ties a high-quality zoom microscope and flexible positioning stages to a high-resolution color video via a personal computer which can be easily adapted to the task. The company explains that the advantage of the PC is most evident in the speed and flexibility of the computer-generated targets and charts.

Another example found Hommel America, New Britain, CT, introduced a low-cost software package for its T-500 portable roughness tester that permits hook up directly to any IBM-compatible computer without going through a costly interface.

As new uses for the PC continue to find their way into the manufacturing arena, so too for the laser.

Renishaw Inc, Schaumburg, IL, claims its new OP5M laser scanning probe can make any MM (coordinate measuring machine) a high-speed reader. The noncontact probe can take more than 200 readings per sec, the company claims, and provide resolution to 2.5 microns, accuracy better than 25 microns, and repeatability of 5 microns.

Sheffield Measurement, Dayton, OH, introduced the Summit-a high-throughput CMM offering better than 2 micron accuracy-which uses an ultra-precise strain-gage probe but a laser interferometer with a fiberoptic delivery system to insure its accuracy. The company claims it is five times faster than conventional CMMs in its accuracy range.

Sheffield president John Bosch reports the company recently opened an operation in Germany to market the four models of the CMM in Europe.

The Summit utilizes a single laser source for all three axes and transports the beam to two axes through a fiberoptic cable. It's explained the fiberoptic technology "drastically reduces the number of optics required and dramatically improves the machine's ability to withstand laser misalignment."

Sony Magnescale America Inc, Orange, CA, demonstrated its Laserscale linear-scale system based on laser-holographic technology. It's used in situations requiring resolutions to 0.01 micron, even under varying temperatures and atmospherics such as optical machining, semiconductor fabrication, and manufacture of disk drives and magnetic media.

Federal Products Corp, Providence, RI, was demonstrating (but has not yet available for sale) a laser system to check gage blocks. Among the ever-present CMM exhibits at any quality show, it was obvious that the coordinate measuring machines are becoming more of a commodity-smaller in size, less expensive, and less complicated to operate.

DEA Inc, Livonia, MI, introduced the Swift, a bench-top CMM for shopfloor measurement of small to medium-sized parts. The company boasts that the CNM is ruggedly built, easy to operate and that its "ergonomic design speeds part inspection." All three axes are controlled by a single handgrip, permitting even less-experienced operators to perform fast, accurate measurements, the company claims.

Brown & Sharpe, North Kingstown, RI, introduced three CMMs including the MicroVal PFx personal flexible gage which it claims "eliminates the gap between the manual and direct-computer-control systems in terms of training, ease of application, and cost."

Even Carl Zeiss Inc, industrial Measuring Technology (IMT) Div, Minneapolis, traditionally associated with the top-of-the-line CMMs, unveiled the C700, the first Zeiss CMM to be priced under 100,000. The company claims, "its compact design and affordable price make the C700 ideal for midrange applications, both on the shop floor and in QC labs." The Numerex arm of the IMT Div had a concept machine on display featuring a fixed bridge and linear drives. It was trying to determine market preference for a shop-floor type CMM.

Although many CMM exhibitors were implying their products were shop-floor hardened, a spokesman for Mitutoyo told T&P that it was unlikely that CMMs will be ready for open shop-floor environments any time soon. Although software programs can be written to account for temperature and humidity variations, CMMs are extremely susceptible to vibration.

Mitutoyo introduced a computer - numerically-controlled CMM, a step-up from the manual machine. The bench-top unit is aimed at the small shop producing a high volume of small parts that have to be checked for repeatability and reproducibility.

Mitutoyo, which introduced more than 300 different variations of products at the Quality Show, claims that the CMM market continues to grow in the US. Its studies indicate a US market for about 2100 CMMs annually, whereas three years ago it stood at 1500.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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