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Little CMM that could: small but powerful tool boosts productivity and pinches pennies.

Sleuth was perplexed and couldn't sleep. So, he did what he always did when stressed--he stayed up late and watched a string of movies on demand.

The one on the screen now was about a cute little knee-high robot who was the only one left to clean up the planet because all the humans left centuries ago. He wasn't the biggest or most sophisticated robot on the block, but he sure was getting his job done.


And why was Sleuth having such a hard time going to sleep? Because he was going to have a big meeting at the Defense Gizmo Division of Parts 'R Us first thing in the morning, and it wasn't going to be pretty.

He had been working with the DEFGIZ folks for the past six months to develop a plan that would eliminate dimensional measurement bottlenecks and improve the turnaround on critical prototype components. There were three specific areas being addressed:

* Improving consistency of inspection results made by many different people using a variety of hand measurement tools.

* Improving manufacturing precision and repeatability by automating procedures for the setup of fixtures on CNC machines.

* Improving manufacturing throughput by insuring that parts are manufactured to specification before removed from a CNC machine. This would eliminate the sadly too frequent and excruciatingly time-consuming need to put complex workpieces back on the machine for additional cutting or rework.

Sleuth had worked with Buzz Albrite, the DEFGIZ engineering manager to devise a plan that would cost several hundred thousand dollars but result in major productivity gains to justify the investment with payback in less than a year. The idea was to speed things up and improve repeatability by using consistent measurement tools and procedures and locating them as close as possible to the manufacturing process.

It included installing a DCC CMM on the floor in the DEFGIZ manufacturing area, installing spindle probes and on-machine measurement software on several of the CNC mills; purchasing an off-line seat of the metrology software for creating interoperable programs usable on both the CMM and CNC machines; training two CAD-literate engineers to write measurement programs; and training operators so they could use the software to measure parts on the CMM and measure and set up parts on the NC machines.

Crash and burn?

But this was all going down in flames. Buzz called him early that evening to let him know what was happening. It was a great plan and management was all for it, but not in this economy. The next morning, the plant manager would be thanking Sleuth for his efforts and postponing the project indefinitely. All that planning and all that clear thinking was about to crash and burn.

But wait! What was this on the TV? The little robot was defeating the big, smart computer so that the people could come back down to Earth safely. This gave Sleuth an idea.

Sleuth got to the meeting early, wheeling a box that was a little more than a yard cubed. Before the DEFGIZ managers arrived, he lifted its contents onto the conference table and covered it with a cloth so that it looked like a work of art about to be revealed.

When the DEFGIZ management team arrived, Buzz shot Sleuth a dark cloud looks as if to say, "What are you think you're doing?" However, the others were too preoccupied even to notice the mystery object on the table.

The plant manager began abruptly, "I want to thank you, Sleuth, for all the hard work you have put in on this project, but I'm sure Buzz has already informed you that we won't be moving forward with this anytime soon, if at all. So ..."

"Excuse me, sir," Sleuth interrupted. "I know that DEFGIZ is really strapped right now, but that does not change the fact that you could make parts better and cheaper if you could break through this measurement bottleneck. What if there is a way to get part of what you need while spending very little?"

"How little?" asked the plant manager suspiciously.

"You could squeeze it out of your hand-tool and training budgets," Sleuth answered.

The solution is unveiled

"And what would I be buying?" "This!" said Sleuth as he lifted the cloth with a flourish like a matador waving his cape at a bull.

"And what exactly is that?" grumbled the plant manager.

"Why it's a miniature, 6-axis arm-type CMM that you can carry anywhere in your shop. You can use it on a surface plate or right on your machine tools. And this one tool will do the work of all sorts of hand tools with exceptional consistency, even if there are many different users. So you can do a lot, but not all, of the things we originally wanted to do."

"But can you program it off-line?" asked Buzz.

"No," said Sleuth. "You can't program it at all. It has advanced CMM software built-in, and it does only what it does very simply and very well."

"Can you integrate it with a manufacturing program like we would with the spindle probe metrology system?" said the plant manager.

"No, you'll have to pause the manufacturing process and measure manually, but you can print out results on the spot or send them back to the measurement database over the Wi-Fi network."

"But what about the feature analyses we wanted to do on those really complex gizmos?" asked Buzz.

"You'll have to cart those ultragizmos down to the metrology lab and wait for the results like you always have. But many of your parts you will be able to measure better, faster, and completely, on or next to the machine."

"And training?"

"Maybe a couple of hours if your guys are slow learners."

By the end of the meeting, the DEFGIZ Team members saw no reason why they shouldn't implement part of the Buzz/Sleuth measurement bottleneck-busting plan with the help of this cost-effective tool.

Six weeks later, Sleuth called Buzz to find out how things were going. Happily, there had been a measurable improvement in part validation productivity and improved manufacturing repeatability using the little CMM on or beside the CNC machines for setups and in-process gaging.

These results were not everything they wanted, but were a lot more than they could have hoped for under the circumstances. As for the costs, they easily fit into the budget as everyday operating expenses.

EM Sleuth is sponsored by Wilcox Associates Inc. (, part of the Hexagon Metrology Group and makers of PC-DMIS measurement software.

Contributors to this article include Steve Logee, business development manager PC-DMIS Portable, Wilcox Associates,; Rob Fabiano, Sleuth illustrator,, and Joel Cassola, writer,
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Title Annotation:enterprise metrology sleuth
Author:Logee, Steve; Fabiano, Rob; Cassola, Joel
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:May 1, 2009
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